Coming Home To Crispy-ness - 11.22.99

Lately, the part of the country where I live has been in the midst of a dry spell. When one thinks of a dry spell, their minds almost automatically drift off into dustbowl images of the 1930s and tumbleweeds blowing across desolate streets. While it hasn't been quite that bad, it's been very dry in a more subtle way. Because the temperatures haven't been searing, it helps a little, but the fact that there has been no discernable moisture in over a month and a half has caused several things to happen.

One of these is that even though we've only had a couple solid freezes overnight, the ground is still hard as a rock. I was helping someone dig holes to plant some shrubs the other weekend and when I brought the shovel down into the solid crust, the handle broke right off (no kidding). Not only that, but because there is no moisture in about the top foot of soil, it has dried up and cracked and even pulled away from the foundation of buildings in some parts.

Another thing that has happened because of this dry spell is that it is absolutely impossible to keep an automobile clean. While I'm not the best person about washing my car normally, I recently let things go for two weeks without so much as a rinse. By the time that period was over, I could barely see out the side or rear windows of my car and the dark blue paint of my car had turned into a dull gray.

Of course, the above repercussions really aren't anything compared to the real danger of fires that comes with everything being so dry. When figuring in that it's also the time of year that leaves fall from the trees and gather in large piles, restrictions on burning are a necessity. Not only has the town set down such laws regarding burning leaves and other fall cleanup, but I recently heard that they've gone so far as placed a notice with the police force to ticket anyone they see throwing cigarette butts out of their car window (something that should be done all the time in my opinion).

Since I've gone and set things up a little for you, I feel like I actually need to get down to business and tell the story that I set out to spill in the first place. About a year ago, a house in the neighborhood that I live in went up in flames. It all took place on a weekend that I was out of town, but when I came home and walked to the grocery store as usual, I was startled by the acrid smell of smoke and looked up to see that one of the very old houses (I live in one of the oldest section of town as the average age of most houses is 70 or so years old) had been gutted by a fire. I stopped for a moment in front of it wondering about what had happened, but was relieved the next day when I read in the paper that nobody was hurt. It was weird seeing a house so close to where I lived as an empty shell.

Over the course of the past year, I'd seen some things that really upset me in the house where I lived. Not only was it an old house that had been split up into 7 apartments, but it was about 100 years old and although it had many creaks and didn't look the best, it definitely had charisma. On more than one ocassion, I'd been going down the wooden staircase behind the house and found a cigarette butt laying on them. Although they had always been snuffed out, I always wondered what the hell people were thinking throwing a lit article onto a wood object. The other night, my fears actually came true.

Once again, I was out of town while the incident took place, but this time I was only gone for a couple hours eating dinner with my brother and parents. I'd left my apartment at about 6pm and when I arrived back home in the dark at about 9pm, I headed for the back staircase as usual after I'd gotten out of my car.

Instead of bounding up the steps as usual, though, I was greeted with a yellow plastic fire ribbon at the bottom of the staircase and looked up to see what the problem was. From about 3 steps up to the top of the staircase, the wood was torched to a crisp. The bags of leaves that my landlord had just raked up and placed underneath them the day before were scattered all over but for the most part they were just gone. It was also at that point when I noticed the burnt smell and began swearing aloud at what had happened. Although I wasn't completely sure, I was willing to bet that a stray cigarette butt had landed in the one of the bags of leaves below and ignited the whole mess.

I ran up to my apartment through the main entrance of the house and fortunately couldn't smell any of the smoke once I got inside behind closed doors. I then looked around my apartment and thought about how close the fire had actually come to burning up everything I owned. Although I don't own anything of considerable value that couldn't be replaced, it was all the silly things that I'd spent so much time on that would have frustrated me the most if I'd lost them. All the photos I'd taken in college would have gone, including nearly all the books I own and all the music (about 650 CDs, 100 records and 100 tapes at this point) I've collected over the past several years. It pissed me off that someone could have been so damn careless when the dry spell is something that's been thoroughly covered in all forms of local media for the past several weeks. Not only that, but the thought of living in the same building with someone so completely oblivious made me wonder what would happen next.

The only good thing that I can hope will come out of it all is that the said person who started the fire (albeit, not purposely) will wake up and figure out what they've done. Not only that, but if anyone else in the building has done something similar, it should knock some sense into them as well. In the meantime, I'm wondering how long it will take my landlord to replace the back steps. I'm also trying to find something funny in the fact that my fire escape was destroyed by a fire.