Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Burn baby burn! (unedited)

A week ago at this time I was rather tired.

I will long look back upon Jan. 8, 2008, and remember it, for better or for worse.

At 4:44 a.m. my landlord burst into my apartment, asking me to call 911. We had a fire.

I’m not sure what led up to that point, or how the fire started. My landlord tried to put the fire out himself, I learned, but when exactly he made that effort I’m still unclear. I assume he woke up, realized something was wrong and attempted to put the fire out before calling 911. I’m pretty sure that’s how it worked.

My apartment was in the lower level of a house in an older part of the city…not your typical high-density neighborhood. I think my landlord had added onto the house twice, but it’s hard to tell.

His house, with its odd layout and gigantic garage, was the type of place you would suspect illegal activity of taking place. I never saw evidence of it, but it would be easy to cook batches of meth in his gigantic garage or grow pot plants back there. It would be rather easy to conduct a lot of other illegal activities on his property without anyone ever knowing, actually. That odd layout also made the building seem like a training compound for the next great uprising of the Branch Davidian cult.

There was no smoke in my apartment, so I had time to pull clothes on before exiting out the side of the building, onto the driveway. As I stood there calling 911 I watched smoke rise from the roof near the back of the building. As I reported the fire I thought perhaps it could be contained to the rear of the compound, and then we’d all be able to continue living in the main portion of the house.

As the first police cars arrived they began surveying the situation. Of course they left their emergency lights on as the parked there cars near the house, which is on a dead-end street. One was stopped in front of the house across the street. My landlord was running around frantic and in denial that his makeshift heating systems were about to cause a major fire to his house. (That’s my theory as to why the fire started, anyway.) As I stood in the driveway, not knowing what else to do, my landlord asked me to tell the police officer on the scene to turn his lights off because it made it seem like the situation was worse than it was.

I’ve been in a minor crisis once or twice in my life, and I don’t respond rationally. Neither does my landlord, evidently, judging by his odd request of me. I mentioned that I was doubtful they’d do so, but I wandered into the street, as if I was going to approach the officers, but of course I never asked.

There’s a fire hydrant in front of my landlord’s house. A couple of the first responders to the scene began opening the hydrant so the fire trucks could hook up to it upon arrival. My landlord managed to notice this while he was running around, trying to solve his crisis single handedly. He mentioned to them as he was about to run around the side of his house that he didn’t think they needed to bother opening the hydrant. God forbid they be prepared for the worst. Yeah, my landlord was just that delusional.

As I was standing out in the street about 5 a.m. there was an explosion in the center of the building, and a ball of flame blasted through a hole in the roof. That’s when I knew I didn’t live there any more.

After calling 911 I had went back inside the apartment for two things: car keys and socks. I had slipped shoes on to go outside, but I didn’t put socks on. I had grabbed my winter coat, and it was about 30 degrees that morning, so I wasn’t cold, but I knew my feet would be, so socks became important. I grabbed the car keys so I could move my car out of the driveway before the fire department arrived.

As I sat in my car watching the fire department put out the fire during the two hours after the explosion, I regretted not grabbing my wallet. It had cash in it, as well as credit cards and ID. If I was going to lose everything to the fire, I would have been far better off with my wallet.

As was pointed out to me later that day, it never occurred to me to try to save anything from the apartment in the minutes before the fire department arrived. This observation proved a point I already realized by that afternoon.

By 7 a.m. the fire was out and the last fire truck was preparing to leave the scene. I called my mom to let her know I needed to stay at her house for a while, most likely, since I was homeless.

My apartment avoided fire and water damage. All I had was minor smoke damage to my stuff. I grabbed about seven days worth of clothes, a bunch of my bills, my checkbook, stamps and my unopened cases of Diet Pepsi and headed for mom’s house within a couple of hours. The entire upper level of the building was significantly damaged, but not my area, I got lucky, allegedly.

I’ve been reminded that the important thing is that I wasn’t hurt. That may be true, but things could have worked out a lot better. Other than a few photo albums and other irreplaceable keepsakes, 99.5 percent of my stuff could be replaced, if I wanted to replace it, and most of it I wouldn’t.

It would have been a pain to improve to my insurance company what I had and how much it was worth, particularly the comic books and baseball cards of my youth. They may not be worth $10,000, but they’re worth more than a few hundred bucks, but I’m not sure how easily I could have proven what I had and didn’t have.

But given the chance to walk away from everything with an insurance check and start anew, in hindsight I’d take it. Unfortunately I wasn’t given that option.

My insurance will cover the cost of packing and hauling all my crap from the apartment, conducting the space-age cleaning they do to remove traces of smoke and storing of the crap until I’m ready to take delivery of it, which will likely be in April.

While I’ve cared less and less about possessions in recent years, it’s hard to simply dump everything in a Dumpster and walk away, valuable or not. A fire is something I’ve sort of wished for, and I came close to having my wish granted, but not quite.

Had I lost everything last week I’d be in the process of negotiating a check of up to $30,000 to start anew. I realized last week that a little fire and water damage would have given me the freedom to search for a new job anywhere I wanted without the burden of a bunch of mostly worthless personal possession. Had that fire been a little more intense, I might be starting a whole new life this spring rather than be saddled with the one I have. And believe me, the one I have seems less worthy of holding onto with each passing year.

Although I’m living with my mother until I have a new apartment, the timing couldn’t be much better. She is retiring this week and has a two-month vacation planned down south, so next week she departs. At least I won’t be in her way while living at her house. When she returns, I’ll be preparing to move into a new apartment, and this time I won’t have to move my stuff into it. I look at it as a small consolation prize.

I had hoped to move this spring or at the latest by early summer. I wanted that move to coincide with that new job I so desperately need. I wanted to pick a new apartment based upon where my new office would be. Unless I pull off a minor miracle and find a new job in the next two months, I’ll have to find a reasonable apartment in Minneapolis and hope for the best.

While I have to drive a lot further back and forth to work, I won’t be paying rent until April, so that will more than make up for my added fuel costs. Although I won’t be able to cash a fat check in the end, I’ll also get reimbursed from my insurance company for some of my costs associated with my temporary displacement. Yeah, my dark clouds have a few silver linings.

I have mixed feelings about this experience, obviously, and whether this is part of an aligning of the stars that provides a little meaning for my life in the coming year remains to be seen. I have felt like my life has been traveling down a dead-end road in the past few years, I hope this is one of the hiccups that takes me down a different path.

No comments: