A house divided burns with a glorious light

Mar 8, 2018

Commentary: The townhouse was on fire, so I went looking for the fire extinguisher. Strangely, it had been removed from its spot, and I asked my neighbor if he had seen it.

“Let’s not be hasty,” said my neighbor. “Fire is a natural and sacred force. Mastery of fire is essential to cooking and industry. Fire is about freedom. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is also an essential aspect of manliness.”

“Okay, but this fire is out of control.”

“That’s your fear talking,” said my neighbor. Black smoke was pouring in from the kitchen. “If you can’t stand the heat – you know the rest. Why should the rest of us not have fire?”

“Are you saying we shouldn’t put out the fire?”

He looked insulted. “You are mischaracterizing me, which is what your kind always does. What would you like to do, throw water everywhere and make a big mess? Sure, ruin the stove so none of us can cook.”

The kitchen was now engulfed and we could feel intense heat pushing through the hallways. I suggested that a fire extinguisher might still be of use although the fire was evidently spreading quickly.

My neighbor scoffed. “How predictable of you. The fire extinguisher was out of date and anyway we don’t need more fire extinguishers, we need people to be smarter about using the kitchen. Instead, you want to ruin the kitchen.”

Begging, I promised that I wasn’t against kitchens or cooking.  but this kitchen was burning right now. Elsewhere in the townhouse, I heard a clamor as people became aware of the fire, arguing about what to do. Was education the answer? I asked.

“That’s problematic, too,” he said, as he wiped sweat from his brow. “Incompetent people do all kinds of damage with fire. But the Constitution says we have a right to do anything we want in the kitchen – “

“That isn’t what the Constitution says.”

“Now you’re interrupting. I should have known better than to engage with you.” The walls of the hallway outside the room were now engulfed. My neighbor continued. “First you start with rules about cooking, and then you’ll come for my flame thrower.”

“You have a flame thrower?”

“Why not? I like flame throwers. I use it to light my cigarette while I’m smoking in bed, and I make no apologies for it. It’s fun.”

It was hard to see for the thickening smoke blotting out the light but I could hear other residents shouting, bumping into each other, running about and looking for an escape.

“A flame-thrower in a house, doesn’t that seem a bit much?”

He gave me a deadly stare. “Last time I checked our return address, this house was still located in America, brother.”

“Where did you even get a flame thrower?” I asked, and immediately regretted the diversion. I heard glass shattering and people crying. The fire was growing. Where was the fire department? I recalled hearing rumors of budget cuts.

My neighbor expostulated about an organization called the Fire Safety Association that had fought landmark battles to allow flame throwers to be sold to the public. As best I could hear, lying on the floor struggling to breathe, I believe he said flamethrower manufacturers had endowed the Fire Safety Association with enough resources to wield tremendous influence over legislation.

He was talking about how intrusive job-killing requirements for sprinkler systems and smoke detectors had been eradicated when he passed out.

Hours later, I came to on a neighboring lawn. A teenage resident had pulled me to safety.

Algernon D’Ammassa writes the Desert Sage column weekly for the Deming Headlight. Share your thoughts