Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Burnin' Down the House

VH1 has ruined my life. Every time something lights on fire that shouldn't, I imagine T-Boz of the late, great TLC describing her reaction on Behind the Music when Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopez torched her boyfriend's home: "Lisa burned the house down!" It's much funnier when you see her say it: a wide smile on her face, the old southern woman accent on it, delivered with a toss of her head.

It was not so much funny at about 4:30 this morning when I woke up to a weird smell. Seeing that I live in the boiler room, I thought the boiler was about to blow sky-high since it was an oily smell. I stood in my apartment, basically scratching my head. I went to the door of the boiler room and touched it, but it wasn't hot. I decided to open my window to air the apartment out, but my landlord replaced the screens with storm glass and the only way to allow air in would be to prop the glass up with something, which I figured would allow a host of vermin into my apartment to feast on pasta. While I was by the window debating what to do, I heard a pop pop pop near my bathroom. Figuring it was the boiler about to blow, I went back over to look.

Instead, I found my bathroom ceiling was on fire. The light fixture and fan were burning, as well as the ceiling panel around it. I stood for a moment, figuring I would finally have the certain answer to the "if your house were on fire, what would you take with you" question, and figured I should go down fighting. I grabbed a big pot, filled it with some water, and tossed it at my ceiling.

The lightbulb exploded, the water hissed as it made contact with the fire, and the fixture dropped the floor. The ceiling fire had gone out and just a little bit of plastic was still burning on the floor. I stared at the mess for a minute then went back to the kitchen sink, refilled the pot, then doused the last little flame. With the fire out, I turned my attention to the smoke that hung in my apartment. I figured a hungry rat would not be the worst thing to happen, so I propped open the storm glass and turned on my fan, hoping the smoke would clear out through the window instead of triggering the fire alarm right outside my door.


I heard footsteps in the upstairs apartment and the voices of my neighbors on the front steps. I grabbed my cell phone and keys and went out to explain everything was okay. My neighbors were very gracious for being woken up at 4:30 in the morning by the fire alarm. I didn't realize how cold it was outside and shivered until one of my neighbors handed me his coat. Another neighbor was on hold with the fire department. Finally, about ten minutes after the alarm started, two fire trucks showed up. I led the curmudgeonly lead firefighter and two other firefighters into my apartment. A little childish part of me figured I was in trouble, even though I did nothing to start the fire except leave a light on accidentally. The firemen took the remaining bits of the ceiling panel down, grumbled to each other, and opened my door.

"Good job," the curmudgeonly fireman said, referencing the fact I had the presence of mind to throw water on a fire. "Luckily, there wasn't too much around it that could have caught." He didn't mention what caused it, but I suspect something wasn't wired correctly, or the light got too hot for the sheetrock and it caught.

I thanked the firemen, then went outside to tell my neighbors everything was fine. As I waited for the firemen to leave, my coat-lending neighbor pointed out a rat that was running for my window.

"Don't fucking go in there!" I shrieked, amusing my neighbor.

"It's okay," he said, "he ran up the water pipe instead."

I wish I could have met my neighbors in a more conventional manner, such as a neighborhood pot-luck dinner, but they were very gracious and also concerned for me. I said I was fine, and went back into my stinky, smoky apartment. I closed the window so the rats couldn't get in, sprayed the entire apartment with Febreeze so my apartment smelled both smoky and linen fresh, which was more nauseating than the straight smoke. I curled up under my covers, startling awake to the slightest noise, almost missing my old apartment with the fighting roommates and noisy neighbors. At least nothing was actually on fire there. I thought about my mother, who stayed at my apartment once when I'd just moved in and how she was afraid that it would catch on fire and I wouldn't have a way to get out if the door was blocked. I looked at my windows, wondering if I could break them and escape if the fire had been quick to spread. Am I living in a death trap? I can't afford to move again-- I have about $100 in savings and didn't pay a security deposit, so I'll have only one month's rent to work with for a new place. My Mom has made it clear to me I will not be borrowing money from her to pay deposits again since she's strapped for cash. I wish she lived closer to Boston so I could live at home for a few months so I could save up.

I had such high hopes for this place, but I keep being disappointed. It's caused me to need a second job, sleep with a light on in fear of rats falling on my head, and now it's required emergency services to be called. And I have no way out of it short of quitting my job and finding a job in Rhode Island until I figure my life out. I don't want to do that. I just want to sit on my couch and watch TV shows about other people's problems instead of dealing with my own.

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