Friday, July 12, 2013

Fanning the Flames of Stupidity

"Do YOU know what could've happened, Josh?" the firefighter blurted out, his low voice reverberating in my head like a heavy bass line in a Motown classic.

The words sent my head spinning. Did I really know what could've happened? I suppose I didn't, which was a rarity for me.

 I wasn't a rule breaker or a trouble maker when I was a kid. More than anything, I was a worrier and a bit of a baby. For some reason, I would immediately confess my wrongdoings the as soon as they happened. I told my mom about the teddy bear incident minutes after it happened, I apologized to the gas station clerk and tried to pay for the items when I found out my friends had been stealing candy from his place (without ratting them out...I wasn't a tattletale). Even now as a grown adult, I follow the rules a little too much. I went back to the grocery store two weeks later when saw the receipt I realized a few of my groceries never rang up at the register. I even brought the receipt back for proof and I'm pretty sure the checkout attendant thought I was an idiot. Call it a case of catholic guilt mixed in with a bit of goody two shoes, but I don't like to feel that heavy burden on my shoulders. A rebel, I am not.

Yet, that natural reaction of burden was blocked from my brain as I sat in the pitch dark confines of my closet. Through the warm glow of a tiny flame, I could see the pile of burnt matches laying in front of me. The smell of sulfur and smoke filled the air and embedded into my clothes. The flame consumed the charred wick of my poorly made Cub Scout Christmas candle I found among the random array of childhood projects stored in our basement. I was enthralled with catching the melting wax on my finger and letting it dry into a mushy cast that I quickly rolled into a ball and placed on the base of the red and green candleholder. Suddenly, the door folded open and a slight gust of wind quickly blew out the tiny flame.

"JOSHUA! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! LOOK AT YOUR SHIRTS!!!" my mother screamed.

I looked over and noticed that the lower corner of some hanging shirts were soot black from the flame I had unknowingly placed beneath them. I looked up at my mother like a deer in headlights, unable to speak or move. I honestly had no idea what I was doing was bad or could've ended up in disaster. My mother sat me down and explained the basic premise of fire safety and why I couldn't do what I was doing. I agreed with her, but only because I wanted to stop what seemed like an unending lecture. I didn't see what the big deal was and I wanted to get back to my fun.

 Let me clarify something: I wasn't a pyro. It was never my intention to set everything aflame. I just liked the look of the candle and playing with the wax. What's the big deal? At least, that was my thought process when I went searching for a new candle and flame creating apparatus a short time later. It was clear to me that my mother did not share my casual attitude toward the controlled burn in my closet  because she was irate when she caught me again. I had no reason for the "deer in headlights" look this time. I knew what I was doing was not acceptable in our home...I just did it anyway...you know, like any normal little boy would...because I we're all dumb.

I was grounded for a week and Mom hid every candle, book of matches and lighter in our house. I don't remember what I said to her, but I do remember naively questioning where all the candles disappeared to. That was when my mother decided I needed further intervention.

A few weeks later, Mom drove me up to the local firehouse where they were having a fire safety day for the whole neighborhood to attend. We got to look at the fire engines and see all of the equipment they used. They talked about the dangers of fire, how quickly a fire can go from safe to deadly and how important it is to know what to do in case their was ever a fire in our home.  They even had a two story house to simulate a fire and walk kids through all the fire safety steps. Unfortunately, I had the attention span of a gnat at the time. "Ooooooooh....red and shiny things are fun!" I thought to myself as they relayed the information so vital to the next part of the story...

At the end of the presentation it was time for everyone to spilt up into small groups and go through the house simulator to test our knowledge. My plan was to keep quiet, fade into the background and not look like an idiot because I wasn't paying attention. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had taken the time to speak with the firefighters about my candle incident before the day started. She asked them to pull me aside after all the activities were through and have a private conversations about how dangerous fire and playing with matches can be.

That's not what happened...

From the moment I walked into the house the firefighter made sure to call me out by name and be the first one to complete all of the steps.

"Josh is going to check for smoke..."

"Josh is going to check the door handle to see if it's too hot to touch..."

"Josh is going to yell out the window for help..."

And so on and so on...

I had no idea what to do for any of the steps, so the firefighter had to explain it all again to me in front of my annoyed friends. I began to sense a pattern by the time we got to the last room where we found out that, in this scenario, the fire was accidentally started by a kid playing with a candle in his closet.

"WOW. How did he know?!" I thought in my naive little melon.

"Do YOU know what could've happened, Josh?" the firefighter blurted out, his low voice reverberating in my head like a heavy bass line in a Motown classic.

I sat there stunned that he'd called me out in front of a half dozen neighborhood kids that I was going to see for the rest of my adolescence. So I did what any proud and brave little boy would do to save face in front of his peers...I started bawling like a baby and ran flailing out of the house, past my distressed mother, squealing and screaming like a piglet caught by the tail until I made it home a half mile later.

Mom came home a shortly afterward and apologized for the way things happened. She said she would've been home sooner, but she had to have "a talk" with the firefighters. (She told me years later that "the talk" consisted of my mother chewing out the firefighter that embarrassed me for a good ten minutes because that wasn't what she asked them to do at all.)

She continued on to say that while she apologized for the way that it happened, she wasn't going to apologize for why it had to happen:

"You clearly weren't listening to me, so I had to take other measures. Be mad at me all you want, but you needed to understand what you were doing was wrong." she lovingly said.

I hugged my mom, but I didn't speak to her for a few days and I damn sure never touched a match again for years...wuss that I was...and still kind of am. Lesson clearly learned.

Nowadays, my wife will occasionally light a candle...usually after I leave the bathroom for some reason...and the first thought that pops in head is this story, which always makes me smile and think of my mom...and Beavis from "Beavis and Butthead". FIRE! FIRE! FIIIIIIIIIRE!

I swear, I'm not a pyro.

Peaceful and Safe Pyro-esque Things,

Josh

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Peaceful Things ~ Josh
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