Wednesday, September 8, 2010


There were two fires today in Staten Island, one surrounded firefighters till a change in the wind opened up an escape. Last week there was another fire, on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River. Whenever fires occur so near each other I think arson, but that's not a professional opinion so much as a personal prejudice. When I was in college in Ohio, there were fires in buildings here and there throughout the years I lived in the town. It wasn't till the middle school gym, that I realized someone was doing this on purpose. The first building that went was an old granary-- my college town was in the middle of cornfields and rolling hills just north of the twon where I'd grown up. I'd seen the granary nearly every weekend when I was a kid. My dad drove us to his parents' farm on Sundays, and the route ran right through the town of Oxford.

At 9, I thought the word painted on the grey board building said "Canary" and wondered about the potential for yellow birds inside. I can't remember when I found out the first letter was a G; but I can remember the building as if it were still there, at a bend in Route 27, just beyond the main part of town. By the time I started school it had stood empty for a few years. And it was gone in a night. My freshman year.

The next building to go was an unoccupied frat house, I think, and then something else, and then the middle school gym. That burned near the beginning of my senior year, in late August, so there were rumors one of the students meant to extend the summer a few more weeks. But the lumberyard. People were working there, unlike the rest of the fires.

I'd been standing out on the street, a humble small town street, with cracked sidewalks and small houses; I was talking to friends whose faces I can't even remember. We were under these two huge trees, still flush with green leaves. An unexpected man in a suit ran past us, toward the center of town. We watched him. You never saw anyone in a suit in Oxford then. You certainly never saw one running. Next it was a group of college kids like us. We stepped out from under the trees an realized the sky was aflame. A crowd had gathered down the block where the lumberyard stood hidden behind a row of houses, on our side of the train tracks. Without thinking about it we were running with everyone else, but by the time we got there, anyone left in the lumberyard had been rescued, and there was nothing to do but watch it burn. The crowd became a bit festive once it became generally known that no one had been hurt. Someone suggested a keg party. The communal sense, the relief and excitement at this contained bit of chaos. It shocked me at first, that we were all so jolly. That was why he did it, whoever it was. He was somewhere in the crowd. Or nearby. But no one would ever be arrested, and for all I know there were more fires after I graduated.

I don't remember the fire department ever showing up, but I'm sure at some point they must have. Everything seemed to blend, one moment into the next, so naturally that, like the G in the Granary sign, I lost the recollection of anything but the most unexpected.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that it's hard to get through college without some yahoo starting a fire. I've never understood the fascination myself, and usually have to chalk it up to "whatever happened to Crazy."


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