Please Don’t Let Me Burn Alive In A Basement


While an inferno raged three floors above me, I watched a YouTube video of a man swimming with a polar bear and nibbled a Lucky Charms Treat bar. Long tendrils of flame waggled out the window, licking the roof, softly crackling like TV static, not a particularly threatening noise, nothing to arouse one’s spider-sense. No one knocked on my door. No ominous portents of fiery doom. The man in the video was sixty years old and had raised the polar bear since she was a tiny baby, and she had acted in the movie Alaska (she played the polar bear). I made a mental note to search for polar bear cub videos next, and then the video where polar bears play with Siberian huskies, and then the video where a polar bear throws a rock at his glass enclosure.

One of my neighbors shouted outside my window, and a lady shrieked incomprehensible bat squeaks back at him, but this did not set off alarm bells. I only thought, ‘Geez, people should stop inflicting their dysfunctional marriages on hapless bystanders because it disrupts the steady flow of bear induced oxytocin.’ Glass shattered on the walkway directly next to my window, singed glass shards puked out by the flaming death ball a few meters above me, but still I thought, ‘Those two need to find a healthy outlet for their aggression instead of throwing glass bottles at each other. Dumb idiots.’

The 800 pound bear burst out of the pool and stood up on her hind legs, peering around curiously at the cameras filming her. Seeing this, it occurred to me if we can breed vicious bloodthirsty wolves into adorable pups that play basketball and lick babies’ faces, we can certainly repeat the process with bears, and in fact, we have a moral obligation to our descendants to genetically engineer friendly bears we can hug and sleep on like fat white pillows. Also tigers.

I finally looked outside when large chunks of debris smashed on the window sill. An early 20’s man stood in the courtyard, shouting, “FIRE FIRE FIRE!” pointing upward at the fire in the most enthusiastic identification of a thing I’ve ever seen. It’s at this point I realized, hey, smells like a barbecue, air’s dense with smoke, and a guy’s yelling about fire. Might be a fire. Seems probable it’s a fire. I followed the direction of his finger point up the side of the building—fire. An apartment on the third floor, covered in fire, but not movie fire, real life fire, the worst kind because it burns up real people instead of just Joaquin Phoenix.

I strolled across my apartment to my roommate’s room. “Hey,” I said. “Our building’s on fire.”

He was on the computer. “One second,” he said.

“No. Stop what you’re doing. Come look at this fire.”

“Okay, hold on.”

“Come on.”

“Yeah, yeah, one second.”

“Now! It’s important!”

“Okay, okay!” but he kept typing a few more seconds before following me to the window. Since I’d last seen it, the fire had grown substantially, spitting out bits of wood and brick into the courtyard like a toddler gobbling birthday cake.

“Oh,” he said, frowning up at it.

“Get your stuff together quickly before we burn alive in a basement.”

My inventory of possessions include: a mug, a computer, an air mattress, a sleeping bag, a pillow, a fan, a suitcase, clothes, a painting, paint supplies, ten or so books, and my Second City certificate. I’ve always suspected I might die in a fire, or at the very least, my home would burn to the ground, so I long ago formulated a mental list of absolutely essential objects to preserve against incineration. Immediately, I grabbed my computer, my phone, my phone charger, and my Second City certificate, and stuffed them in a bag. Owning almost nothing is a fantastic boon when disaster strikes; it really simplifies the evacuation process.

During these last few moments in my apartment, I could vividly picture burning alive, could feel a quiet panic swelling in my chest cavity, and yet I found myself pausing at the fridge, thinking, ‘Should I grab my leftover burrito in case I get hungry while watching my apartment building burn down? Is that a reasonable thing to do? Am I so overreacting to this situation I’m disregarding important burritos?’ My roommate seemed pretty blasé about the prospect of our home catching fire; just strolled out in a t-shirt and gym shorts.

When I got outside, six fire trucks pulled up along with an ambulance, a few police cars, and a mobile command center, an impressive show of force in the government sponsored war on combustion. The building residents, most of whom had never met one another, gathered across the street in awkward separate clusters like a middle school dance. They took photos of the fire on their iPhones (“OMG all my stuff’s on fire, guys!!! :’(“) until a police officer said, “Hey, no photos allowed.” I wanted to ask whether fire has the right of publicity, but I actually fear the police more than fire, so I just nodded vigorously. Since it was around 4AM, many of the residents wore bathrobes, pajamas, or blankets. To be honest, I had never seen any of these people before.

An hour or so later, I called my mom to tell her I’d survived a deadly inferno. She said that was a good thing and went back to sleep. Then I walked down the street and bought a donut to reward myself for surviving an inferno. ‘You did a great job tonight, Brad,’ I thought, eating my donut. ‘You acted with poise and swift decisiveness.’ When I got back, the firefighters had already extinguished the fire, and for some reason, I felt disappointed. 

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