OK, so, for my next little essay I had planned on talking about the wonderful occasion that was the FreeOK convention in Tulsa that happened a couple of weeks back. Ah, but then I ended up having one of those days I’m so fond of telling you about, one of those days that simply befuddle my unwieldy little brain. This one, however, turned into something a bit more unusual. It turned into a really fucked up week, which now seems likely to morph into a really fucked up month.
So, without further ado…
Friday, June 29th
The shitty day-cum-shitty-week started off in its ordinary dull fashion—work, taking stupid calls from people too stupid to own smartphones. But when that was over at last, I headed home with big plans for my evening. I had drinks with my pal Jane, followed by a late dinner of Chinese food. It was a really nice time, relaxing and full of energetic conversation. On the way home I Red-Boxed a couple of flicker-shows, intent on a few hours of sofa-time, accompanied by a few glasses of fine bourbon (Booker’s, if you’re curious).
My apartment complex is “secured” by a gate, which spans the entrance at the end of a short double-sided driveway. Sometimes cars line up on the entry side, waiting for someone to buzz then through, or simply waiting for a tenant with a key card to come along and let them in. See: security…
I rounded the corner into the short drive and came to a rocking halt. There were about ten cars lined up in there. Shit. Impatient to get to my movies and bourbon, I fidgeted in my seat. And when I craned my head around for a better look and saw that the gate was wide open, my annoyance increased. Talking to the entire conglomeration of cars, I muttered, “Oh, come on. Move your ass.”
Right about then a fire truck, lights off, rolled slowly by the group of autos, out the exit drive, and the cars began moving. Problem solved. The stage, as they say, was set, for a communion with the liquid goddess of Kentucky.
My apartment complex is one of those big suburban motherfuckers with like ten thousand units, all kludged together like a gerbil habitat with a thyroid problem, and my place was way in the back at the end of a twisting traffic lane. Rounding a curve, I saw a disco-worthy wash of flashing red blue and white lights; emergency vehicles of various sizes and occupations.
Hmmmm, I thought.
And right on the heels of that, I thought, Looks like they’re near my building. That thought jangled against bourbon thoughts as I drew closer to the action.
Yep, lots and lots of fire trucks, ambulances, and cop cruisers, alongside the usual number of firemen, EMTs, and lawdogs—and, yes, the usual number of scruffy, bathrobed onlookers getting in the way of the professionals. I slowed. Then parked, surprisingly close to my customary slot. I climbed from my car, staring.
Not only was the action happening near my building, it was happening in my building.
A couple of firefighters seemed to have just finished hosing down my balcony and my bedroom window. Which I had left open. And under which sat my desk and my computer.
Awwwww…fuck me in the eye.
Observing some still-billowing smoke, I wandered over to a clutch of my neighbors. They were sitting in Nylon camping chairs arranged around a big cooler of beer. The guy who lived directly below me, a freak of nature named Denny, tossed me a can of Coors Light. The scene felt like a barbecue at H. Bosch’s pool.
“What’s happening?” I asked, generally, then added, feeling stupid, “I mean this. What caused it?”
“Drugs,” said Denny, and the weird old dude from across the courtyard, whose name I can never remember, nodded in wobbly geriatric agreement. Denny has drugs on the brain. And, so far as I was ever able to tell, very little else.
“What?” I asked, thinking, What?
“Drugs. Meth. Bitch in the place behind you was cooking meth.”
“Oh,” I said, this time thinking, Oh, bullshit. No one was cooking meth. It’s explosively toxic, and you can smell the ammonia and chemical solvents hundreds of yards away. That’s why they cook the foul fucking stuff out in the country. Dumbass.
Not that I voiced any of that to Denny, mind you. He’s crazy as a wharf rat and about as predictable as a spastic puppy, but more on him in a bit.
I stood around drinking my beer and watching the firemen for twenty or thirty minutes, then started calling people, just to see if I could locate a bed for the evening. Sadly, it was, by now, after midnight, and folks weren’t answering their phones. Maybe, I reasoned, the damage wouldn’t be too bad and I could camp on my own floor anyway. Yeah, right, sure. No sooner had I thought that thought that a fireman galumphed from my doorway and I heard him ask some people from the complex’s management team who lived there. I strode forward and announced myself.
“Better find a motel for the night, guy,” said the fireman. “Your apartment’s trashed.”
“Like trashed, trashed, or like totally trashed?”
“It’s bad,” he said. “You can’t go in there ‘til tomorrow morning.” And he headed away on some other flame-related undertaking.
I looked at the management people. Didn’t say anything. Just looked at ‘em until they grew weary of it and talked to me.
“We are working on it, sir,” offered a petite blond, who I recalled seeing in the office from time to time. “Come by first thing in the morning. We’ll have more information.”
“OK,” I said, and I have to admit that a strange sort of dazed feeling was turning my brain into a soggy hand towel.
Several tenants gathered around, asking all the questions people ask when their stuff is suddenly turned into what looks like the leftover crap at the bottom of a charcoal grill. Some were screaming. One tall guy just kept shouting, “Fuck you all! This is your fucking fault!” over and over again. Then he stomped off toward the parking spaces, still hollering. Other people were quietly and calmly inquiring about replacement apartments, access to their present places, etc. Crazy Denny, who a minute before had been informing everyone within earshot how he was “…gonna sue the shit out of someone,” turned into Mr. Obsequious, nodding like a bobblehead and avidly lapping up everything the management people served him as if they were the Greatest and Most Caring People he had ever met.
I didn’t see any reason to continue hanging around, so I drained my beer, tossed the can in the bushes (they had a half-roasted building to clean up, so what was the big deal about an aluminum can), took my Red Box movies and drove away. I roamed around for a while, knowing I should be looking for a motel, or a handy refrigerator carton, but not really getting anywhere, largely due to the disconnected murkiness in my head. But then I happened upon a Courtyard (by Marriott!) and veered across three lanes to access its parking lot.
Sweaty (since this was Oklahoma, it was still about ninety degrees out) and dusted with residual soot, I wandered into the lobby and approached the desk clerk. Since I hadn’t managed to contact anyone by phone, I felt I needed to tell someone what had happened to me, and the clerk provided a sympathetic ear. He also offered 30% off my room and a couple of free bottles of water, both of which I accepted with true gratitude and a handshake.
Up on the third floor, my room was already nicely air-conditioned. I drank water, wished I could brush my teeth, and fell into bed.
At 7:30 the next morning the fire alarms went off.
(Coming soon: Part Two of Fire in the Hole…)