Until last night, I wasn’t sure about how my next post would go, or when it would be. I was too busy living life at full speed to sit down and write. This summer has been a relatively formulaic one as summers go: Three days out of the week I’ve been watching documentaries and discussing them, all the while frequenting Brooklyn Roasting Company like it’s my job — even though I already have a job, which is already that of an employee at a(n equally hip?) coffee shop that also sells pie. I’ve been at said job for the other four remaining days of the week, educating inquisitive Gowanites about the differences between a crumble and a streusel, lemon chess and chocolate chess. (Simplification: textured oats versus uniform crumbs; lemon bar versus chocolate pudding.) So basically I’ve been working seven days a week.
I know it’s been forever. I’ve felt slightly ashamed of not keeping whomever uses the few spare minutes of their days to catch themselves up on my less-than-riveting life — although I do have a published book review on The Rumpus, a dearth of knowledge about topics ranging from intersex people to J. T. Leroy to OxyContin addiction in West Virginia, and a new found appreciation for peach pie to show for it.
I’ve seen a lot of things, too. A man with a shopping cart full of water bottles who laid his (?) 2 year-old baby down on the seat of an F-train to make room for her in the bottom part of the shopping cart. The cart was chained to one of the subway poles by some questionable wire, but loosely; once he removed the baby from the train seat and set her inside the bottom of the shopping cart the entire thing would rattle around this way and that, causing me to flinch every time the front end of the cart bumped against the pole. With each tap I would peer into the cart along with the rest of the riders to see if the baby was hurt. It was such a bizarre and disturbing sight that I didn’t even wonder how the man had gotten the shopping cart up and down the subway stairs until long after he’d trudged the shopping cart, full of miscellaneous items and a baby, out of the car and onto the platform at the East Broadway station.
I also saw a white man accuse a black female Walgreen’s worker of not trusting white people, call her a “lying bitch,” and then storm out because his EBT wasn’t working. Or something like that.
Finally, I saw the sweat of a tall man on the subway slide down his temple, slip from his collarbone down to his right arm, and then drip onto the shoulder of a poor unsuspecting short girl standing below him (pretty much literally) on a crowded L-train.
Yet none of these things inspired me to write. Not alone, anyway. And then — suddenly — a fire was lit beneath me. Literally.
Well, kind of. In reality, the fire was burning high above my head, roughly six flights, in fact, around a quarter to 1 a.m.
Last night/this morning, just about as I was settling in to my bed to partake in a rerun of Murder, She Wrote (maybe I should lie and say I was watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?) on Netflix, the buzzer in my apartment rang.
It caught my attention, but not enough to get out of bed or do anything about it. Drunk people ring the buzzer pretty often. Non-drunk friends of my roommates ring the doorbell, too. Maybe it was an expected guest? Even though pretty much everyone else in my apartment had seemingly gone to bed for the evening, my reasoning was enough to forge through the opening credits of my show.
Then I heard galloping down the stairs. Yes. Galloping. And I actually thought, “Wow — either Star gained some weight, or the neighbor upstairs replaced his pet dog with a pet horse.”
Suddenly the galloping coming from the hallway turned into a frantic banging on our front door, or maybe it was only on the door downstairs. I’m not sure. I heard one of my roommates shout “What the FUCK–!?” and I realized that this was not a drunken person who was just lost banging on our door. This was something bad.
It was enough to break my attention from Angela Lansbury. I sprung out of bed, flicking on my lights, heart racing as I heard my roommates from downstairs yell to my roommate and myself (whose rooms are upstairs), “Guys! Get up!”
I flung open my door to see the three of them dash by in a blur of pajama-ed, barefoot chaos. “Zee, run! Come on!”
I didn’t know what was going on, so I ran out the door with them. But instead of following them out the front door, I went right, out the back door and into the courtyard.
Well, in those three seconds during which I discovered I needed to flee my apartment, I had deduced that the banging was coming from an angry gun-wielding intruder who had broken in through the door in the basement that led into the hallway, and was chasing my roommates up the stairs (which would explain why they were running so fast). Thinking it best that we split up, because that’s what they do in movies, I ran out the back door, where I thought there would be more places to hide, rather than the front.
This became problematic within the three seconds after I’d decided to go the different route, all stemming from the fact that once I went out in the courtyard I was stuck there. You need a key to get back into my building from the back, and a key to exit from the gate that fences the backyard of my building in. Had a gunman been chasing me, and had I not scurried behind something soon enough, I would have been toast. The fence was too high to climb.
So there I was alone, outside my apartment, crouching by a rack of bikes at 12:45 am in nothing but my bare feet, a pair of sweat shorts and my red Jones/Johnson 2014 family reunion T-shirt. I had no clue what was going on inside. I had no phone.
My confusion and terror lasted about ten more seconds longer, until a fireman in full gear exited out of the back door from which I’d ran. He had a blank expression on his face as he looked up at my building, moving with little to no sense of urgency, just purpose.
“Excuse me?” I said.
He didn’t respond, maybe didn’t hear me, just kept looking up at my building, bored.
“Excuse me,” I said louder, coming out from the bike rack, suddenly feeling rather foolish.
The fireman looked over at me. He didn’t seem surprised to see a black girl standing there in a red shirt, shorts, and no socks.
“Am I okay out here?” I asked him. I didn’t ask him what was going on which, thinking about it now, seems a little strange. I was lonely, I suppose, and wanted him to say that he would bring me to the rest of the group.
But he didn’t. The fireman didn’t respond for what felt like an eternity. Finally, he said, “Yeah, you’re fine here,” like I was some extra’s third understudy in the chorus of an off-off-Broadway musical, and he went back inside, leaving me locked out and alone yet again.
I paced back and forth in the dark, peering through the fence every now and then to see what was going on across the street. A smattering of my neighbors were across the corner in an array of dress. Looking closer, I could make out two short girls and a taller girl in pj pants: my beloved roommates, a mere twenty feet away but still so, so far.
As if they sensed me there, one of them suddenly looked in my direction and called out my name: “Zee!”
I flailed my arms spastically.
A minute later, Star’s owner was walking up to the fence, Star in tow. He unlocked the gate and let me out. I thanked him apologetically, but I really wanted to kiss them both for rescuing me and bringing me into the solidarity of my confused neighbors and roommates. I silently scolded myself for assuming it was Star making all of that noise a few minutes earlier, silently promising to myself that I would never roll my eyes or scoff at their noisy, complicated interactions that occurred just outside my window, always, always, just as I was falling asleep. (“No, Star–no! C’mon, Star. Here! STAR!”)
It was not unlike the deal someone who makes with God after surviving a freak accident.
Once I reunited with my roommates behind the firetrucks and explained my reasoning for running the other way (“…but you were locked in,” one of them replied quizzically, and she was right, but fight or flight, man), we could do nothing but wait as the firemen put out the fire. What happened? Well, apparently the roof had been smoking for awhile until someone from across the street called 911. (That’s all we know so far. My guess is cigarettes.)
Two of my roommates went to tell our landlord, who lives in another one of his buildings just down the street. He came strolling up minutes later. He didn’t seem worried the least bit worried — just mildly amused and agitated.
I thought about the last year our landlord has spent attending to our particular apartment’s problems — mold in the basement, ant infestation, bed bug infestation, me locking myself out a month ago (oh the irony!), fixing our sink, knocking holes in the walls — and couldn’t help but crack a joke about how those issues were relatively nothing compared to this.
Either no one heard it, or no one was ready to chuckle at that yet.
No one really chuckled as I started to sing “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, either, as we waited outside our door for our landlord to give us keys to let us back in. None of us had grabbed our keys in the heat (lol) of the moment. Someone had asked if anyone knew who started it and for some reason Billy Joel had felt like an appropriate response.
The entire ordeal lasted about 45 minutes. But it was probably the first time all of my roommates and I had been in the same room for over a month. We gabbed a little in the bathroom as one by one we washed our dirty bare feet of the Meserole Street sidewalk dirt and Brooklyn firefighter hose-water that had filled the entrance to our building following the fire fight. Then we all wished one another goodnight and went back into our respective rooms. Very little damage had been done to our apartment, save for the downstairs bathroom being wet with sprinkler water and the door to the hallway in the basement having marks from where someone had hit it to alert us of the emergency.
I ended up finishing the episode of Murder, She Wrote. And then I started writing this blog post.
(NOTE: There were so many titles I wanted to use for this one, but Talking Heads won. FYE:
Honorable mentions: “Fire and Rain,” “I’m on Fire,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Great Balls of Fire.”)