Friday, December 22, 2006


Had a real nightmare evening here in the apartment building two nights ago. Fortunately, I'm a light sleeper. I awoke suddenly in the middle of the night hearing some sort of distant alarm. I checked the clock on my radio, 4.30 am. It sounded like some kind of like a smoke alarm, far away. Then I smelled smoke. Fuck.

I jumped out of bed, turned on the lights and checked to see if there was a fire in my apartment. No. But there was a lot of smoke. Then I gingerly opened the door to the hallway of the building. More smoke, a lot more. Getting scared now, I threw on my clothes and cautiously looked for the source of the smoke.

About this time I heard the front door of one of the apartments above me open. It's an old building, two apartments per floor.
"Do you smell smoke?"

It felt good to have an ally in this. It sure wasn't my imagination.
"Let's find out where it's at!"
My neighbor, a short Latin guy came down and joined me in the hallway. We cautiously made ou way down one flight. There was still smoke but it wasn't coming from the second floor. Then we walked down to the first floor. No question it was coming from the apartment in the back, on the left. The smoke alarm was much louder. The apartment had one of those old transom windows above the door. It was packed with grey smoke. My new friend pointed it out to me. I began pounding on the door.
"Wake up! You got a fire in there!! Open the door!"
No answer. I kept pounding harder and harder.
Cameroon, the guy from the 4th floor, went outside and pounded on the tenant's windows.
"Who is it?"
Finally a voice.
"It's Brian from upstairs. Open the door! Your apartment's on fire! OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!!"

Suddenly the door opened. There was Philip, the tenant, a black guy of about 40, in white underwear, looking really out of it and disoriented. Smoke everywhere, thick grey smoke. I couldn't believe he could sleep thru that. Then I noted the source of the smoke. There was a skillet on the stove, with something in it, a small flame underneath, giving off thick black smoke.
"You left the skillet on!!" he yelled to someone else in the apartment, who hadn't bothered to get up.

Philip shut the stove off. I opened the door to the outside to let some air in and and the smoke out. Cameroon came back in. It was probably the window banging that woke Philip up, in his bedroom.

That was the most frightening thing I've ever been involved in, with the exception of living through the Northridge Earthquake in California.

When I ran into Philip last night at the mailbox he explained that he and his friend were drunk, they were celebrating a birthday. "That will never happen again!"
I sure hope not.


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