I don't think I told you about the first fire, the one that my poor friends-cum-emergency contacts were getting multiple calls about from the alarm company. The one that had them leaving frantic calls for me to get in touch with them and with the fire department. The one that had them suggesting that I find other emergency contacts.
Well, after picking up their 30 messages on my cell hone, I flew home to find a note from the fire fighters on my kitchen table. The note explained that they had answered the call, entered the house through a second-story window, thoroughly investigated, and found..... nothing.
I called the Chief to thank him and to get more details, because there was a definite smokey smell that greeted me when I wandered through the house. After explaining that, despite using the most up-to-date equipment (including thermal imaging and, no doubt, giant axes, helmets, and big boots) and despite the fact that there really had been a fire that his men could not locate, he admitted to being baffled.
"It smelled to us like burnt hair. Did you use a curling iron this morning?" he asked me.
"You've never seen me," I said, "or you would know the answer to that question.I don't own a curling iron because I come by my curls and frizz naturally." I didn't tell him that I don't even own a comb....
"Well, did you roast some meat?" he asked.
"I'm a pseudo-vegetarian," I said. "I sometimes cook poultry or fish, but usually not in the morning."
It was later that evening that I began to sniff whiffs of what started out smelling like a barbeque (hold the sauce) and, within a few days, swelled to the stench of a week-long garbage strike in Manhattan or a month-long power outage in a busy morgue. Quite quickly, M. and I came to the conclusion that a critter had bit the dust by biting a live wire in the wall.
The odor worsened and persisted for quite some time. It seemed to emanate from the stairwell. If you saw me during this time, you might have wondered why my nose looked so red, and now you know what happens to someone who has to pinch her proboscis over a protracted period.
In time, the house returned to its normal homey odors and life went on, as unusual.
Then, last week, the fire alarms went off at 4:20 in the morning. I slipped on a particularly fetching pair of undies. (My mother always told me to make sure that my lingerie was clean and attractive, in case I should end up in a car crash or a house fire and the EMTs have to cut through my clothes). I pulled on the first pair of jeans I could grab, a tattered t-shirt -- what difference would it make if they might have to slash through it, anyway? -- and some ratty sneakers.
What else did I pick up as I tore out of the smoke-filling bedroom, down the staircase, and out the front door? No priceless and irreplaceable photos of my beloved son as a baby and toddler nor of my long-deceased and much loved parents or of the even longer-dead and un-labeled relatives. None of the semi-precious jewelry I've collected nor the treasures I've accrued in my travels. Not my favorite blouse. Not a single thing to wear to the office or to salsa in. I grabbed only one valuable (i.e., my passport) and a purse bulging, as I soon discovered, with cap-less pens, half-used lipsticks, wadded-up tissues, a dollar bill, and a couple of pennies.
Some of the same firefighters who'd previously visited stopped by again, along with some first-timers, in four shiny firetrucks. To make a second story short, this time there was, indeed, a fire. Luckily, it extinguished on its own, before the firefighters got there.
"Do you cut hair?" the biggest fireman asked me.
"Not even my own," I replied. "Why do you ask?"
"We found some long, singed hair up in the attic," he told me. This, just in time for Halloween!
M. kept the evidence: a reeking patch of blackened skin and, burnt-to-a-crisp, yet still-curly, hair. He showed it to the insurance adjuster, who, with a contractor, found some bones (critter number one?) in one of the dead ducts leading from the air handler.
Perhaps the racoons that had long frolicked in the attic, but from whom I hadn't heard a peep or a squeak in about half a year and whom I haven't ever seen hide nor hair of, have finally left my house -- along with their hides and their hairs. In the meantime, and as repairs are being made, I'm insisting that M. put up a trap and install new fire alarms. And I'm making a generous donation to my friends at the fire department.