Let’s get the critical information out of the way: Somebody set fire to the trash can outside our work. This was after dark, a couple hours before we closed.
We had just helped a family who ordered way too many complicated drinks for me to maintain my forced smile much longer. We said our goodbyes, and the group cheerfully ambled away from our store. We had been training a new guy, so when the father returned with a couple kids in tow, I pasted my smile back onto my wary face and said, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” I was pretty certain one, or maybe three, possibly six, of the drinks had been messed up in some spectacular fashion, and I’d have to break out some complimentary beverage cards.
What he told me was a bit out of our ordinary routine. “Yeah. Uh, sir? There’s a fire in the trash can outside the store. .I just thought somebody should know.”
“Really?” See, I’m really good with the back-and-forth art of chatting. My wit and intellect gave me quite the healthy advantage in dealing with customers and door-to-door salesmen.
“Yes,” he said, staring. Pretty sure he thought I was a few clowns short of a circus.
My first thoughts were muddled. Well, it’ll probably go out. Probably a cigarette somebody tossed into a cup, and it made a little smoke. Should I call 911? It’s not OUR trash can. I wonder if I get paid enough for this…?
“Sir, I’d suggest you grab some water and dump it on the trash.”
“Right!” And with that I sprung into action. Chief Carpenter on the scene!
“I’ll grab a cup!” A cup? What was I thinking?
Brushing my thoughts aside, I grabbed our bright red two-gallon bucket with”Sanitizer” written in white block letters. I dumped the sanitizer solution out, and filled it with water from the sink. Presto! I have red fireman tools! Now I’m a real fireman just like my grandpa and my dad! Wished I’d had a hose. That’s not a euphemism.
When I was a kid I was very proud of the fact my dad and grandfather were firefighters. Once at Crabtree Park I told a couple of second-grader Sacramento hoodlums that my relatives were about seven feet tall, and if I called, my firefighter family would kick their butts if they didn’t leave me alone. I was always good with the talking-with-words things. I knew lots of words. Some of them were big words. Still do. But now I have a bucket and a mission!
I walked outside for my first glimpse at the fire. There was none, really. There was a smoldering cardboard thing at the top of the very full wastebin; probably one of our drink carriers. Lots of smoke pouring out of the hole. I dumped the water directly onto the trash. Then I got lots of smoke.
One summer, When I was twelve or thirteen, a fire got out of control in Curry County near my dad’s jobsite and I was asked to dig out “hot spots”. The fire was mostly (if not completely) under control at the time, so I got to dig in dirt, dump this dirt onto spots where I saw embers. Wearing a heavy fire-resistant coat and digging in the summer is hot, difficult, grueling work. I got blisters on my hand from the shovel. I got paid $5 an hour and thought I was going to be the richest kid alive, until the work started. I barely made it two days. Thirty-five years later I got my second chance.
The man told me, “Somebody must have thrown a cigarette in there.” I didn’t think so. There was a lot of plastic in there, and plenty of wet stuff from discarded cups. It was probably set deliberately. I went back in the store for a second bucket of water. I dumped that one into the can as well.
Smoke still poured out.”I think it was probably either set deliberately, or somebody pranked us with a smokebomb.”
The family left unfazed. Apparently the coffee shop guy making garbage chimneys is something they see every day of the week.
I checked the can five minutes later. No smoke. Good. I dumped another gallon of water onto the bin. Still no smoke. I wonder if we angered a customer with impulse control issues, or if a careless smoker just tossed his butt into the can. Maybe a kid with a smokebomb. I’ll probably never know, because I’m not going through 40 gallons of soggy trash to find out.
So, how did you spend your Saturday? Went out on a date? Saw a movie? Yeah, cool. I went to work and fought fires. Nothing big. Kurt Russell in Backdraft, you’ve got nothing on me!