Friday, October 7, 2011


I am grateful that my wife did not go to the office last Thursday. Else I would have come home to a house of ash. She decided to stay home at the last minute. I had turned on the dryer at 7:00 a.m. before I took the kids to school and made it to the office. At the tail-end of a meeting at 10:30 a.m., I received a frantic phone call from my wife, telling me that the dryer was on fire. 

I hung up, called 911, and sped to the house, speed-dialing her over and over again. No answer, but I figured it to be a good sign when I came within the vicinity of my house but saw no smoke hovering over it. Speeding into the cul de sac, the fire engine, firemen, and neighbors made an awkward arc around my house. And there was my wife, peeved and holding my littlest. That was all I cared about.

After giving them a big hug, I turned my attention to the firemen who were tossing heaps of clothes, half soaked, half ash, onto the lawn and wrestling the burnt dryer out of the laundry room. Main evidence of my wife's having bravely fought the fire was the pool of water all over the laundry and kitchen floor. 

When she noticed the fire, she had unplugged the dryer, doused it with container after container of water from the kitchen sink (which she found frustrating because I had recently installed a water-saving contraption that restricts water-flow from the sink). Then she called me. 

The damage could have been worse. Besides the house smelling like a campfire, the dryer was gone, the laundry floor ruined, and over thirty articles of clothing incinerated. So far, the home owner's insurance has been amiable.

So Sharilyn and I have talked about the "what ifs." What if she had gone to work or taken a nap or any number of scenarios. That got old after thirty minutes or so, relief trumping all of those negative calculations. 

The one thing, however, that has stuck with us is the reality that we are not immune to freak accidents or reasonable accidents for that matter. While an odd situation like a dryer fire initially makes you extra-vulnerable and jumpy (you see the potential for dryer fires everywhere), for us there was the shedding of that suburban smugness that attracted us to this house in the first place.

When you feel too safe, you don't think like a normal human should. You can't. You don't take reasonable caution. You don't take note of the little, errant judgments you make. You don't "double-check" yourself. And a little bit of the "you" you want to become dies. Maybe you want to lose weight, or learn a skill, or be a better dad. But you are prevented from doing that because you have no ability to tap into those natural reserves that allow you that. You have been disarmed of your unregulated skill-sets by the comfort police. They are lying dormant within you.

The comfort police tell you that if your yard is artificially green or greener than your neighbors, well, you are that much more immune than they are to the things that happen to people who don't care as much. When you are immune, you do stupid things like, I don't know, not locking your doors at night when you go to bed, leaving your purse on the front seat of your car when you dart into the gas station, paying your taxes only when the letters from the IRS get aggressive.

When we are comfortable like that, we are willing too shell out money for gym memberships whose services we don't use, magazines and newspapers we don't read, food we don't eat, and toys our children don't play with. Of course not. These items serve one purpose only: they are parts of that comfortable environment we create that act as a buffer between us and that real world to which we have grown unaccustomed and are afraid to encounter. We don't want stirred up within us the need for those unregulated, atrophied skills that initially got us to this level of comfort in the first place.

So what comfortable things have I given up? Well, defunct electric and electronic equipment is the first thing that comes to mind (after all, I don't want another fire).The day of the fire, I tossed a vacuum cleaner whose cord had frayed in two places and I also tossed a toy upon which my littlest daughter had injured herself. Yes, we felt leaner and meaner  again. And it feels good.


  1. Very true. Our house burned down when I was a child. I'm very glad you didn't have to go through that, but still learned some of those lessons.


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