Thursday, July 24, 2008

burning down the house

So today I walked across the park to Cali, to get some egg rolls and cream cheese wontons (egregious calorie consumption, and me not riding the bike yet this week. Shame. Guilt. Yum.) After scuttling across Broadway, always dicey, I turned right and smelled a smell. That burnt-up-house smell. And there on the corner was the green stucco with the chain link fence, clearly gutted, with the broken windows still laying in the scorched grass. Boarded by now, yet charred holes gape from the second floor. Roof peeled back around the edges, melted flashing -- a total loss. I sort of vaguely remember the guy who lived there, a heavyweight white man who hung around in his garage; and probably ate at Cali a lot, since they are right across the alley.

I smelled that smell, and I wondered if it was or was not the smell from my dream this morning. After all, I launched up out of bed before I was fully conscious, propelled by that unmistakeable scent of wood and destruction. But it dissipated as I became aware, and left me with a sense of perfume. Meanwhile, white guy came around with a friend as I was leaving the restaurant, and woefully gave her the tour. I felt badly for him -- for the way his little green house took up all of the tiny lot on that Broadway corner, with barely six feet between the former rooms of his dwelling and the street -- what huddled shelter it might have provided him now gone. And who would build on that lot now? The City probably domained him out of as much yard as is legal -- it's a really unappealing location. Loud. And just down the street from the gas station where the clerk was shot and killed a few years ago.

The smell of burnt wood has so many variations. A home going up has a certain acrid note; the opposite of incense. Somewhere near my house there's a firepit or a smoker that they use at night half the summer, which produces volumes of cedar and hickory smoke and requires us to sleep with our windows shut. (Dammit.) But then, a campfire of pine and hardwood is a lovely, evocative thing. Crackling twigs and burnt marshmallows. The gradations are subtle. But what about those folks in California, who smell acres of woodland inferno drifting sootily across the land for weeks or even months at a time? And what else do the firemen know, can they tell what the age of a structure might be by the smell of it as it is consumed?

My dream leaves me with many more questions than answers.

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