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10:38 am | 05 August 2004 | arson daily

So in the early autumn of 1998 I was sitting on a friend's front porch in my hometown, Grand Rapids, drinking cheap vodka and cherry Kool-Aid with The Buddhist Punk, back before he was Buddhist, when we were just semi-filthy punk kids spiraling towards a suburban destruction via litres of cheap booze mixed in cups of soda pilfered from the community college Subway, kids who drove too fast and cared too much. The Buddhist Punk actually called my mom once to inform her that I was too drunk to come home, which was, for a going-nowhere kid (as we were then), one of the noblest, most courageous things I think I'd ever seen. His mom told me that kids with dyed black hair and noserings didn't belong in their subdivision so, come 1998, we were busy hanging out at our friends' houses, drawing tattoo flash, playing with the boxer puppy that the other Sean had named after my grandmother, and throwing beer cans against the wall.

It was just such a night. TBP and I had just cemented our pact to marry each other if we were both single at age 35 and we were sitting out on the porch, catching the first cooler night-breezes to infiltrate the summer's swelter. This house was located on a fairly busy street for out hometown--which meant two lanes each way--and the rows of 1950s houses were a mix of young kids and lower-middle-class families, with apartments and dubious pizza joints sprinkled throughout. The night was still.

The house across the street was a white, two-story affair, divided (in quadrants, apparently) into apartments. To the left sat an empty gravel lot. As we sat on the porch, an indistinct figure burst through the parking lot from the bushes in the back with a bottle in his hand. A bottle that he then lit and flung against the rear quarter of the house. Yes, a straight-up Molotov cocktail, in the semi-ghetto of a bourgeois Michigan town. The entire side of the house went up in flames.

There's a kind of incredulous oh shit feeling that washes over you in situations of extremity. Of course, dangerous disaster is bad; but I love that feeling. It's the feeling that has me driving to Chicago in the worst lightning- or snowstorms. It's the feeling that has me crawling out on window ledges when I lock myself out of my third-story apartment building. It's a feeling that explains a lot of my romantic history: I like disaster. When the house caught fire, we sent a friend indoors to call 911 and TBP and I, of course of course, ran right across the street (me carrying the pitcher of cherry-Kool-Aid; old habits die hard, if ever).

TBP grabbed the hose while I (this is not a grand moment, I admit) dashed the punch against the flames and started pounding on the door of the back ground-level apartment. People came out the front doors from the other three apartments, but the one most threatened by the fire was silent. The metal door grew too hot to pound on, and Grand Rapids' finest arrived only moments later, having (I'm sure) run out of kittens to rescue in our sleepy-ass town. They had the fire out within a matter of moments and the neighbours stood around in various sets of nightgowns, t-shirts, and house slippers, conjecturing about motives, about the young man in the bottom apartment (working nights, not home) being a baby-daddy, love gone wrong, another story about neglected kids or blood feuds, another bomb thrown over a woman, etc. To their credit, though we immediately came clean about having been drinking on the porch, the firemen just wanted as many details as we could provide (it was dark he was hunched and running the Molotov cocktail the suddenness of the flames) and didn't grace us with the commonly feared MIPs: the Minor-in-Possession (-of-Alcohol) citations that about half of us would get before we got out of Michigan, if we got out at all. I was the only one who got out, and I sometimes think I'm too proud of it. Thinking about those nights, about people just trying to get along and be happy, about Stella the boxer puppy, about my friends who are making good of it back home: well, there's something higher about it, something almost graceful or noble: good people. The kind of kids that'd call your mother if something went wrong. The kind of kids who'd fight someone else's fire.


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