A dear friend of mine (hi, Steve — you dashing diva-maker, you) wrote to ask how I was doing, what with so much of the area in which I live being on fire, and all.
“We east-coasters have no clue as to what you are going through,” wrote Steve. “God has you going through this for a reason, and since you are a gifted writer, it just might be to share your story. Those of us on the outside need to know about the suffering thousands, and you can tell people in a compelling way.”
Isn’t that sweet? Wrong — but sweet.
Man. I wish I was a gifted writer. That is so much better than being … well, for instance, someone who just spent two days on his couch eating, listening to the radio, and watching the entire first season of Ugly Betty on DVD. (Can I just say that when the UB characters Mark and Amanda come onscreen I get so intensely happy I can barely hear them? Could those two possibly be any funnier?!! No. It’s really almost more than I can stand. They’re … the new Jack and Karen!)
The reason I cannot in any truly compelling way communicate anything of substance about San Diego Wildfires: 2007!! (as much of the local broadcast media has been referring to it, in their best “MONSTER TRUCK RALLY!!” vocal style, since apparently it’s so difficult to tell the difference between a major, sweeping tragedy and a Super Bowl game), is because I’ve barely been involved in it.
I didn’t have to evacuate. I didn’t lose my house. The business into which I proudly poured my life didn’t disappear in five minutes. None of my relatives laid awake throughout the night outside at Qualcomm Stadium wondering where they were going to live next, or how. My children weren’t desperately inconsolable with the fear of their lost pets having burned to death. No one I know is right now, as I write, risking their life by donning a lead-lined body suit so heavy most people couldn’t even stand in one, and then charging into hot, thick, blinding smoke to fight with all their might for 12 and 15 hours straight before they pass out from exhaustion, sleep for two hours, and then jump up and do it again.
No one I know has been hospitalized with third-degree burns.
No one I know is among the agricultural and day laborers you won’t hear about on the news who died in the fires because they lived down amongst the trees and bramble of the canyons most quickly and thoroughly consumed.
None of that happened to me. Here, fire-wise, is about all that did:
I watched as my next door neighbors, draped in blankets and wearing oxygen masks, so that they appeared as other-wordly spectres in the smoke-hazed air, packed their car and then headed north in the hopes of finding cleaner air for their two-year-old girl.
My wife was very busy for two days keeping track of all her employees — who, if they ever doubted they had the best boss in the world, sure know it now. She made it very clear that all she cared about was their welfare. (Many had been evacuated. None lost their homes.)
One the first day of the fires, when the air was at its thickest — all gray, with ash dropping and floating everywhere like post-apocalyptic snow — I had to drive to a local drugstore to pick up some medicine. There were no cars on the streets: all was quiet and eerie. The drug store, and the grocery store in the same business center, were still open. The air outside was so bad that rather than walk the short distance from the drug store to the grocery store, I shopped for our Evacuation Food and Supplies (at that time we’d been told to prepare to leave our home) at the drug store. They had toothpaste, cookies, Wheat Thins, enveloped tuna, and D batteries. They were out of air masks. Good enough.
We were sooo lucky, because we own two big, solid air purifiers, which we’ve been steadily running now for three days. Not only do they clean the air, but they move the air around, which is like a gift from God, because we (still ) can’t open our windows. I have no idea how people without air purifiers are living. A lot of places in San Diego don’t have air conditioning, and it’s been hot here. If I didn’t have air moving around to cool me off, I’d be insane. I know I’d open the windows, because I wouldn’t have a choice. No doubt about that. I wouldn’t be able to take the stifling heat.
On day two of SAN DIEGO WILDFIRES: 2007!! I saw what I think is the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen. Around noon, in air so bad the sun was a dull pink ball you could stare right at, I saw a women outside on the sidewalk across the street from my house, Actually Jogging. Carrying a little water bottle. Listening to her i-pod. Jogging herself to death.
I just now — with soot and ash still floating around outside, with the air still smelling exactly like a freshly ground-out cigar — saw a woman taking her baby for a walk in its stroller. Which would be outside. With the air we’re all supposed to try to avoid. Which means … what? That she’s trying to kill that child? That she’s the dumbest nanny ever? That she just … doesn’t care? That she just doesn’t …. realize that all that gray stuff covering everything and raining on her child was fine particulate matter from the fires that have been and are ravaging San Diego?
Anyway. None of my business. I guess. I don’t know. In my past I’ve any number of times come between a parent and the way they’re treating their child, and I have never found it to be anything but a bad thing to do. Unless you’re prepared to hold the parent and child until the police come, you only end up making things worse for the kid. And it’s not like the police don’t have anything to do right now, anyway.
For instance, they’ve got to block — and this is happening right now, as I write — all freeway and road access to Rancho Bernardo, where by far more homes burned down than in any other part of San Diego. Most Rancho Bernardo residents have spent the last four days living at an evacuation center. This morning they were told they can now return to their neighborhoods; they were free to go home and discover whether or not they still have a home. So they all piled in their cars and took off onto the highway, and when they reached the only two exits there are to get to Rancho Bernardo, they found the police blocking those exits. Turns out they can’t go home. Somehow they doing so would compromise the safety of George W. Bush’s aerial tour of the places where the fires caused the most people the most suffering.
Sure can be a crazy world. Sure feels like it is, just now, here.