A Seriously Fine Fire

We're going to help whether they want it or not.

I find it incredible that Lisa keeps insisting she doesn't need help even though her whole damn house just burned down. If it were my house that burned down, I'd be wallowing in the drama like a dinner-theater actress, waist-deep in debris, calling for TV film crews to document my suffering. Long after the inferno was extinguished, I'd still be flagging down passing helicopters for repeated rescue evacuations, asking the pilot to let me out at the nearest quickie mart so I could stockpile the free flavored creamers they keep at the coffee station. But evidently that's just me.

"We're fine," Lisa insists. "Seriously."

Seriously? Fine? "You're not fine!" I insist right back. "Your whole damn house burned down!"

OK, maybe it wasn't her whole house that burned down, but there is no arguing that the chunk that did incinerate was sizeable enough to boot her family into the streets.

OK, maybe her family is not in the streets, maybe it's staying in the house of a friend away on vacation, but still, that big column of smoke that could be seen from the next county? That fleet of fire trucks and police cars? That army of neighborhood hens heading through the community ready to donate skin grafts? That was their flaming house in the middle of all that.

Me, I was too busy telling our mutual friends I couldn't believe Lisa didn't call me to tell me her house was burning down to check the messages on my worthless cellphone to hear that she actually called me to tell me her house was burning down. Thank God no one was hurt. Lisa's 8-year-old son Alex is my daughter's classmate and karate partner. They live up the way from us, in one of those fabulous old rolling homes that seem to go on forever. Every time I go over there I discover another wing I hadn't seen before.

"Where did that side porch come from? Did you just have that added?" I asked Marshall just the other week, prefire. He was cooking burgers on their back deck, which itself is bigger than my own entire house — which is separate from the side porch I'd just discovered.

"That?" Marshall said with a wave of his spatula. "That's been there."

Well, it ain't there anymore thanks to an incident involving a house-painting crew and a blowtorch, but don't quote me. I can tell you without a doubt that I probably have no idea if the house-painting crew working on Lisa's house was using a blowtorch to remove the old layer of paint before applying the new layer; all I know is the back of Lisa's house burned off. Lisa said Alex's bedroom caught the brunt of the fire.

"He seems to be handling it OK," Lisa said, adding that the construction crew to rebuild their house was already on the job. She and Marshall were about to take Alex back there for the first time to see if he could salvage anything, and I met them there with my girl so Alex could have company as he assessed the ruins of his room. Afterward, the report was that the only toy of his that survived the fire was one single St. Patrick's Day beanie bear. "And that is like the worst of all the beanie bears, too," my daughter later confided.

Now I'm certain there is a planet-load of people milling around — wringing their hands, casserole in tow, dramatic exclamations at the ready — eager to assist Lisa and Marshall, but Lisa has always been the genius organizer of the neighborhood. She's the one who, if it were one of our houses that burned down, would spearhead the fundraiser to get the Four Seasons to house our whole family while pushing up her sleeves to personally help hammer together a Taj Mahal in replacement. So we're all still milling, waiting for someone like Lisa to organize us, while all Lisa keeps saying is, "Really, we're fine."

"Oh, please! She's not fine!" I told Tammie, our other neighbor. "We're going to help her whether she wants it or not!"

"Yes!" Tammie agreed. "We're gonna smother her with help!"

Yes! We're gonna galvanize the neighborhood any minute now, synchronizing meal deliveries and clothing donations and barn-raising parties even though, you know, I guess Lisa and Marshall probably don't want to live in a barn. But, hey, I say who can't use a barn? Take the barn! I have other useful friends eager to help, too. The psychic Miss Sherrie Cash, for example, wants to donate feather boas and butterfly clips, and my other friend Daniel is insisting on donating the entire collection of Precious Moment figurines his mother has been sending him since he moved here 20 years ago. So Lisa's not getting out of this without our help, Tammie and I declared firmly. In fact, I was so consumed with my resolution to help Lisa that I didn't notice my phone ringing again.

"Seriously," Lisa was saying into my voicemail. "We're fine."

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (hollisgillespie.com). To comment on this story, go to Bad Habits at tampa.creativeloafing.com.

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