I Survived the Fire of '07
Where there's smoke, there's Old Navy PJs
by Jack Mauro
Before I conscientiously record the events as experienced by me during the fire on Jackson, I want it known that, to the best of my knowledge, no one was seriously hurt or killed. Having fun with a disaster on paper is swell. You don't, however, want giggling over charred remains.
2:28 a.m.: My apartment fire alarm goes off. Like many another tenant, I am in a dream fugue and do not at first understand why a cousin I haven't seen in 20 years is screaming at me to evacuate.
2:29: I understand. This is helped by the recorded and strangely erotic masculine voice bellowing throughout the Sterchi Lofts. He is telling us to get out, and get out now. He is also commanding us to take the stairs. I throw on sneakers and a sweatshirt, and I comply. I am hoping that nothing too awful is occurring, and I am hoping that emergency recording guy is somewhere down there.
2:29: I pause before leaving. The fire alarm is equipped with a white strobe light, too. This is too cool; I am at last Sigourney Weaver in the final reel of Alien . I pose by the wall for a moment. Then I go.
2:31: The residents herd outside. I had no idea that Old Navy PJ's were so the thing with UT students. I will get some, since they are so fashionable. Near me, a young man yells that he just left last call somewhere, and now this. Many dogs, finally confronted with their canine neighbors, sniff dangerously. An officer moves us down Gay, as an arc of water strikes the Firestreet Lofts corner. It isn't burning, and I presume this to be a precaution. But I am unnerved. I do not know if I am unnerved by the near fire or by being in the midst of many college students, but I suspect it is the latter.
2:45: The obliging officer spreads the word: This will be hours, and everyone is encouraged to find other quarters for the evening. I notice the odd aspect of the homeless now mingling with the Loft tenants. It is a credit to democracy and modern style that hip beard growth and Old Navy PJs render it a challenge to tell just who is whom. Disbelief is then expressed by the residents, along with demands to fetch cell phones and wallets. The officer makes it clear that, unfortunately, no one can be allowed back in the building. I reflect that I don't know anyone to call and that there is no 24-hour diner down the street. Then I remember the alley access behind the Sterchi, and plot.
2:46: A grungy boy begs to be allowed to get to his car, parked somewhere near the danger zone. The cop escorts him to it. I follow. They pass the Sterchi entry, and I make a sharp right, feeling supremely Machiavellian. I get in. My sexy recorded voice once again tells me to turn around, but I do not. I take the stairs and return to my apartment, knowing this may be folly but knowing, too, that I can see the activity very well from my window. And can, presumably, hit the stairs again should I see the fire cross over to Gay.
2:48: I watch an old Columbo . In between scenes of Janet Leigh doing in her hubby, I check the window. I strain my neck and see the blaze, for blaze is what it truly is. Then I turn up the volume on the TV, because the alarm remains shrill. It seems to be warning Janet Leigh that her crime will be exposed. But that may be my exhaustion.
4-ish: The alarm turns off. I hear excited, sort of after-party snippets of talk as the other tenants come home.
The next day: I get calls from New Jersey, because this fire made the national news and friends think I am burnt to a crisp. I go out for a bite to eat in the afternoon, and am stopped by a news team outside the front doors. They want to know how safe I feel, living on Gay Street. I want to know if we can turn around and get me lit from behind, which is the only way I can appear human on camera. My request is ignored. I go to the Brewery, feeling a little like a celebrity. Then absolutely no one buys me a drink, and I come back down to Earth again.