Thursday, November 25, 2004

Sirens, fire, radio, & moral cowardice

I went to Jersey City today in September & came home in December, the weather had changed that radically.

I also expected to be adequately-rested for a noontime program. Got into bed after 1:30 am with alarm set for 8 to catch the 9 o'clock train. Good enough. Everything was packed & ready to go. Then I heard fire engines in the distance - they have a particular siren sound & also air horns. They were coming closer. & I heard an ambulance, they do whoops. & a police car, or two police cars. All getting louder. & louder. & closer. Then, suddenly, they all converged on the corner outside, but they kept going, under the window & down Elm Street. Where the sirens went silent. But it was flashing Christmas lights outside the window. SoI got up & looked out. On the left, a cop car had the street blocked. Next to that was an ambulance, & I could see two fire engines on Cherry Street. I opened up the screen & looked to the right. At least four fire engines down there & I could hear more coming. Also heard walkie talkies & a bullhorn. I got up, got dressed & went out to have a better look. Flames were coming from the roof & attic window of a wood frame house about halfway down block on the opposite side. I walked down to watch. The fire looked like it could jump to the houses on either side if the firefighters didn't get on top of it fast. & they did, with a lot of water & firemen inside the house smashing windows. Great clouds of smoke swept down - I can still smell it in my sweat jacket.

My Moral Cowardice: I saw a couple of big fires when I lived on Main Street in Rahway, both at night. One burned down a building with a disreputable gin mill, it was major event, black choking smoke blocking out the streetlights, I took a few photos; a lovely little park with a waterfall is there now. The other was a large frame house around the corner on Grand Ave, after two am, fire trucks from as far away as Roselle Park. That one hurt, because I might have been able to stop it or have it caught in time to save the house. Just before midnight I'd walked past that house on my way to the convenience store at the Shell Station on St. Georges Ave & detected a slight odor overheating electrical wire, but I couldn't place it. On the way home it was even stronger, & it seemed to be coming from the parking area behind the house. But around the same hour a few weeks earlier, I'd been stopped & questioned by four Rahway cops on Grand Ave., in four patrol cars, who apparently were investigating a report of a drug deal & dropoff somewhere on that stretch of road. I'd lived downtown for a decade. I was over fifty years old. I often took late walks to the Shell Station to have a cup of Dunkin Donuts decaf & chat with an attractive Ukrainian woman who worked the graveyard shift. & sometimes I was there when police came in for donuts & coffee. I was known, I had plenty of I.D., & a reason for being out, but I was treated like a serious suspect & although I wanted to get back in the cops' faces for wasting their time while the actual drug dealer or drug buyer disappeared, I played the half-wit & they finally let me leave without so much as an off-handed apology or a "good night, sir." & so on this particular night, fearing the Rahway police, with an acrid burning odor in the air, I did not walk behind the house as my concern & curiousity - & the voice of my father in my head - told me to do. If I had, there's good chance I would've either seen smoke or located the source of the odor as originating in the back room of the downstairs apartment. If I wasn't sure about it, I would've jogged home, one minute away, & called 9-1-1. & if I saw smoke, I would've started ringing doorbells. I've got photos of that fire, too.

Anyway, last night when I saw the flames had been dowsed & the building was smoking, I came home & tried to go to bed. But there were still at least ten fire engines out there & police cars & ambulances & walkie talkies & a bullhorn & I finally gave up, got up, stayed up , & caught the 7 a.m. train to Newark, which was pretty crowded with families headed to over see the Sponge Bob balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

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