Out of the closet and flaming


Maybe she’s a pyromaniac, maybe she wanted to smoke out the hated next-door neighbors, maybe she really loves the taste of a wiener roasted on a stick, or maybe she just had one too many glasses of wine with dinner, but my girlfriend’s mother insisted we have a bonfire when we visited their place out in the country this weekend. And, anticipating her desire and knowing how I’d throw myself into the project, her husband had amassed a great amount of things for me to throw onto the fire, including a large amount of dry brush, an old flower box, and a snake that dropped out the armload of fuel in which it had been hiding and wriggled away just as it was about to be thrown into the flames. Before long, we were all drunk and the flames had reached ten feet in height. By the next morning, everything in the yard had been covered in a layer of ash, just like the end of that Tommy Lee Jones movie about the volcano, except without the heavy-handed message about racial harmony and how black people and white people look exactly the same when covered by a thick coating of grey volcanic ash.

Not that our bonfire was racially divisive, of course, although it did appear to upset an appalled-looking chipmunk that had apparently been making its home in the stone fire pit and thus may have inflamed human-chipmunk tensions. But it did remind me of another fire of similar magnitude some years ago.

It was actually about fifteen years ago, around this time of year. My second year of university was just ending, and Colin Stein was throwing a party at his house on Alfred Street. Stein wrote for the same campus rag that I did, though he was, and likely still is, older and cooler than me. He was in fact old enough to be graduating and moving out of town, and this is why he was inclined to throw a huge party without much concern as to whether the house was left habitable at the end of it.

In the back yard, in flagrant contravention of local fire codes and Kingston city bylaws, burned a bonfire whose flames blazed about twenty feet into the night sky. Each time the flames ebbed, more wood was thrown on, until, as the night wore on, the fuel supply ran low. Eventually, Stein disappeared into his house, in search of fuel for the flames.

Eventually, he emerged triumphant, struggling with an unwieldy set of closet doors he’d ripped out of his bedroom, which he tossed onto the bonfire to a roar of approval from the crowd ringing the fire.

So, anyway, great party.

Here’s the interesting part: Around the same time a couple of years later, I was at another party in a house on the same street. I had this unshakable sense of what I thought might be déjà vu but was probably just mild alcohol poisoning. Eventually, I happened to be standing with a few people in the bedroom of one of the girls hosting the party (although my girlfriend tells me now that I’m not allowed to be in strange women’s bedrooms, not even before she met me).

As I stood there, I noticed that all her clothing was hung and folded neatly in her closet, which didn’t have any doors. I asked her what had happened to her closet doors. She shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “They’ve never been there.”

And then I realized it: I actually did know what had happened to those closet doors. I was in Colin Stein’s house.

One Response to “Out of the closet and flaming”

  1. 1 Colin

    This is one of my favorite stories in a while. I love every post you make! Keep it up!
    Also- I put in my vote for your Goode Job– Good Luck!

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