Tag Archives: Fire

Working Titles For My Forthcoming (And Totally Imaginary) Autobiography*

  1. Who Are These People, and What Do They Want?
  2. No Is A Sentence.
  3. And I Was There Too.
  4. Porcupine Blues.
  5. Lose A Man, Eat A Pizza.
  6. Hardly A Sham.
  7. I Remember Everything.
  8. Small Wounds.
  9. Various.
  10. Meh.
  11. Just the Crunchy Bits.
  12. BRRAMP!!!
  13. The Loud Part Quiet and the Quiet Part Loud.
  14. How About I Just See You There?
  15. LOL STFU!
  16. OK Guess I’ll Put On A Bra Then.
  17. Sludge and Drudgery.
  18. Paper Beats Rock?
  19. Everything That Isn’t, All the Things That Aren’t.
  20. It Had To Be Somebody.
  21. The Bitter Sweets.
  22. Armloads!
  23. You Missed.
  24. More Money Than Cents.
  25. Not Over It.
  26. Fire, Fire, Everywhere!
  27. FINE, fine, fine, fine.
  28. Pub = Public House, Flo Rida = Florida. And Other Discoveries.
  29. Only You Would Think That, Karen.



* Please follow any of these with “The Cindy Phan Story,” where you feel it best fits.




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Filed under Animals, Books, People, Plans, Pop Culture, THE FUTURE

False Alarms

On a recent road to Ottawa the fire alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 7:00 in the morning.

I did what I think anyone would naturally do, which was assume that it was a false alarm – accepting that there was no real danger – and went back to sleep. In fact, no one staying at the motel seemed particularly concerned about the alarm: there was no running out of doors, no frantic calls to staff (or each other) about the apparent looming danger, the possibility, yes, of a suddenly close (probably painful) death.

None of that.


On a different trip, I was staying at the UBC dorms in Vancouver when the fire alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. It rang and rang and rang. My roommate and I finally got out of bed when it kept on ringing. Only we didn’t know what to do after that. Call someone? There hallways were dead, no one was rushing out of the building or knocking on our door and it seemed wrong, if no one else was showing evident concern, to stir up a commotion. More than that, it seemed an impertinence.

Who does that?

I have often been called an impertinence.

When the firetruck showed up, we called down from our 4th story window. Should we leave?

Yes, the firefighters responded. You should. And please, if you don’t mind, go and knock on all the doors and tell all those people to leave too.

We did, and is it really a surprise that not everyone behind those doors decided to leave right away?

Well, was there a fire, or wasn’t there?

When there turned out to be, in fact, no fire, there was, rather then a sense of collective relief, that heavy cream feeling of having wasted everyone’s time.

All the embarrassment we weren’t spared.

How needlessly we had knocked on all those doors.


But the alarm was real, wasn’t it? That’s what bothers me still, that particular uncertainty, the exact definition(s) of that, and also what it could look like if looked at differently.

The alarm was real – or wasn’t it?

Real or not, it seems that the instinct to go to look and see and at least make sure that everything is OK (or not) – to confirm that someone’s been crying wolf (or not) – is suspiciously absent.


Suspiciously? No. Not so suspiciously. There’s certainly a kind of expediency to ignoring what is clearly a false alarm – and more than that, to ignoring the kind of alarm that straddles you with the burden of having to take some kind of dubious action on behalf of self-indulgent others, a job, frankly, that you did not ask for, and that is not theirs to foist upon you.

Who even looks up when a car alarm goes off, and who can blame them for not looking?


Sometimes I wonder how much it matters if the danger is real. We are told to be afraid of so many things, false alarms or no, it gets to be exhausting. It is the kind of thing that both drains and undermines you.

Another thing to do is another thing you have to do.

Another thing on top of everything.

An impertinence.


I am reminded of the tornado drills we used to undergo in primary school. The alarm went off (in this case it was a practice, not a false, alarm, another critical distinction), the teachers lined us up, walked us to the basement, lined us up again (this time, rather ominously, against the wall) and told us to duck, and cover.

The tornados never came. In fact, we didn’t live in an area in which tornados should have been of any real concern, except the one time they almost were.

I remember how our teacher talked us through the drills as the alarm rang out.

“Keep your heads down,” he said. “Everything’s fine.”






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Filed under Friends, Interruptions, People, Relationships, Routines

End Game

When Alexey Pajitnov developed Tetris (Russian: Тетрис) in 1985, it seems unlikely that he knew what, exactly, he would unleash into the world.  As he excitedly shared it with his comrades in those early days and sullenly bided his time until the day it would belong to him alone, finally and again (see Kent 2001: 377 – 381), the game, almost effortlessly, became bigger than even itself and threatened to forsake him.

Always love.

And love.

Tetris was, after all, a sensation, a craze, a frenzy – one that flares up occasionally, like wildfire, consuming all in its path.  It is the ultimate test of skill, endurance and luck under pressure, of one against the inevitable.

In that, Pajitnov wasn’t alone.

My friend’s father nearly burned down the house BECAUSE OF TETRIS.

His entire family of 8 was home at the time, most of them sleeping upstairs.  They were always late risers, but anyway it was the weekend.  The stove was on, there was hot oil on a burner and the drapes caught on fire.  Soon, the entire kitchen was engulfed in flames.

It’s hard to say what transpired that fateful morning.  But picture, if you will, Dad going through his morning routine, half awake but perking up to the idea of a hot breakfast.  Bacon today!  With some eggs, maybe?  But just as he clicks on the burner and begins to pull apart the strips of bacon one by one, placing them in beautiful, unbroken lines on the counter, arranging them just so, something begins to pull at the back of his mind, and before it even registers, he is beckoned from his task by the allure of the computer.

Just one quick game…

What happened next is the stuff of lore, of stories passed from person to person, causally thrown about among friends and strangers and landing, from time to time, just a breath shy of the incredible reality of Urban Legend.

The second oldest daughter came downstairs.  She saw the drapes smoke then explode into flames, and she saw her father sandwiched between stairs and the rising fire.  She tensed.  Took a deep, shuddering breath….

               …and promptly ran outside, screaming “FIRE!” as she went…

…while the rest of the family remained inside, upstairs

Dad kept playing the game – oblivious – in a state of such pure geometric ecstasy that breakfast, fire, home, space and time, all were banished to the realm of the inconvenient and unpalatable.

He was on a roll.  The roll of his lifetime…

                     …until another daughter came downstairs, blinked once at the flames and once at her father, and screamed “FIRE!”…

while still in the house…

                   …and roused everybody up before they all ran outside, together.

                   As a family.

Some say Dad was first to hear her screams, but was last to leave the house.

Some say he lingered, hesitating just long enough at the computer screen to gaze one last time upon his high score – his highest score – and to sear it forever into his memory.

For what it’s worth: Second Oldest Daughter had the wherewithal to call the fire department from a neighbour’s place across the street. They managed to put out the blaze in the kitchen before it truly spread to the rest of the house.

For what it’s worth: She swears she believed, at the time, that they would hear her trailing screams, and rather fancies her actions as a kind heroic multitasking, thank you.


For what it’s worth: to this day, Dad swears it was the best game of his life.  In that, he has a kind of undeniable proof.

I was friends with the other daughter.

The good one.

Kent, Steven L.  (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze that Touched Our Lives and Changed Our Worlds. Three Rivers Press: New York.


Filed under Games, THE PAST