Last night, I managed to get into bed at a very respectable hour, about 11:00PM. The first week of classes is always a doozy. But the first week in the Spring Semester is also when our Annual Merit Review reports are due to be turned in. As Chair of my department’s Faculty Council, mine are the annoying emails that remind our faculty about the upcoming process. We send one out in mid to late November when Thanksgiving turkeys and the respite of the winter recess is on everyone’s mind. People receive it, brushing it aside with the gentle shove like the one I used to use when swatting my white cat, Bernstein, away from my black pants before I’d head off to work. Then, with military precision, comes the second email, launched on the first work day after New Year’s, reminding them about the report’s due date in approximately ten days. God help the faculty member who leaves the task until the first week of class. I can only imagine the sleeplessness that mires that member’s mind.
So, anyway, this is that week, and though I have turned in my report, the week has still been as busy as ever. Auditions for nine of our thirteen spring productions are happening, and the University committees are meeting again this week. So it was with extreme anticipation of quieting my mind with the restorative slumber beckoning me from our magic bed, that I turned down the sheets, plumped the pillows, raised the head of the bed and climbed in. Aaaaaahhhhhhhh. I was really ready to close my eyes and go out.
But no, off in the distance, like the annoying mosquito that befriends my ear lobe on a summer night on Cape Cod, i could hear the insistent sound of a few helicopters circling the downtown. It went on for about 20 minutes, circling within earshot, then out, then in, then really in. Now it sounded like the chopper was almost overhead. I got out of bed and opened the blinds and yes, could see some sort of light lighting up the side of the AON building about 5 blocks to the north. Pissed, I climbed back into the bed, and shoved my right shoulder into the mattress, pulling the sheet over my face and mumbled curses into my pillow.
My husband, still in the living room, made his way into the bedroom and said, “I’m going out on the patio to see what’s going on out there.” And in a few minutes, he returned, saying that there was a building on fire on Figueroa. I jumped out of bed and threw open the blinds again, peering into the sky to the left of our building. Sure enough, the chopper was now circling the Water Marke building, which is literally across the street on the corner of 9th and Flower. About a 25 story building or so, the top of the roof has a lighted border around it, and as the chopper circled, I could see plumes of smoke coming from the roof. “Oh my god,” I thought. “The building is on fire.” All of the bad high rise films came to mind – “Towering Inferno,” “Fire: Trapped on the 37th Floor” (Ok, I confess for searching the subject just now and came up with that title which no one remembers).
Like Jimmy Olsen, I put on my shoes, grabbed my camera, and joined my husband on the patio. I could hear sirens coming, and sure enough, I saw three fire trucks arrive, gathering at the bottom of the building on Ninth and Flower. I couldn’t yet see any flames, but the smoke swirled around the top of the building, and the steel gray chopper insistently circled the lighted crown of the building, pushing the smoke around. Lights from atop the building lit the chopper’s underbelly and blades as they passed over the top of the building, but oddly, the firemen below weren’t readying their ladders, uncoiling their hoses. None of them was rushing into the building It was weird.
Here is my best video reportage – sadly, I had by now convinced myself that there actually was a fire and that I could smell it; furthermore, I was coughing because of the “smoke” that was drifting over across the street to my apartment.
And then, as quickly as they had appeared, the firetrucks pulled away from the curb, and drove away. The irritating chopper wheeled off to the north, leaving the smoky crown of the building. I had been duped. The only thing that was real here was my disgust and total exhaustion. I put down my camera and climbed into bed.