My Apartment Complex Was on Fire And I Grabbed Nothing

Last night my apartment building almost burned to the ground. Well, not really, but it got me to thinking.
Publish date:
September 17, 2012
emergencies, fire preparedness

Remember George Clooney's "backpack" speech in "Up in the Air"?

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you're carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life... you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV... the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now.

I've always wondered how much my life really weighed. Was it as heavy as all my debt? Or as light as the cotton muumuu I wear around the house? Was heavier better, or as Clooney suggests "the slower we move, the faster we die." Last night I found just how fast I can move when my condo building almost burned to the friggin' ground. We had less than 60 seconds to escape in a very orderly fashion for our very lives!

I was in our kitchen cutting up cheap chicken thighs when my dog Miles started going berserk with the barking and the zigzagging around the open-concept living/dining/kitchen like an invisible Pac-Man ghost was after him. Miles does this a lot. He is easily excitable. So instead of going all "Hey Lassie, what's wrong boy? Is Timmy strung out by the garbage dumpster again?" I yelled, "Miles, get your shit together!" from the kitchen island and kept on cutting.

Less than a second later, the fire alarms in our apartment started screaming bloody murder. I paused mid-cut as my boyfriend rushed to the door to do the manly "Let me see what's going on here" thing and poke his head out into the hall. Sneaky tendrils of smoke rolled in after him.

"We've gotta go!" he said, "Now," his back already headed to our home office for a "few items."

I stood there momentarily stunned, trying to 1) recall all that elementary fire drill training and 2) remember where my keys were. All I could think of stuffing into my metaphorical life backpack was Miles, who was still spinning like a wind-up toy. I grabbed the dog, his leash and yelled at Ike to get his phone while I joined the file of folks speed-walking to safety.

Once we were outside I noticed that Ike had all his "i's" in a row -- iPad, iPhone and MacBook. I had Miles. And we seemed pretty complete.

I ran through the mental grocery list of stuff I'd left behind -- my computer (i.e., life's blood), my phone, my very expensive diplomas, the Phillip Lim dress I have worn only once but stare at multiple times a day, copies of my book, a framed picture of my mom with a huge afro all her own. There was so much in there I didn't give a second thought. Basically everything.

After the fire trucks came we figured out that some neighbors had gotten a little too hyped up about their Hibachi and set off the entire building's alarm system grilling lobster on their stove. Right. It was funny because of how high class it all sounded, especially considering that if the mothersucka had burned down the most expensive things I would've owned would be a purebred Pug and a pair of J. Crew shorts.

The prospect of that -- owning nothing -- sounded oddly thrilling in a weird way. Obviously I like having stuff, like it so much that I forget it's even around. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Not caring about all the crap you've accumulated.

When we got back inside, after the place was cleared, Ike and I talked about getting a safe so that when the aliens or zombies or four horsemen blow up our building we can pick through the ruins and get our essentials. Like the black box to our lives. And, of course, that sent me back to the Clooney connundrum. What to put in it?