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Fire & Burritos

I know what you’re all thinking: How’s ol’ Flynn doing? Oh, I know you’ve all got your own fish to fry, particularly in this parlous, combustible summer, and with the very flames licking at your doorsteps many of you are (appropriately) concerned with nothing more than keeping your selves and stuff unburnt. Some have already suffered unthinkable tragedy and heartbreaking loss, and for that reason I hesitate to even put pen to paper, so to speak, knowing that I am constitutionally incapable of being completely serious when I do. But I am acutely conscious of the war being waged a few miles away. When I see that ominous red sun all but defeated by the sooty, leaden atmosphere, I feel an apocalyptic dread and shiver with sympathetic fear for those affected and afflicted.

Still, it’s only natural to wonder about the condition and progress of your favorite reformed tweaker and reclaimed degenerate felon scalawag, and the answer to that is he is kicking ass and taking names. Snappin’ necks and cashin’ checks, as the fella said. He is bending Life over his knee, taking its basal temperature with a rectal thermometer and pronouncing it well within normal limits. He is worrying challenges like a terrier with a rat, knocking down obstacles like ninepins, and sewing sequins onto the bodice of Aphrodite’s gown.

I, I said in a casual shift to the first person, am actively participating in the labor economy as Grillmaster General for a local chain eatery where a goodly portion of the food is rolled, spicy, and girthily cylindrical. I won’t mention the name because oh, I don’t know, they might not want to be associated with the likes o’ me. It may even be illegal or gauche or something, and I wouldn’t want to violate any ordinances or make any faux pas. You get the picture, though. Y’all can put two and two together and come up with something in the general neighborhood of four. I’ve boundless faith in the wisdom and acuity of my audience.

We’ve been feeding a lot of firefighters of late, mostly out-of-towners. Some the normal Northern Cal squads you’d expect to see, from Fairfield and Vallejo and Cloverdale, others from further— way further— away, like Anaheim and Long Beach. What really blew my mind, though, were the guys who popped over from the other side of the world to come help us with our fire problem, the Aussies and Kiwis who said, in their adorable accents, “Y’know what we orta do? Go help those poor blokes out there in the Back o’ Bourke, in Mendiseener Kellifawnia. It’s the least we can do, roight?” They just hopped on a plane and traveled a zillion miles into yesterday to come help us with our fire problem. It’s enough to give you faith in the human race.

They all have the same look in their eyes, like soldiers during a lull in the battle, which is exactly what they are. Weighted with the memory of what they’ve been through and the contemplation of what’s yet to come, they grimly line up for their sustenance which we, naturally, provide free of charge, and I find myself wishing we, or I, could do more. I don’t know, maybe send some of the girls out there to rub their shoulders while they eat. I’d like to have some way to convey my respect and admiration for their courage and selflessness beyond a nod and salute with my tongs, but I’ll just say Here’s to you, putting’ the wet stuff on the hot stuff and gettin’ it done. Thanks.

I now have a bank balance which is indicated by four figures, and that’s before the decimal point. Without a negative sign in front of it. This is unheard of in the financial annals of yours truly, and frankly, I’m surprised they even let me into a bank, but apparently in the pecuniary world, all is forgiven after seven years. Lucky me, and I only had to eat horrible food and hang out with sociopaths for that time to wipe the slate clean. I’d recommend it as a way to deal with bad credit but it’s really not everyone’s cup of tea, I’d imagine. There are probably easier ways, or at least less soul-crumpling ones, but I’m just happy to be back in the game and fulfilling the social contract.

Back on the subject of fires, I’d be pleased to have people stop telling me that they are part of the natural order of things and necessary for soil regeneration and healthy flora. It’s true, and it’s also true that volcanoes are indicative of the Earth’s robust and dynamic inner life, but that doesn’t help the guy getting his face melted off by hot lava. Hurricanes are a natural consequence of wind and heat and water pooling their resources and amassing a staggeringly unimaginable amount of power, but when you’re clinging desperately to a palm tree to avoid being blown out into the ocean, you just want it to stop. Fires in populated areas inevitably lead to tragedy and inestimable heartbreak, natural though they be. Let’s focus on trying to ameliorate that and get the fucker out, save the science lectures for another time.

I like my job, though I didn’t think I would when I first accepted the challenge. It’s not exactly cooking, after all, and most of my experience in the hospitality industry has been in kitchens where creativity is encouraged and rewarded. The problem with those places is that they attract a lot of nutjobs, dopers, drunks, and assorted eccentrics who make for a very interesting but also very chaotic workplace in which often, the post-work partying begins in the middle of the shift. It’s fun and intensely satisfying to create a delicious, aesthetically pleasing and groan-garnering plate of food and reward yourself with a shot of tequila afterward, but it’s a young man’s game and one better suited to kids who don’t have life in prison hanging over their heads and will not, if they get a snootful, immediately go out and start shoving barrelsful of meth into their bodies and committing grave offenses against society and the public.

My current gig, with its exacting standards and rigorous adherence to policy, appeals to my new-found sense of order and discipline. The kitchen and equipment is of necessity gleaming and tidy, being in full view of the customers — most of your non-visible kitchens resemble, during busy times, something out of Dante’s more vivid and terrifying passages—and the work is methodical, mechanical, and precise. Exactly what I need right now. My general manager is exactly the age of a pimple on my ass that’s been bothering me for some time, and I have to interrupt my work several times a night to change the diapers of my co-workers, but that’s fine. Some men consider it somehow emasculating to be responsible to someone younger than them, but I have no problem taking orders from striplings and infants. They’ve put in the time, after all, and they’ve no idea of my rich and complicated past and personality, not to mention my Captain Awesome alter ego. I considered the gig a mere stopgap until I found something more suitable, an easy way to stockpile some o’goblins while I’m here at the program, but who knows? Maybe I’m destined to meet the burrito needs of Ukiah for awhile.

I’ve never been in a fire, and the odds of my having not are roughly equal to that of winning the lottery several times running without buying a ticket. My mother, bless the old bat, was immoderately enamored of wine and cigarettes and dangerously cavalier about her disposal of the latter. There wasn’t a surface in our home unscarred by cigarette burns, and her bedlinens were similarly patterned. There was generally a cigarette burning in her hand, one in the ashtray, one on the toilet tank, and several more smoldering away about the house. How we all didn’t end up pre-cremated is an unfathomable mystery and I’ll just thank the gods of fire for sparing us amid Mom’s hubris.

I can’t imagine a worse thing to experience or a more ghastly way to go than the insatiable ravening of the flames. To see one’s home and possessions reduced to ash and smoke, or to be trapped and doomed as the fire devours the fuel and oxygen… I can imagine, but I can’t imagine. I can only hope that things get under control before any more lives are lost or irreparably altered, and be thankful for so many heroic and selfless soldiers out there doing their damnedest to prevent it.

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