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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Combust
Tom sat with his face in his hands at the end of his driveway, an almost-empty gas can next to his left knee. His eyes were wide with disbelief, as his garage lay in ruins in front of him. The neighbors had begun to gather around his property, slack-jawed at the spectacle of Tom's new truck buried under dripping, blackened lumber and roof shingles. The garage door had exploded outward, sending four panes of glass and twelve door squares in all directions. The only positive thing to take away from this was that no one had been home, either at Tom and Renee's place or at the Ferguson's house next door. The local volunteer fire department had responded very quickly and put out the fire with what could only be termed amazing speed.
A propane tank, unhooked from their gas grill and carelessly placed in front of a window in the August heat was to blame. Heat plus accelerants equals combustion, as Tom learned all too acutely today.
"She just had to have a gas grill", was all Tom said to the approaching neighbors, his face still wearing a shocked yet expressionless facade. He would end up repeating this sentence to every neighbor who came up to him in the next twenty minutes to ask him what happened, still unable to accept the fact that his garage was now so much kindling.
Since no one was hurt, the black humor began to flow in waves around Tom.
"Ah, nothing beats Ford F-150 Kabobs in summertime", came from Gil Stratten, who lived across the street.
"What the matter, Tom? Out of Match Light?", said Dan Landis, the neighbor four doors down to the left, letting out a grin that quickly lead to a nearly-soundless belly chuckle.
"Joan of Arc called. She'd like to push her martyrdom back to Thursday.", added Bob Ferguson, throwing his left arm around Tom's shoulders and letting out a loud laugh. He had a front yard full of glass and wood, but luckily no property damage from the explosion.
Through all of the jokes, Tom still shook his head in disbelief, trying to laugh, but stuck in a stunned catatonia brought on by property damage which bordered on the massive. The crowd kept growing, this being the biggest thing that happened on Great Pine Way since the development was finished six years ago. Everyone's thoughts first turned to Tom and Renee's homeowner's insurance policy. Were they covered? Tom didn't know. Renee handled those things. He didn't have the patience for it at home. Renee was due home any minute from work. She would be parking her two-year-old Volkswagen Jetta on the street for the foreseeable future.
"I love the smell of propane before dinner", chimed in Jim Bennett, the neighbor two doors down to the right. He was so deadpan most of the time that it was very hard at this moment to know whether he was kidding or not.
Larry Riegelmann from the end of the street didn't say anything for a moment, then broke into a mocking air guitar version of "Fire" by Jimi Hendrix, which quickly descended into laughter that left him doubled over.
Tom was lucky to have known virtually all of the people who now surrounded him since he moved into the neighborhood. This street was different from other suburban communities like it. Most of these neighborhoods that popped up out of nowhere contained rootless early thirtysomethings in search of something to temporarily call their own. These people had bonded almost immediately, defended each other staunchly, keeping a wary eye on each other not so much in a nosy way, but more of a protective fashion. As Tom was sitting by his driveway, those men of the neighborhood who were free that weekend made plans to help Tom and Bob clean up from the explosion. The women of the neighborhood were already offering their assorted spare bedrooms for Tom and Renee to stay. They had no children.
At the end of the street, Tom spotted Renee's black Jetta coming closer to Ground Zero. He watched as her face slowly morphed into horror as she looked for a place to park along the street. She got out of her car so fast that she didn't give a thought to her briefcase or her handbag.
"WHAT THE HELL, TOM!", was all she could say.
"I came up with a postmodern design for that deck that you wanted", Tom said, joining in the frivolity that up until now Renee had missed.
"WHAT THE HELL,TOM!!", she repeated for all within earshot to hear.
"The tank for the grill exploded."
"HOW?"
"It got hot. You're asking ME?"
An animated fact-finding mission by Renee soon gave way to a discussion of homeowner's insurance contacts and contingiency plans for the meantime between now and the reopening of the house. Renee went into the house to retrieve the insurance file from the metal filing cabinet at the back of their bedroom closet. The next hour would be spent with Renee on the cell phone and Tom packing their bags for a hotel, which would be paid by the insurance company's dime. Tom loaded their suitcases into the back of the Jetta and walked up to Renee, who was finishing up her last cell phone call.
"Comfort Inn on Claridge?", Tom asked.
"Sounds good", replied Renee, "The Adjuster will be out tomorrow between eight and ten in the morning."
They said their temporary goodbyes to the neighbors, letting them know where they would be for the night. Everybody wished them luck.
"Hey Tom?", yelled Dan Landis, as Tom was about to get in his car.
"Yea Dan?"
"Cigarette?"

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