We didn’t start the fire.

When put into writing, this sounds like it has the potential to be a really good time – half dressed guys and gals, flashing lights, and a rock concert’s worth of noise. Then, as it always does, the reality of the situation descends. Reality in this particular scenario is that we are outside the dormitory, at ’round two in the morning, and at a time of year when the ambient temperature is approaching zero degrees Kelvin.  You might be wondering what exactly has motivated us to stand outdoors and in a quantity of clothing that has many of us wishing we brought identification – this so that we have a reference for our gender in the event we forget.  Well my friends, we are outside because of a bi-monthly tradition. We are outside because someone failed to learn from their mistakes. We are outside, my dear, dear friends, because someone has again used the smoke alarm as a timer for their pizza.

Part of the blame, I’ll confess, rests on whomever designed the dormitories and concluded it was a wise idea to network all the smoke detectors, including the ones in the kitchen – or as I call it, the burnatorium.  They brazenly assumed that, with admittance to an institution of higher learning, one could be trusted to wield the element of fire, or at the very least a convection oven, responsibly.  And yes, further fault also rests with the safety-mongering dormitory policy makers, who mandate the evacuation of the entire building out of fear that an education major has spontaneously combusted rather than the slightly more viable assumption that the same education major has mistaken the oven for a fractionating tower and a Totino’s pizza for a barrel of crude. Yet even with my eagerness to assign blame to outside sources, it cannot be denied that a huge number of my classmates have apparently not only failed home ec. but have done so in a way that likely left no survivors.

I have even observed the aforementioned ineptitude in the wild. Upon arriving in the kitchen one afternoon to start some water boiling, I noted with some bemusement that whatever was presently in the oven had failed the smoke test and had been doing so for some time. In the past when I’ve observed this particular situation, the individual doing the burning is either out of the room or passed out somewhere within the room. However, this time the situation was unique, as the aspiring gourmet was seated not seven feet from the oven and engaged in a little light reading. Understand, there were neither windows nor doors open within this room. It smelled smoky. It looked smoky.  I think I saw a harried looking anthropomorphic bear in a park ranger hat hurrying away from the building. Yet apparently none of these stimuli were sufficient for this individual to conclude that cooking was no longer the correct descriptive term for what was going on in that oven. I pointed this out – audibly, since all other senses appeared to be failing our chef. The smoke alarm, almost immediately, concurred. One short evacuation later, the young oracle of the oven determined her pizza, though that was hardly an accurate description anymore, was not done enough in the center.  Back into the oven it went. Twelve minutes later, after my own water had long since boiled and the pasta had long since been cooked, the pizza again failed the smoke test. To this day, I question if she was trying to make supper or manufacture a diamond.

As it seems to be a natural progression from this point, let’s chat about the campus fire procedure – specifically about how often the fire trucks show up. To date, I am not entirely sure what dark alchemy governs this, but I know that semi-randomly multiple fire trucks, filled with men in full costume, appear on campus to retrieve still smoldering pizzas from ovens.  Rumor tells me that, every third time a campus fire alarm goes off, the fire department, sirens blazing, comes by for a visit.  Allusions to the Boy Who Cried Wolf aside, what is the point in bringing the fire department out here if they’re going to only show up every third time?  Was this something sat down to and agreed upon by all parties?

Campus Safety: “Don’t worry, guys! We’ll get it this time.”

Fire Department: “But you don’t have any trucks…”

Campus Safety: “No biggie… We have at least three buckets. We can get some water from the creek on the way.”

Fire Department: “Why don’t we come by?”

Campus Safety: “No, no, no… You guys work way too hard.  Take a breather.  We’ll get it.”

As I stand here in the cold, I’m thinking that every problem has an engineering solution.  It’s time for a dorm-safe, asbestos-laced pizza.  True, the FDA will have a fit, but it is better than the alternative.  That, as described earlier, is standing outside one’s dorm, in the middle of January, in nothing but a bathrobe.  Then again, I suspect some of my classmates would take “non-flammable” as more of a challenge than a selling point.



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