Friday, December 08, 2017

COLUMN: Trash Fire

(Note: This pic might be from a slightly larger fire than the one we took care of. Maybe.)

Hey Quad Cities!

Did you ever know that I'm your hero? Everything you would like to be? You all can fly higher than an eagle, for I am the wind beneath your wings.

More than ever, our world needs heroes. I miss the days when you could pick up the newspaper without losing all hope for humanity. When the news cycle is dominated by unspeakable evil, natural disasters, and never-ending political bickering, you can't help but yearn for anything to prove that good people really exist.

It's probably why our TV sets and movie screens are dominated by superheroes. There's no doubting the innate goodness of Superman or Wonder Woman. When the real world makes you shudder with disbelief, it's cathartic to see Batman kick the butts of a legion of supervillains just lining up to be thwarted. Superheroes might be fiction, but their morality tales remind us that good really DOES triumph over evil and heroes might just really be out there somewhere.

They are... and I'm now one of them.

Until this week, I never knew how rewarding heroics could be, especially when performing a selfless act for the sake of goodness and not in any way because it might make a good newspaper column. It's really no big deal. I just saved my entire neighborhood this week from a fiery doom, that's all.

And by "I", of course, I mean my friend Jason. But I was nearby, which I think makes me a hero by proxy, so I'll take it.

Last Sunday afternoon, I was sitting around wasting my life in front of the TV when cabin fever struck. I called my friend Jason to see if he had any desire to get out and about for awhile. Thankfully, he did. Thirty minutes later, we were in my car in search for Sunday adventure. It would take approximately seven seconds.

I don't know the family that lives two doors down from me. I'm not even sure they speak English. All I know is that after weathering my first snowstorm as a homeowner, I woke to find them clearing all my walks with their snowblower. To say thanks, my girlfriend at the time baked a plate of cookies and took them over to their house. We never heard from them again. Clearly, my ex must bake some pretty lousy cookies.

Other than a few awkward waves, I've never spoken to these neighbors. All I know is that they have a gaggle of children who enjoy darting in front of alley traffic willy-nilly. I had slowed my car to the usual child-roadkill-avoidance crawl when Jason yelled, "WHOA!" It would be a whoa I would echo seconds later.

In back of their house sat their City of Rock Island plastic refuse cart that each of us has for trash. Theirs, however, was on fire.

And not just a little fire, either. Flames were licking into the air over the thing, and the mini-inferno was in danger of catching a nearby wooden fence.

Immediately we sprang into action. And by "we," I mean Jason. I had barely stopped the car before he ran out and started pounding on their back door. No reply. They might not speak English, but I'm pretty sure ANY family would respond to the international language of aggressive door knocking. It looked like they weren't home.

I started fumbling for my phone to have Siri call 911, but before I could, Jason had spotted a hose in their backyard and a spigot on the back of the house. Next thing I knew, he was legitimately fire-fighting. Four minutes later, it was all over. Their refuse cart was little more than a smoldering pile of plastic mush, but the fence and the neighborhood was safe. Score one for the good guys.

Or at least the good Jason. I was still in the car, but I'd like to think I was still an avid member of Team Hero. Clearly, someone needed to stay behind in order to guard the perimeter and tell others our tale of bravery should Jason be lost to a dangerous trash can backdraft. Oh, and at one point, I said, "It's still smoking on this side," so I definitely helped. 

I haven't seen my neighbors since that afternoon. They've been home, though, because the melted piece of modern art that was once their trash bin is gone. We left the hose out in hopes to show the story of what happened, but for all I know, they could think someone strolled by, set their trash on fire, and then put it out with their hose just for fun.

Obviously I don't REALLY think that we did anything heroic. While I wouldn't say no to any trophies, cash prizes, or parades held in our honor, I'd like to think if MY trash bin had been ablaze, one of my neighbors would have done the same for me. That's human nature, not heroism. If you want examples of REAL heroics, look to Puerto Rico, where people are rebuilding their homeland without power or running water. Look to Mexico City, where citizens banded together and spent days rescuing the fallen from earthquake rubble. Look to Las Vegas, where heroes risked their lives helping strangers escape a cowardly lunatic.

The point is, don't give up on people. Be somebody's hero every now and again, and maybe someday they'll be yours. Sometimes we all just want to scream at the world, I get it. But take it from me, it feels a lot better to put out a fire than to start one.

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