A fire on the 23rd floor

I miss having a fireplace. Stacking the logs just right and inhaling the earthy smoke of the burning wood. Staring at the dance of orange, yellow, and blue as you bask in the flame’s warmth. Listening for the crackles and pops of the overheated sap.

But I live on the 23rd floor of a modern apartment building, and we don’t have a fireplace. So early one cold Fall morning, well before the sun was up, I had an idea:

I would project a video of a fireplace onto the wall.

I remember being pleased with myself immediately. Though I wouldn't have the warmth of the fire, I could enjoy the color and the sounds. Even better, there wouldn’t be any mess or smoke, and the projector could make the flames 9 feet high.

In the dark living room, I found a video of a Yule Log burning, and quietly set everything up. I sat down and luxuriated in the colors and sounds of a huge fire, still smugly reflecting on my own creativity and cleverness.

Until I heard the sirens.

My eyes widened. “No,” I thought. "Couldn't be." I went to the window and watched two fire engines turn off the West Side Highway, race onto our street, and stop short at our building. I quickly turned off the projector, and the room went dark.

Then the phone rang. “Mr. Stepper,” he said, “is there a problem in your apartment?” I hurriedly explained that I had been watching a video and that everything was fine. I sat down, embarrassed at having caused such a fuss so early in the morning, but glad the doorman was able to handle it.

The came the banging at the door. It wasn’t a knock, but more like a battering ram, the kind of sound you hear before the door explodes into the room in splinters. Still in my pajamas, I raced to open it and found myself facing a fireman in full firefighting gear, complete with a large ax.

“Hello,” I whispered, mindful that everyone was still sleeping. “Everything’s fine.”

“We got a call there was a fire,” he said in a loud, booming voice. “No, no,” I continued whispering. “I was just watching a video and someone from another building must have seen it and thought there was a fire. I’m so sorry.”

He looked at me with what I can only describe as a cocktail of disappointment, relief, and disgust. There were no people to save, and no danger to him or his crew. Just some idiot watching a fireplace video in his pajamas.

“A Yule Log video?” he asked, guessing correctly. He slumped away, equipment swinging and jangling. He didn’t even wait for my response.

Later that week, my son asked to watch a dinosaur movie on the projector. My wife looked at me, looked at the window, and looked back at me. She didn’t need to say a word.

We pulled down the shades.

Fire on the 23rd floor
Fire on the 23rd floor