What do you see when you look at this picture? I see my high school. In flames.
One morning in May during my senior year of high school, I arrived to find the front entrances blocked by police and a bunch of fire trucks. The place wasn't ablaze, however, so I circled around to the back entrance (using a somewhat illegal route through the neighboring VA hospital's property) and parked in the lot behind the gym.
The authorities kept us out of the school for an hour, but we soon learned the shocking truth: A substitute teacher had started a fire in my (commie) history teacher's classroom.
Sadly, it wasn't nearly as nefarious as it sounds. My (commie) history teacher (who wasn't really a commie (as far as I know, but he did teach The Communist Manifesto, collected Russian memorabilia, and only gave students in my A.P. Western Civ class who were communists A's (which is to say, none of us))) had been sick the previous day.1 The substitute accidentally left a window fan running overnight, and at some point it fell into the room and onto a pile of books. The fan rubbing up against the books all night got them pretty hot, and by about 6:00am the friction had started a good ol' fashioned book burnin'.
The fire consumed the books, as well as a nearby television set, while the rest of the room sustained extensive smoke damage and was closed off for the rest of the year. Of course, we had no sympathy for the teacher, in part because he didn't give anyone A's (even though A is also the first letter of the Russian alphabet), and in part because, as an (alleged) communist, he shouldn't have cared about his belongings.
But wait, there's more! (Which I suppose was pretty obvious, considering I haven't even mentioned the picture yet. (Until now, that is. But you should ignore this instance. In fact, ignore this whole paragraph.))
Eventually, they let us inside and directed us to our first period class. I had Creative Drawing, where we were in the process of making batiks. (A batik is created by applying hot wax to cloth (or rice paper, like we used), removing the wax once it has cooled, and then painting the surface with dye. The areas that previously had the wax will repel the ink (as you can see in my meager example above).) We'd been at work maybe ten minutes when they announced over the loudspeaker that we should instead go to homeroom, and then return to our first period class. We thought this was pretty stupid, but we did what they asked.
When we got back to the art room, one of the hotpots (used to heat the wax) was steaming. One kid jokingly suggested we avoid it, lest we start a fire. But once the teacher returned to the room, one girl went over to get some wax. She lifted the lid, and whoomp! (There it is. Wherein "it" is oxygen.) As soon as oxygen reached the pot's contents, we had flames a foot high.
The fire was contained, though. It only extended above the pot, not outward, and couldn't quite reach the (wooden) storage area above. Our teacher (a woman in her early 60s, and perhaps no longer with a firm grasp on all her faculties) grabbed the fire extinguisher, aimed it at the hotpot, and promptly... hit the side of the pot, knocking it over onto the counter. Which was, of course, lined with paper towels to catch the wax. In moments, the entire counter (about six feet wide, and extending the entire length of the room) was engulfed in flames.
The alarm sounded. I grabbed my painting and headed for the exit. The rest of the school poured back outside, fire engines summoned a second time. Some kids headed down the street to the 7-11, but the rest of us just sat back and laughed, contemplating where and how the day's next fire would spring up. An improper mixture in the chem lab, perhaps. Or maybe a piece of meatloaf would spontaneously combust in the cafeteria.
To our disappointment, we topped out at two fires that day. And even worse, the firefighters didn't believe us when everyone in our art class said we needed treatment for smoke inhalation at the hospital. Our laughs betrayed us, and we all had to go to second period.
And that, dear readers, is how a still life painting of a boot, an old rotary phone, and a potted plant will always remind me of the time my high school almost burned down. Twice. In one day.
1 By the way, if you're wondering about the over-abundance of parentheses in this post, I've reverted to my previous standard for the sake of sentimentality. Prior to my blogging days, I only used footnotes when forced.