Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Thursday, July 28, 2011

We Who Are About to Dye Dilute You

Long before I began writing for fun and (no) profit, art was my creative outlet of choice. And though the image below is far from my best work, I've chosen to make it the first one I share here at The Wheel (apart from my computer animation) for good reason. Many pieces in my portfolio tell a story, but only this one comes with a story already in place...

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.


  1. This is pretty hilarious. High-schools are fairly notorious for their flammability, it seems. Teenagers + stuff that gets hot. I just think it's funny that neither of the fires were even caused by students, but rather by the teachers... Heheh.

  2. I'm just glad you were able to save your painting, Nate. Yours is an art that must never die, but be shared with the world at large. Thank you for doing such.

  3. Funny story. Best we ever managed was one fire.

  4. Ha! Hilarious post, Nate!

    Dude, seriously, forget the "non-profit" approach. There's a market out there for this stuff.

  5. Sometimes, the School Is On Fire.

    Very cool-headed to save your artwork! You should post more of it. :)

  6. I got a tickle out of your story. By the way, the painting is awesome.

  7. Laughing. Thanks for the morning chuckle. I can just picture a bunch of HS kids sitting around laughing at the mishap.

  8. Zade, I know, right? What are the odds that teachers would start two fires in one day, yet none by the Young Arsonists Club? (Not that there was such a club, but there should have been.

    Jeffrey, exactly. My art must never die, because it's ALIVE! Mwahahahaha!

    Alex, clearly you were a bunch of underachievers. Or, as my story illustrates, you simply didn't have the right teachers for the job.

    Bryce, thanks! And don't worry, once I feel my stuff is worthy of being published, I'll try to profit from it. (Probably.)

    li, nice! That would have made for an even better title (albeit a less punny one). And I will be posting more of my artwork. Next time I don't have anything worthwhile to say, I'll let my art do the talking.

    Donna, I'm glad my story tickled you and my art awed you. Though now I'm curious what one of my more impressive (in my opinion) pieces would do...

    Mary, no one was hurt, and teachers were to blame... how could we not laugh? Glad I could get you to do the same.

  9. Haha, I used to only dream of catching my school on fire, never actually tried it. Good save. I didn't realize you were so multi-talented. Are you a musician too? Aside from the rock band, that is?
    I like the still life, most batiks I see are somewhat tie dye looking, yours has a lot of detail. It's awesome.

  10. Two fires in one day? How could I have no recollection of this? I was probably at 7-11.

    Great blog, by the way!

  11. Heather, as a matter of fact I am a musician. I've played the violin since I was four (and the kazoo since I was two).

    Jaime, glad you enjoy the blog. As for why I remember the fires and you don't, it may be because I had classes with both teachers that semester, and was there for the second blaze. You just got to avoid class a couple times. (Or maybe your brain has blocked out everything about high school except for your husband.)