The fire started innocently. A bottle fallen out of the trash barrel landed on its side, rolled to the edge of the parking lot, and came to rest up against a pile of pine needles swept into a row by the rain and wind. A strong sun shone through the clear glass, and the light was refracted and focused, becoming a hot line upon the needles. Heat grew, smoke rose.

“Air one, turn right ninety degrees, come along the ridge and make your drop at Cooper Mountain peak. We’ll need a fast turn-around on this one. We have a hotshot crew down there.”

The incident commander turned back to the ground crew chiefs gathered for the mid-day meeting. The fire had recently jumped two lines and was headed straight for the town of Washaw.

“Okay, everyone, listen up. Crew priorities are this:   One, stay safe. No one under me dies. Two, the fire lines have to go from fifty yards to seventy five. That means more dozers to come into the area, and the ground crews direct them as needed. Until the weather breaks, we’re fighting to slow the spread, not kill it. Three, stay safe. All crews are equipped with shelters for a fast rollover, but if they are caught in the middle of this, we’re looking at memorial services, and that will piss me off plenty. Situational awareness by all crew commanders, and keep me informed of any need for extractions. Choppers can be anywhere in five minutes.”

The meeting ended on a positive note, with an anticipated drop in the temperature during the week. That would slow the fire down enough to control it. Maybe.

Deep in the middle of the mountains, right on the shoulder of an un-burned ridge, a hotshot crew was prepping their equipment and getting ready for another day of fun in the sun. The fire was strong today, but the dozers had been busy overnight and they were tasked with cleaning up fire breaks to keep the blaze contained until it burned itself out. Ten men and women, many veterans, were doing their best to help beat back the fire that had been burning through the dry mountain forests of eastern California.

Hand tools, Pulaskis and machetes, shovels and McLeods were wielded by experienced hands. This was the third year this crew had been together, and they worked as a team.

They spread out in a long line along the scar the dozers had left for them. The fire, when it reached them, would come to a broad gap in the trees with nothing but ground slash and dirt left to it. The fire, without fuel, would die in less than fifteen minutes. The crew members set to work clearing the slash, splinters of wood left by the D-8’s and D-9’s as the big dozers swept in tandem back and forth across the hill.

Chris Murphy was the first to hear the fire approaching. Morgan Fairchild was the first to smell it, and Angela Dickson was the first to die. The fire came at them in a running line, fed by a copse of conifers hidden in the valley. Angie yelled, had time to key the mike on her radio, and was enveloped by a tidal wave of flames. Chris heard the squeal of the mike as it melted, Angie’s hand curled tightly around the button.

Morgan had the time to call all team members into a central retreat zone, and was calling for extraction when the fire found the edge of the clearing. Everyone had their aluminized shelters deployed, but they stood together watching the spot where they knew Angela had been clearing. The fire had become so intense with the fuel from the pines that it swept across the clearing, fueled by the turpentine vapors heated to plasma and saturating the air. The crew died standing close to their shelters, smothered before they were incinerated.

In the Fall, the seeds released by the burned pine cones sprouted, fed by the autumn rains.

Blower Bentley

1930 Blower Bentley


The old geezer’s garage looked like a train had hit it, but the inside was immaculate. He led the way past a pile of tires ten feet high, and a chrome radiator from an old Rolls Royce. The cap was still on it, with the Winged Victory still flying. He turned toward me and beckoned to the far corner.

“There she is,” he said. “I haven’t started her up in dogs’ years, but you’re welcome to try if that will help you make up your mind. I’ll leave you to it. If there are any questions, I’ll be on the porch.”

He looked old in that sort of way where he tottered when he walked, but you could imagine him still re-shingling his own roof, just ‘cause that was what you did. I smiled and waved, and turned back to the reason I had come calling.

I grabbed a corner of the old tan tarp and lifted. A dark green fender saw the light for the first time in over thirty years. A chrome headlamp followed, and I almost fainted when the front of the car was revealed. The bulge of the supercharger on the front was the secret to it all. I knew then that I would be in debt for a while and eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and dinner. I pulled further, and the second headlamp came into view, followed by the long bonnet and the windscreen. There was dust, a lot of dust, but what was under it was a 1929 Bentley 4 ½ Liter Blower, the legendary Blower Bentley from England. It was the supercharger that earned it that name, the ‘blower’ that had been developed way before turbo’s had come into the common lexicon.

I pulled the tarp off fully and stood back to study what had become my life’s obsession. I first saw one in a book when I was a kid. I loved it then, and carried that vision throughout my life. When ‘The Avengers’ came on the TV, John Steed drove one, and it didn’t take a whole lot of effort to stop looking at Emma Peel in her skin-tight leather. Oops, I lied there, just a bit. The Avengers was on when I was an adolescent in full overdrive, and even a Blower Bentley couldn’t distract me from fantasies involving Emma Peel.

The dark green, later known as “British Racing Green,” was the perfect color for the car. It was a huge beast that would force you to sit upright as you motored along the lanes of Surrey or the Cotswold’s. A gentleman’s car. I grabbed the door handle and twisted it around ninety degrees. There was not a bit of pitting in the chrome, and the door swung open with minimal squeaking. This was a car you climbed up into. I settled into the leather seat. Wheel on the right side, as is only proper. A spare tire just ahead of the door, nestled into an indent in the front fender and tied down with leather straps and buckles. I grabbed the wheel for a few minutes, and as I climbed down, my eyes were wet.

Angus Meriwether was waiting for me on the porch. He had a pitcher of lemonade out, and a glass for me close to my chair.

“Come up and sit,” he said. “We’ll talk.”

And talk we did. I drank lemonade with Angus, and called him Mr. Meriwether. He admired my youth and enthusiasm, and we reminisced about our good old days, mine not as old as his. He told me about his dad bringing the car back from the War To End All Wars, and I told him about my reluctant service and the friends I had made and lost. I asked how the car had come to be covered up in the corner of the garage, and he told me a long rambling tale about his wife of fifty seven years and her passing. He talked of his love for the hills, and a reluctance to move down to a town. He told me of his trip to the old doc’s house down the road a piece and his impending reunion with his one love. I got that wet feeling in my eyes again, and steered the conversation back to the car.

“Is there a price you have in mind?” I said.

“Well,” he said, “there was. I’ve kind of changed my mind since you came up, though. I’m sorry to say I can’t sell the car.”

I was struck dumb. After all this, what had I done? Was it my fault?

“But I can give it to you if you promise to love it and think of me and my wife now and again. I think I’d like that, and I suspect that she would too.”

I wept. Openly, and without care. I thanked him, and promised to drive the Blower Bentley with him in mind.

When I finally drove her down off the mountain, Angus and his wife were sitting proudly in the back seat, all dressed in their finery. And I sat upright, on the right side, because that was the proper way to do it.


My Family Supper



I didn’t know that I loved squid until my mother served up a hot plate of fried calamari one night. We were still in the era of “You’ll eat what your mother cooks”, so all of us just pretended it was little onion rings. It was Danny, the youngest, who ruined it all. He had found an un-cut conical tail and stuck it on his fingertip. The little squidlet became a finger puppet named Pepe, and Danny was conversing with him in his little five-year-old voice. As he played, however, the breading slowly fell away, revealing the true nature of our dinner that evening.

I know that faces were slowly getting paler and paler as Danny continued to play with Pepe. It would have gotten really bad if our father hadn’t been watching Walter Cronkite on the news, but had instead been focused on making sure we all cleaned our plates. Something must have been going on in the Deep South or over in the Southeast Asia region, because he was riveted to the black and white TV that lived in the corner of the dining room.

I think it was Michael who bolted for the bathroom first. The thought of eating an octopus was just too much for him. He was the one in the family most fascinated by Jacque Cousteau, and had seen the divers teasing the rubbery blob of tentacles and head sack fifty feet underwater. The thought that he had just swallowed any part of that blob was enough to initiate projectile vomiting. Thank God he had the sense to bolt away from the table first. I’m certain that we would have all followed him within a split second.

It never occurred to us kids that perhaps Mom was just doing what she was told to do by the TV every day when we were all in school. Cook a healthy meal for your family, and slowly introduce the fascinating foods of international cuisine to spice up your meal time. In the early 60’s, I was still suspicious of Brussels sprouts, and spent most of dinner time trying to find what was at their center by peeling the leaves away one at a time. That level of curiosity came to me naturally, mostly because Michael had once told me that there was a worm in the middle of each of the tiny little baby cabbages.

With Michael away from the table and woofing in the bathroom, and with Dad distracted by the goings on in the world, I followed Danny’s lead and decorated both hands with the rubbery rings on my plate. I was still at the monoculture stage of life where I could live for months on nothing but Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. My mother knew this, Dad was oblivious to this, and the others teased me mercilessly for this. Anything breaded and fried was in the good column, and if it could also be played with, that was even better. I chewed the rings off my hand, one finger at a time, and as long as the world was going to hell on TV, I could get away with it. I suspect that Mom was just grateful that I was eating something on my plate and not asking her if she could make me up a bowl of pasta.

We all got tired of dinner slowly, and one after the other, we asked “May I be excused from the table?” Mom sighed and took this as a sign that her efforts had hit a dead end. I was actually the one who ate the most. Every other place at the table had a plate tilted crooked from the calamari secreted beneath it, or a cat beneath the chair gnawing on a still-warm ring of rubber. When Maureen stood up, the entire load that she had hidden in her lap fell on to the floor at her feet, which were already running for the living room and the big TV. It was probably time for Ed Sullivan and we all knew that Maureen was Topo Gigio’s biggest fan.

It was my turn to help clear the table, and I got to ask Mom about dinner that night. “Mom,” I said, “was that really an octopus we ate tonight?” She smiled that tired smile of hers, and nodded. “It was seafood, just like when we have fish sticks. You really like them, don’t you?”

I tottered into the kitchen with two plates carefully stacked together. “I think I like octopus,” I said. “Mostly the outside, but the inside part was like onion rings, and I kind of like those now, too.” Her smile was all the reward I needed to feel good about this meal.

I got to the living room just in time to claim the spot on top of the heater register in the corner by the big rubber tree plant. It was the warmest place in the house in the winter. We, the kids, had a fierce battle going on for claiming our favorite spot to watch TV. Sometimes, we even got strategic and claimed a spot that wasn’t our favorite, but we knew that one of the siblings loved it. Depriving someone of a favorite spot was better than claiming your own favorite spot, and was certainly worth more points on the kid scale of annoying the sibs. Claiming the heater was best because you could shift sideways and lift up the register grate and look for neat stuff that had fallen in during the week. There were always a couple of pennies or game pieces mixed in with all the dust balls. When you’re one of five kids, every point counts.

Western New England, Present Day

Town Hall Meeting


The Town Meeting was called to order by the moderator, who also happened to be the town clerk. After dispensing with minutes and administrative what-nots, an agenda for the night was read. First item on the list was controlling student behavior in the downtown area after hours.

Bart Phelps promptly strode to the microphone and made a motion to strike “after hours” from the agenda item. The motion was approved with a very small margin of “yea’s”.

After Bart cleared the microphone, Angela Bellows asked to be recognized and went into a long diatribe against the use of police power in dealing with the youngsters. She actually kept calling them youngsters throughout her time at the mike. Angela was famous in town for inviting individuals from the town’s homeless population to sleep at her house overnight so they could be more comfortable. So far she has lost a big screen TV, her toaster oven, her mother’s afghan, and one of her cockapoos. Some of the fading lost dog signs are still visible on poles throughout the area.

Angela was on the third iteration of her “We were all young once” speech when time was called by the moderator, and you could hear the entire room heave a great sigh. She yielded the microphone reluctantly.

Angela’s arch-nemesis, Frank Maser, approached the mike and actually asked to be recognized. Since everyone in town recognizes Frank anyway, he was asked what was on his mind. Frank was no fan of the local police department, due to several run-ins involving the first, second, fourth and tenth amendments to the Constitution. He was one to stand up for himself, that was for certain.

Frank proposed that the town and university police be issued Tasers and stun grenades to be used at the discretion of the officers. His five-year plan for wresting control of the streets back from the little bastards was greeted by the town folk with stunned silence for a second, and then a lone resident toward the back of the meeting room applauded quietly before being hushed by his better half. With thirty seconds left on the clock, and being one to not waste a chance to rub anyone’s nose in it, Frank got at least the rudiments of corporal punishment and stoning in just before the buzzer sounded. He was smiling as he sat back down in his seat. The seats on either side of him had been quietly vacated while he’d had his say at the lectern.

After a short adjournment for refreshments, and to allow those who still partook to step outside to vape on their e-cigarettes, the meeting launched in to a rollicking discussion of the merits and/or futility of the proposals. Most upright citizens of the town didn’t want to do anything except either move or make the students disappear quietly in the dark of the night. Frank leapt to his feet to volunteer, but was hauled back down by a police officer sitting strategically behind him. He launched into a discussion about the suppression of his rights, but was met with a bland uncaring stare by the officer who turned out to be the only one in the crowd who was armed.

When it all wound down, the meeting adjourned without decision. It had gone the same way for the past five years. No one in the crowd was sane enough or brave enough to propose something rational, so the polar opposites of Angela and Frank kept leaping to their feet to berate their town for not caring enough to do the right thing.

On the way out, many of the crowd walked past the downtown bars, witnessing the behavior that they all wanted to contain but lacked the collective will to act. Many forgot to scrape the bottoms of their shoes before getting into their fuel-efficient cars and turning on the evening jazz. The smells of the students would linger and serve to remind the people of the town that there was something they had forgotten to do.