by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Hello? No, this is not the Fire Department, you've dialed the wrong number, my name is Soup, but never mind that -- what was on your mind? Afire? That figures. Did you start it? No? Sure now? Well, it never hurts to ask -- you'd be surprised how many people set their place on fire, then change their minds and call us. I mean them.
Okay, if you didn't start it, who did? God!? Oh, c'mon. Think of another one. God doesn't deal in retail fires. When God sets a fire we're talking galaxies, at least.
Anyone dislike you enough to toast you? Oh, and is she your homeroom teacher or what? Your supervisor. And she smokes, which means she knows the business end of a match. I follow you but, frankly, this is a weak line of reasoning. We would not want to go to trial with this, not even before Judge Clarence Brown, who is in my pocket, but even he will stick at out-and-out nonsense, unless it would make a column.
Where did it start? In the basement? And you know this how? That's where they always start -- I see.
You are not calling from an apartment building, are you? So we are talking here the basement of your own private home? If you are calling from Princeton I assume that your basement is full of water most of the time. Dry? My caller ID shows the 609 Area Code and you have a dry basement? This is not a joke. Strange. You're probably due for a fire. What were you keeping down there, oily rags? No, no. Don't hang up. By a stroke of good luck you've reached someone who knows most of what is known about spontaneous combustion in litter.
What besides oily rags? Oily rags are generic. There is usually something specific. You saved fat for deep frying. Now we are getting somewhere. In what? In Pringle's tubes? What are Pringle's tubes? Potato chips? Try to calm down, madam, ignore the flames coming up your basement stairs, I am trying to help you, but do not Spring these technical terms like "Pringle tubes" on me when you mean boxes for potato chips.
Here's what you do. Hello? No, hang in there. This is important. The next nice day, after the fire, and depending on what is left, you go down cellar and clean all that stuff right out of there. Especially the Pringle tubes, if they can be handled without special protective clothing. It is more than a fire hazard. It is unsightly, it invites rats, and think what it would say about your character to a dinner guest who just happened to wander down there looking for a place to discard her unwanted crepes suzettes?
Look, there will be plenty of time to call the firemen when I've finished what I want to tell you. What is more important, your tacky little factory-built house or this priceless advice on the good life? Okay, I withdraw tacky.
But untidiness is not just a danger for the householder, it is a spiritual failing. Only this very afternoon, at my health club, I observed a fellow member who shucked off his clothing and left it there in a heap on the floor. Shoes, socks, underwear, trousers, the lot, simply left there beneath and around the bench. Fortunately, smoking is unknown in the men's locker room of this or any health club. But just suppose someone had flicked a match into his skivvies. I mean talk about oily rags... ! But this is not your problem. Good luck, dear.
The number to call is 911.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of comparative Literature at Princeton University.