A few days ago there was a particularly violent thunder storm which caused a lot of havoc in the New York Area. I am sure I will forget the details of that storm in a short time but it reminded me of July 21, 2006 when we had experienced a similar storm. I was hanging around waiting for ten o'clock to come about so I could get to the Nursing Home to visit my wife and mother. My home which at one time had been always quite crowded with the sound of human activity, voices, music, laughing, dogs barking and Myna birds talking had been silenced for some time now and I was left to watch TV by myself as I whiled away the time. I was lying on my bed. The British Open was on and it was clear in Briton but it was raining like hell here and thunder and lightening was causing all sorts of weird noises. It was about nine in the morning and Ernie Els had just struck his putt and the camera was following the ball as it was just approaching the hole a loud crack was heard throughout the house and the TV went blank causing me to curse under my breath because I wouldn't know if the putt dropped or not and I personally liked Mr. Els. The overhead fan had stopped and the lights were out. "What the hell is happening?" I thought as I headed downstairs to check the circuit breakers.
I got as far as the basement stairs which were close to the stairs heading upstairs where at least five of my kids used to sleep and I smelled something strange. I went all the way to the top and looked into the now empty room and there was nothing strange yet the strange smell was even stronger. To the side was a door that a storage room laid behind. The smell seemed to come from there so I went to open the door and just before I pulled it open a tongue of flame found its way under the door and tried to lick my feet. Seeing this I shouted to my lower extremities, "Legs don't fail me now!" and ran downstairs to call the Fire Department as it seems that my house was a fire. Of course the phone didn't work.
I ran to my next door neighbor and asked if I could use their phone as it appeared that my house was set ablaze by a lightening strike. I called 311 and they directed me to the proper place after I answered what was some really important questions like my address and some other questions that seemed inane at the time and I couldn't answer. The first fire truck came in about ten minutes and was apologetic about being late because they were attending to another house about a half mile away who also seemed to be hit by lightening. The thought struck me that God was certainly having his fun that day. The second company arrived. They entered and came out to ask if anyone was in the house, pets included. You see the upstairs was really ablaze but they would have entered the room if anyone was there, which i thought was extremely brave but I assured them that no-one was in the house. They then proceeded to put out the fire. First the water was turned on and the hose filled my house with the wet stuff and the ladders went up and the windows were broken both up and down. There must of been tons of water poured into the house. They were running into it with axes and such and some were brought out and had to be brought to the hospital. Watching them I knew now why I never became a fireman, for the women reading this, Fire-person.
My neighbors were gathering around and showed concern for me but I was sort of pacing up and down the block in pants and undershirt which my daughter describes as "Your wife-beaters shirt". I was having a great time meeting people I barely spoke to over 34 years of living there. We shared a few jokes, had a few laughs and some offered me a room in their house to stay in while my house would be reconstructed. I thought this was very nice. I noticed another group standing there, about 10 or 12 which I found out later were Licensed Adjusters which were guys that represented the insuree for a fee, and they wanted your business badly. I was warned by the Firemen to be careful of choosing one of them as they were referred to as "sharks" and were capable of eating everything up that was in their way as they represented you. This was particularly disconcerting to me at the time because I never realized the relationship between me and my insurer would be sort of adversarial. By the time this was all happening some of my children were beginning to appear.
Anthony, my second son, was returning from driving my brother to and from his chemo therapy session. My brother went directly to the Nursing Home after he was dropped off at his place. He was dying from lung cancer at the time. Anyway, Tony was driving back home and he noticed black smoke coming from a direction of the house he lived in for 20 odd years. He thought, I wonder who or what is on fire? As he got closer he marveled that it was on the block where he once lived. He wondered to himself what was happening as he parked his car. Wondering what his father was doing he approached the block, "Holy S**T" he thought "That's our house.", well not really his but I guess the kids never really give up the house they grew up in. Then he saw this old guy walking up and down the block in his Italian, wife beaters undershirt, and realized that guy was me, his father. He came up to me and I said something like can you believe this. We had a few laughs and waited as the Firemen battled to put out the fire. I really don't remember the details but suddenly there was my Daughter, my first son Jude and the rest were contacted by phone. Everybody was offering a room to stay in and I chose Tony's because it was close to the Nursing Home. A big crowd was assembled, The sharks I mentioned before, the neighbors and the Newspapers. I was interviewed by the NY Post but never published nor did it make the TV news but the Bayside Times did a front page thing so it wasn't all a waste. Finally the fire was put out and the house was destroyed by fire, smoke and water. The basement was a disaster as the water pored in from top reached the bottom.
The Adjusters were swarming around for the kill and were all trying to get me to commit to them. One guy and his son followed us into the house which was dripping water and he was somewhat persuasive. I couldn't find the the insurance papers and Geico's number but he did for us and I contacted them and found out Geico was the broker and they gave me the number of the insurance company which were very nice people especially when they told me two days later that they had declared bankruptcy. Ah, but I digress, this is about the day not what followed. Any way my Daughter and one of my sons were telling me not to sign anything but we needed people to board up the house and take out the clothing for cleaning and such so I was leaning towards this guy who was so helpful and was ignoring the dangers of being in this house when a piece of the ceiling fell and hit him on his head and he was cut and bleeding and trying to get me to sign the paper and this bothered me somewhat. He seemed to anxious but he was bleeding? At that moment One of my children came in to tell me that a neighbor with whom we all had been friendly was recommending the guy outside from Champion Adjustment, I met the guys and they were full of good humor and were recommended and signed with them to the great annoyance to the guy who was standing in the background with a bloody handkerchief pressed to his head trying to stop the bleeding. The minute we signed the paper suddenly the guys appeared to take out all the clothes and board up the house. There were some problems that came up between us in the aftermath because of my insurance company going belly-up but in the overall they were great for us especially for the first part and getting us a builder on spec as we waited to settle the Insurance issue which was handled by my son the Lawyer whose expertise was really needed as was my son's Tony and Jude and all who were involved in reaching the value accepted by the State of personal property. The State is the insurer of last resort when stuff like this happens, like the insurer going bankrupt.
Anyway, back to the day, finally we had to leave the block and we were going over to Tony's for Pizza when we saw my brother drive up. He was a mess like the walking dead but he was concerned as the Nursing Home whom I contacted to let them know I wouldn't be able to be with my wife that day told him about the fire which I didn't want them to do. Yet perhaps this was a fitting end to the day on the block. We had Pizza and we all laughed at the day. It was sort of like a party. Before the day was over Tony, Maria, my Daughter and I went to Kohl's to buy some clothes for me. When we hit the checkout we told the story to the check out cashier and she said she wanted to touch me because I must be very lucky as I could have very easily been dead instead I had family and loved ones giving me support. She called her supervisor or manager over and they discussed something which resulted giving me a 15% discount.
Yes the storm a few days ago brought back the memories of a day that could have been a great tragedy but instead it brought the fact home to me that I've got a great family, neighbors that care even though we barely say good-morning and good-night. That when it really looks like your life is going down the crapper it really isn't and if you can find humor in what seems the darkest moments soon the brightness of the sun comes in to let you see the beauty that surrounds you always.