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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Balcony

The first thought that occurred to him was that it wasn't he who set the building on fire. Regardless of responsibility, the building was on fire and he was stuck on the 9th floor. He had rented a hotel suite on the 9th floor with a cute balcony overlooking the city, and he was on that balcony now being irrational.
But he hadn't set the building on fire. So why was he facing the consequences? He began to imagine what the person who started the fire looked like. Was it a man or woman? It must be a man, he thought, because he had never heard of a female arsonist. There is that irrationality again. He was becoming aware of it. He turned his mind to the matter at hand. He had been forced on the balcony for some fresh air. He had tried to escape the building, but when he opened the door to his room, the hall was aflame and impassable. He had shut the door to the hall and wanted some fresh air.
Now, he wished he hadn't shut the door. He couldn't see what was happening. Was the fire still there? Had it been put out? From his perch above the city, he had heard sirens, but could not identify between police, ambulance or firetruck and did not even know whether the loud vehicle had stopped at the hotel. He didn't see any firetrucks from the balcony.
The fresh air outside was huge relief after a lung-full of the black acrid smoke. Did he smoke, he thought. Could that have been how the fire started? Someone smoking in bed? Were there any rooms in the hotel that could be smoked in? All of them now, and he grimaced at the thought. I didn't start the fire.
And he truly hadn't. So why was he in the midst of this calamity, stuck on a balcony 9 stories up enjoying the fresh air and imagining what the man smoking in bed looked like. Did he die? Was he burned up? Is he so unrecognizable that it didn't matter what he looked like before? Did he get what he deserved, and he was immediately ashamed at the thought. Smoking in bed is not a sin, it's not even a crime. It's just, well, unwise.
Alarmed by a sudden blast of heat, he looked into the room. The fire had burned through the sheet rock into his room. He reached for the glass door that opened to the balcony, and the metal burned as he shut it. He looked at his hands and didn't see any burns. Just hot. Just heat. But not so just. It wasn't just for the smoker to burn in bed, screaming in pain or deep in sleep. And it isn't just for him to burn now. And he started sobbing.
Was he going to die?
He had committed sins and crimes before. He had even gotten a speeding ticket during the journey to the city. But wasn't the ticket punishment paid in full? He had told lies before, and various other things he wasn't proud of. Was this punishment? Looking back inside his room, the fire had caught the blanket that was draped off his bed and half laid on the floor against the burning wall. Was he just unwise?
No, not making the bed was not unwise. The fire is not punishment. So what is the fire? Death, no the fire is not death. But there were not firetrucks and no ladders, and no helicopters and no one standing on the ground 9 stories below. The whole bed, no, the whole room was on fire now, the tongues licking at the glass.
Like a dog, he thought. A dog wanting to come outside. No, the fire is not an animal. What is the fire, but he knew all along. The fire is a catalyst. A catalyst to a choice. And so was the ticket for speeding and punishment in general, it all just forces you to make choices. The heat now on the balcony was unbearable. He had no choices here.

But, he did. There is always a choice. He could jump 9 stories down to no one.

Why would I jump, he thought. I will die when I hit the ground, and I will die getting burned up.
I should jump, he thought. But why! Because I don't know. Don't know what! The fire is a certain death. I will die burning. I should jump. But I'll die hitting the ground too! I don't know that.
Why should I jump? Because I might fly. And he climbed on top of the railing.


Mike said...

Hi David,

I really like the exploration of irrationality here. I like how the man's jittery thoughts flit back and forth, from a mindful recognition that he's being irrational, all the way to irrational action like climbing on the railing with the hope that he can fly. Nice work!

Ryan said...

This seems like a very complex, very well written anti-smoking advertisement. I'm sold. No more smoking in bed for me. I will, however, continue to boil pans full of grease on my stove.

Great stuff, David.

Mike said...

Time to snuff out that pipe on your hip, Ryan. You realize that that thing is constantly touching your shirt, a flammable cloth, at all times! Geez, David's probably writing a true story about the Accidental Arsonist, aka Ryan.

David said...

Hey, Mike, you're a Linux Guy, huh? I'm thinking about switching over because my pc is woefully underpowered for windows anymore
(1.4ghz Amd Athlon)
Any thoughts?

Mike said...

Hey David, yeah, I've run some version of linux since 1995 (soph year of college). Right now, I've got a linux server running a RAID 1 array (mirroring) that (a) runs my website, (b) acts as a file server, and (c) is a MythTV box (digital video recorder for my RCN cable subscription). I also have a windows PC for gaming, an iMac for everyday use, and a Macbook for my research. So I've run the gamut. :)

My recommendation is that you look to Ubuntu linux. You can download a Live CD, meaning that you can download an ISO CD image, burn that to CD, and then can reboot with that CD, which will run linux off the CD, giving you a chance to try it out, experiment a bit, and see how easily your hardware is supported. I've had excellent results with Ubuntu (heck, Ubuntu let me scan with my multifunction printer, whereas with my iMac, I cannot scan). If you like it, you can install straight from that CD.

You've got a couple options there, too. If your hard drive is big enough, Ubuntu can resize your windows partition and install next to it, so that you can dual-boot. Or, if you have a second hard drive, you can install onto that and dual boot. Otherwise, you can always wipe the disk and go 100% with Ubuntu.

Ubuntu (http://www.ubuntu.com/) has a ton of online documentation, as you can see at the above site, and is the most user-friendly distribution I've used. And I love that it's built on top of Debian, my favorite basic distribution ever.

Start with the Live CD, play around, and see what you think. Feel free to ask any questions.

john slaten said...

hey mike,

i have been trying to get xubuntu installed on my laptop for the past couple days.

it hangs up while trying to create the file system.

Mike said...

John- Hm, I've never seen anything like that. A couple questions. First, are you resizing existing partitions or are you dedicating the whole drive to linux? Also, are you letting it do its partitioning automatically, or are you manually declaring the partitions and their sizes? What filesystem (ext2, ext3, etc.) are you using?

And how old is the laptop?

john slaten said...

laptop is up to 5 years old.

i ran dban to wipe it clean and i'm manually setting up 2 partitions:

one partition as / ext3
one as swap

but i've tried it manually and guided using the whole disk.

the error is that it fails to create the file system on the partition (or swap area)

should i try an older version? i've tried 9.04 and 8.04

David said...

Hey Mike,
Do you have an email address that you don't mind giving me?
you can email me at violasoundsgood@gmail.com
I don't know that this is the appropriate place for a massive linux discussion!

Mike said...

John, not sure what to tell you. I've never seen nor heard of an error like that. Linux can make filesystems on most anything, including ipods, USB sticks, etc. I doubt using an older version will help.

My suggestion is to try the Alternative Installation disk. Maybe you require some strange driver that isn't included in the normal LiveCD install. The Alternative install disk has a lot of those esoteric drivers.