The Burning Bush
My day was interrupted a week ago by screams emanating from the bar. Now,
normally screams coming from the bar are attributable to customers who've just
had some kind of concoction involving 100 proof liquor in strange combination;
so I think nothing of it. But these were no howls of "Banzai!" When my barmaid
started screaming "Paul - hua!" I perked up, grabbed a fire extinguisher
and ran. You see "hua" is the Pinyin for "fire" in Chinese.
Sure enough, I arrived in time to see what appeared to be the part of the air
conditioner on the outside of the building blowing billows of smoke across the
parking lot and into the street in front of the restaurant. Upon further
inspection, it turns out that the mulch, right next to the building, had not
only smoldered but actually was licking flames about six inches in height smack
in the middle of the garden, perilously close to the building, and even closer
to my favorite piece of topiary.
Immediately the shot-and-beer guys in the bar started making quips about how I looked extremely gay trying to put out a fire, with a tiny bucket of water, dressed in slacks, an Oxford shirt, tie, and loafers.
You see, I'd run inside and, finding no pail, I got a champagne bucket, filled it with
water and doused the flames. "You're not gonna get very far with that!" The good-natured catcalls continued from my customers. They were right, too. The bit of water was not enough to satisfy the first rule of
caution; all materials must be cool to the touch. Some of it was either steaming
or smoking. So I went back inside and procured a five gallon bucket of ice, and
put the ice on top of the burnt hole in the mulch, next to my precious tree.
Just then, a clown who looked like he needed a shower, who wore a plaid shirt
paired with hounds-tooth pants (and boots) came ambling up and informed me that
he'd called the fire department, and that he, as a volunteer fireman for another
town, wanted to help me "extinguish the fire" (which was now an icy, muddy mess
encircling my carefully pruned tree). I told him I'd have no part of it; and
that if I discharged an extinguisher on the mess, it'd be a) useless at this
time, b) cost me $45 to re-charge, and c) could be poisonous to my tree.
"We (he announced in an officious manner, meaning 'us part-time
play-firefighters') care about the safety of the public, not trees." Just then,
a fire truck that looked like a pumper, and also a hook and ladder truck entered
the parking lot of the restaurant.
"He's not bein' very cooperative. He don't wanna pull up the tree that was
burning." Thank goodness the paid firefighters had more sense than
the moron who was confronting them. The Sergeant turned toward me. "Where's the
fire, sir?" I pointed to the pile of ice and the tree. "It was there.
It's out now."
"Well then why did you call the fire department?"
"I didn't call the fire department. This gentleman called the fire
department." I pointed to the walking fashion disaster. "And he wants to pull up
my $500 Loblolly Pine which, as you can see, has had far more than that invested
in it as it's a piece of Japanese topiary."
"Well, it could still be involved in the mulch surrounding the area, sir, so
we're going to have to investigate," said the Sergeant.
"Get the hooks and (unintelligible) and spray it down."
"Are you going to pull up my tree?"
"Only if there are live coals on it. We'll try to be careful, sir."
They scattered a full 8" of mulch, weed barrier, and about 4" of soil from
the ground about a three-foot radius of the tree. I held back tears as they
ruthlessly uprooted an azalea which blooms in magenta variegated flowers, as
well as a tuft of ornamental grass.
Something then occurred to me. "Say, does cedar bark burn?"
"No, only if the surrounding area is completely involved. It takes a lot to
burn cedar bark. But what you have here sir is...
(He and I in unison:) "Not cedar mulch."
The shit I'd been charged through the nose by my ex-landscaper last year was
actually quite flammable, and quite dry, and very much like a tinder-box
spanning the front of the restaurant. It was colored to look like cedar, but
that's about it. I turned as red as the rest of the mulch was.
A customer inside of the bar photographed the whole affair and only the Good
Lord knows what caption will be placed under an image of me with my hands in the
air, appearing as if I was arguing with the members of the fire department. This customer is a member of the press, sometimes.
Of course, calls to the landscaper have gone unanswered. I will, however, sue
him in a court of small claims; not for the difference in cost between the
mulches (because that's going to be very, very difficult to prove), but instead
for the cost of having fire-retardant spray (the same that we use for live
Christmas trees) applied to the mulch in the immediate vicinity of the building.
The cost of this may very well impel him to opt to replace the mulch with the
good cedar stuff.
I'm still worried about my tree. Half the bark had been burnt off of it, so I
sprayed pruning spray on the bruise. My gardener (the one who does topiary) says
that the tree will most probably survive, because as expensive as they are,
Loblolly Pines are, in fact, rather hardy, especially in this climate. So we fed
the tree, and now, on the way in or out of the building, I comfort him and tell
him that everything's going to be alright.
Oh, the cause of the fire, you may be wondering... an errant cigarette
butt flicked against the building by a customer.