One day toward the end of my cousin Jimmy’s cancer struggle, I stayed with Jimmy during the day. Jimmy’s girlfriend had to leave town for the day to suffer through her state licensing exam for either cosmology or cosmetology (just kidding), so I offered to wander around and spend the day with Jimmy. The day was broken into long periods where Jimmy would pace and smoke, followed by more smoking. I was accustomed to seeing him smoke but on that day, he smoked as if he had to get them all smoked, forever. He wanted me to run him to a convenience store and drive around. (While looking back at the dates, somehow I had forgotten completely that Jimmy insisted on driving over to the new house he was to move into with Alissa.) We stopped at EZ Mart before going over to check on the new house, chiefly to get Jimmy more cigarettes. We couldn’t go inside the house, but we walked around and traded terrible commentary about the house. Jimmy wondered if there was room in the backyard for “muffin-fetchin” dogs, a long-running joke we shared. After leaving the house, we went back to the same EZ Mart we had visited before seeing the house. I honestly can’t believe I forgot that part of this story as I wrote it. The mind is a strange thing!
Coming back, the traffic around Joyce Street was unimaginably terrible. Jimmy had lit another cigarette as I drove, joking and carrying on. As I reached the intersection to turn right into the side road leading to Jimmy’s apartment, Jimmy fumbled the lit cigarette.
Jimmy looked at me and said, “Dude, I think I am on fire!” He said it as if someone had just handed him a roll of $100 dollar bills and a fresh pizza, except he uttered it in quiet amazement.
Since he was wearing baggy shorts, he couldn’t tell whether the cigarette was on him or had fallen to the carpeted floor. By the time I realized he had dropped the cigarette, there was already smoke in the air. Traffic was piled up front and behind. The look of surprise and bewilderment on Jimmy’s face both made me laugh and terrorized me simultaneously. “Hold on,” I hollered and hit the gas, going to the left hard. (Joyce Street, even on great days, is already akin to a Vehicular Roulette in that area.) Incredibly, some idiot behind me did the same, darting into oncoming traffic behind me. My goal had been to get turned onto the side road, slam on the brakes, then jump out to run around the car, fling open Jimmy’s door and find the cigarette before he burst into flames. The car behind me threw a wrench into my plan, making it very dangerous. I floored it for a second, then hit the brakes. The car behind me screeched to a halt as I started to get out of the car. He then swerved around me, giving me the one-finger salute as well as some interesting curse words to brighten my day. I had wanted to throw my door open but had to wait to see what the car behind was going to do. It was one thing to potentially let Jimmy catch fire, but on the other hand, I didn’t want my driver car door ripped off the hinges by an angry driver as he sped past.
Smoke was coming from near the door. I couldn’t figure out if it was him smoldering or the carpet. Jimmy was under the influence of a lot of medication, so it was possible that he was, in fact, ablaze without really knowing it. I ran around the car, opening the door as if I were the Incredible Hulk and with enough force to have flung it to three miles into the air. It turned out the cigarette had smoldered on the carpet, burning it, producing smoke. I handed Jimmy the cigarette back an couldn’t help but start to laugh at him as he put the cigarette back in his mouth. And then he laughed and laughed and laughed.
As I got back in the car, he said “I’m so sorry for catching your car on fire, X.” I laughed again and said “At least we’ve got a good story to tell.” (I say this a lot no matter how bad something is that happens.) Despite knowing how I am about stuff, he seemed to be genuinely alarmed about the carpet. At the time, he probably didn’t know how close we had been to having someone drive over the top of us while we were sitting in my Honda, trying to get out of the crazy Joyce Street traffic.
“Promise me you won’t tell Alissa. She won’t think this is funny.” The way he said it made me laugh even harder. I think it would have been MUCH more complicated trying to explain to Alissa how I had gotten us killed than explaining a funny story about Jimmy torching my car. I reassured Jimmy that it was no big deal which led him to worry that maybe Dawn would be upset. I told Jimmy that she would only be upset if I drove the car home while it was on fire – and ran it inside the house. Over the next hour, Jimmy continued to be worried about the car but as I told crazier and more outrageous jokes about it, even he started to realize it was a great story.
(Sidenote: this story happened on either March 12th or 13th, 2013.)