Sunday, December 13, 2009


Even in the St. Louis public school system it’s possible to run into teachers that can leave a lasting impression on you.

In 9th grade I had a history teacher who made it clear to me that history was written and rewritten by the winners. She really liked me and encouraged my urge to explore the human condition through history. She gave me Ds in the class because I wouldn’t do my assignments. By the end of the year the class had only gotten about a quarter of the way through our text and I had read it twice. I was fascinated with it.

It seems like I was always left alone in the back of my classes, like there was an unspoken “you don’t bother me, and I won’t bother you,” agreement.

In 7th grade I had a science teacher who posed an interesting question, “Is fire a life form?”

It was my first real thought experiment. What exactly constitutes life? Fire seemed to have all the elements. It feeds, breathes, reproduces, and eliminates waste. I learned that smoke was combustible material that wasn’t processed efficiently. Just like most human waste.

It was an early introduction into thermal dynamics. What we experience as heat is molecular activity in various states of excitement. There are 4 states of matter; solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Plasma really caught my imagination. The molecules become so excited (hot) that electrons are stripped from atoms.

Fire still captures my imagination. I can’t imagine anything more dangerous but we would have evolved without it.

I spend a couple of days in the middle of the week in St. Peters with my kids. They go to school out there. We come back to the city on the weekends.

Man I wish I could put them in a city school but I’ve given up on the idea.

My ex graciously disappears to her boyfriend’s house and it’s almost like I still own the place. I don’t sleep well there. Usually, after a lot tossing and turning I turn on the TV.

Last Thursday I turned it on to a news bulletin about a fire. It had gotten out of control. It was across the street from California Donuts. The residential properties around Mattingly’s Micro Brewery were too far gone to save. It slowly sank in that they were talking about my apartment in the city.

Horrified, I called my girlfriend Valerie. It took a long time for her to answer which only heightened my anxiety. When she finally did she was groggy. “I thought I smelled smoke,” she said.

It turned out the fire was at a storefront across the street from us. In the summer we’d often hear gun shots coming from there. On more than one occasion there would be police cars and yellow crime scene tape around it.

Valerie always gets to know our neighbors. She had learned from them that the cops had been scoping the place out as a drug front. They were waiting to gather more evidence before the big bust. I guess that investigation is over.

When I came home to check it out I was immediately impressed with the effect of condensation on the tree in front of the store. It had been one of our coldest nights and the fire created a wave of heat that condensed on the tree and then froze.

Fire it up!

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