Brad Pitt, Han Solo, and Other People I’m Not
As an adult, I’ve had three major fantasies: in one, I wrestle terrorists to the floor of an airplane; in another, I crawl into a burning building to save someone’s life; and most commonly, I fight a mountain lion to the death with my bare hands in order to protect sometimes one, but usually two beautiful women. Afterwards, the women tend to my wounds, and this ineluctably leads to an enthusiastic three-way (of course I’d prefer to have a three-way without having to snap a cougar’s neck, but you know, we’re not all Brad Pitt).
In these fantasies, I am fearless. Everything I do is Han Solo-cool. I am composed and capable, always performing these acts of supreme heroism with a reassuring smirk– a signal to everyone that they needn’t worry, help is here, “I’ve got X under control” (where X is either “these terrorists”, or “this fire”, or “this predatory creature”).
More importantly, with the exception of the occasional consensual three-way, I never stick around for thanks or praise. In my humble opinion, an imaginary good deed should be its own imaginary reward; I don’t need accolades—what I crave is the emotional upsurge. I have only ever wanted to be somebody’s hero.
Anyway, this past Friday, I crawled into a burning building to save someone’s life.
I was walking through my neighborhood when an elderly woman screamed for help and waved me over from the second-floor balcony of a tiny complex, the kind built years ago on the cheap out of cork and paper. She pointed to her apartment, and I could clearly see grey-white smoke billowing out of the doorway. She yelled “Help!” again, and I ran up the stairs.
She gestured for me to go inside. “You”, she said. “You help.”
I asked: Is anyone in there?
She said: Yes.
I asked: Where?
She said: Yes.
I asked louder: Where are they in the apartment? Kitchen, bedroom, what?
She said: Yes*.
So, I went in.
The moment I stepped into the apartment, all my fantasies of being fearless and composed evaporated. I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me, and the place smelled like burning filth. The smoke stung my eyes and my nostrils, and I could feel it on my teeth like old food. It took less than a second for my legs to start shaking.
I pulled my shirt over my nose and mouth, then got down on my hands and knees and crawled through the entire place, calling out occasionally for the person allegedly trapped in the apartment. I couldn’t see anyone– but then I couldn’t see much of anything, including the source of the fire. The smoke was getting thicker by the minute, and inasmuch as I was fairly certain the apartment was empty, I decided to leave.
But as I crawled my way toward the exit, I came face to face with a terrified man: eyes quivering white and big as moons; shirt yanked over his nose, exposing a belly that gravity was pulling unapologetically toward the floor, making him appear vaguely like a bloated concubine. This was, sadly, my own terrified face and lolling gut– a reflection in a strategically-placed decorative mirror that will serve in memory– for the rest of my life– as proof that I will never, ever, ever be as cool as Han Solo.
When I made it back outside, I was met by a different woman, who pushed a phone in my face and said “You talk. I no English**.”
As I spoke with the emergency dispatcher, I knocked on the doors of the other apartments, making sure I got everybody safely out of the building. But the moment I got off the phone, the only person in the whole complex who spoke English—a young woman with a newborn baby in one arm and a Yorkshire terrier in the other—ran up to me. For reasons I wasn’t able to translate into my mother tongue, the old lady had convinced the complex’s maintenance man to go into her apartment.
“He shouldn’t be in there”, the younger woman said. “He’s eighty-five years old. You have to get him.”
So I crawled in a second time, and skittered around on my hands and knees until I eventually found the man standing in the kitchen, desperately trying to put out a raging oven fire with a cup of water. He ignored my calls for him to leave, and I ended up having to pull him out of the apartment by force. It’s possible he thought he had everything under control. It’s possible, standing there flailing his arms, looking scared and shaken, choking on the flaming remains of whatever this old woman was cooking, he was trying to be a hero too. I can’t say for sure, because he didn’t speak English***.
I got him out, and the police and firemen showed up in droves a minute later, blocking off every road with their multifarious loud vehicles, and generally speaking, doing their thing.
For my part, I have scratched “crawling into a burning building to save someone’s life” off my list of fantasies; not because I’ve actually done it, but because in my mind, I will always be that shuddering man in the mirror, crawling on his hands and knees, breathing in fits with a look of animal dread.
If you’re wondering: I do not know how long it took to put the fire out. I’m not really certain how bad the damage was, or what caused the blaze. And if the old lady ever thanked me, in whatever language she spoke, I’ll never know… because I didn’t stick around.
The three-way would have been terrible.
*For those of you reading this, take note: in countries where the national language is English, you might find English to be a useful language—especially in case you ever need to give someone critical details concerning, say, a fire in your home.
**Again, in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and most of Canada, the English language tends to come in handy if you want to say ‘hello’, or if you can’t find a restroom, or if you need to give emergency services your exact location because your apartment complex is on fire.
***According to Wikipedia, “English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now the most widely used language in the world.” It is definitely the most widely used language here in the United States, and knowing at least the basics could work to your advantage in the event you are trapped in a burning building.