In my senior year at Duke, Larry, Bill, Bruce, Glen and I rented a big house off-campus. It was not easy to do. It was in a nice residential neighborhood and the landlord was very wary of renting to a bunch of wild college guys.
We convinced him we were the complete opposite of wild. We were all trying to get into different types of grad schools so it was all studying and no parties. Larry was the one who convinced the landlord. Larry was pre-law and a real smooth talker. Plus it was Larry who had convinced us all to move into a house that was really much more than we could afford. Most of us had wanted a much smaller place, but somehow Larry talked us into it. He was going to be a great lawyer.
We could barely meet expenses. The only good thing was that there was no heating bill since the house had oil heat and the tank was full when we moved in. Larry calculated that the oil would last through the entire winter and we would never have to pay penny to heat the place.
Larry was wrong. All the oil in the tank got used up and there was still a long time before the winter was over. Of course, winter in North Carolina is not anywhere near as bad as it is in New England, but it still gets pretty cold. It was in the coldest part of the winter when the oil ran out. Day by day the house got colder, until eventually it was the same temperature as the air outside.
We ended up spending most of our time in the living room which had a giant fireplace. A pile of wood had also come with the house. We burned the logs from the woodpile, but but eventually the wood pile was fully depleted
Larry happened to be taking a night class when the wood finally ran out. As the fire started to burn down to nothing, Bill happened to say, “Well I know where to get some more fuel.”
Then Bill disappeared into Larry’s room. A couple of minutes later he came back with the wooden legs he had unscrewed from the easy chair in Larry’s room. He tossed them into the fireplace and the room started to heat up again from the warm glow of the burning legs.
As the fire consumed the chair legs, Glen went out to the garage and came back in with a saw and a bunch of other tools. He proceeded to Larry’s room and we heard a lot of sawing and banging. Then he came back into the living room with the rest of the chair in pieces and threw the pieces into the fire.
As the fire began to roar, it was no longer about keeping warm. It became a kind of crazy game to find whatever in Larry’s room would burn. It turns out the answer was everything.
A wooden bookshelf, a desk, a desk chair, a night table all went into the fire. Then things that were not even wood got tossed in. Pillows, blankets, cushions all went up in flames. The fire was actually making a roaring noise. The room was becoming uncomfortably hot, but the craziness continued.
It turns out that a box spring and mattress will actually burn too. Of course, first you have to do a lot of work to chop and cut them up, but it can be done.
The burning went on for a long time, and by the time it was done there was nothing left in Larry’s room but piles of books on an empty floor.
It was very late at night when Larry came home. The fire had died down until there was just a lot of smouldering embers. He said “Hi” to everyone then went into his room. A second later he came back out to ask where we had hidden all his furniture. He did not believe us when we told him we had burned everything. But when he finally looked into the fire place he could see the metal springs from his box mattress. They were the only things that refused to burn. They were still glowing red and giving off a lot of heat.
Larry was too stunned to be angry. He thought that all his roommates had somehow gone temporarily insane while he was in class. He was probably right. The fire was not about Larry. No one had been mad at him. It was about releasing the constant pressure from exams and classes and grad school applications. We all felt badly about it afterwords, but we all still thought it was funny. Except for Larry.
We ended up re-furnishing Larry’s room with various pieces of furniture from our own rooms. Slowly Larry forgave us, and the house got warmer when Spring arrived.
Bill, who had started the whole furniture burning episode, went into Forestry Management. Ironically, the main thrust of his job is developing better ways to prevent fires. Larry got into the University of Virginia law school. As we all predicted, he turned out to be a great lawyer. He now lives in a beautiful custom deigned house.
The architect was very surprised when Larry insisted the house be built without a fireplace.