Summer’s here, a time of magic and fun, a time when my neighbors observe an ancient nocturnal ritual that goes back to the Celts — they sit around fire pits like Brownies on their first camporee, singing, laughing and gossiping while the flames leap into the sky and sparks swirl through the darkness. And the rest of us live in fear.
Will they start dancing around the blaze? Will they sacrifice a woodland creature? Will the neighborhood go up in smoke?
I’m convinced one guy is secretly a member of a Wiccan cult or suffers from a case of pyromania that medication won’t cure. He’s been lighting bonfires since I can remember. A few years ago, someone called the volunteer fire department, which descended on our street with hook-and-ladder trucks, squad cars, 101 Dalmatians and other assorted heavy artillery, only to put the fire out with a garden hose and tell him that uncontrolled fires are illegal, which meant that as long as he put a few patio blocks around the blaze, he was good to go … up in smoke.
This is Southern Connecticut, but it smells like Southern California after the Santa Ana wildfires.
In my youth, I, too, enjoyed nights sitting around the fire, telling ghost stories, talking about girls, complaining about the Yankees and/or Red Sox and sharing investment strategies.
And I’ll never forget the unforgettable wilderness expedition with my wife and four daughters into the hills of Litchfield County in our pop-up camper. After the little darlings went to sleep, Sandy and I sat around the blaze … and stayed there the entire night because we couldn’t get into the camper.
You see, a skunk was blocking the entrance and rummaging through a bag of garbage that the kids left out. Its nose was caked in chocolate and marshmallow from the leftover s’mores. If he got into the wine coolers, we’d still be there. That adventure pretty much cured me of my love of fires, s’mores and family camping trips.
Now, I know trouble is brewing when I wake up to the sound of my neighbor’s chainsaw as he wanders through the woods, preparing for a big night by cutting down trees and piling up logs and alcoholic beverages, at which point I reach for the phone so I can make reservations for my wife, me and the dog at the Hampton Inn … but only if the dog is eligible for the free pancakes and WiFi.
Another neighbor has an outdoor smoker, and I can always tell when he’s making beef jerky, ribs or smoked salmon because there’s the smell of hickory and barbecue sauce in the air.
A few families have Adirondack chairs circling their fire pits. They love to sit out there, chatting into the wee hours of the morning, which makes me wonder — doesn’t anyone have to get up and go to work anymore? Since we have the lowest unemployment rate in 20 years, shouldn’t every man, woman, child and teenager be gainfully employed and not up all night, keeping the rest of us, who are gainfully employed, up all night too?
While revelers are sitting around the fire, singing songs, drinking Sam Adams, and toasting marshmallows, I’m gagging and sneezing because the smoke hangs in the air like the LA smog … and you can still smell it in the morning.
Our home doesn’t have air conditioning so summer nights, I used to love keeping the windows open to let the cool night breeze blow into the bedroom. Now, however, I have to slam the windows shut and seal the cracks with duck tape to keep out the smoke.
The stench reminds me of the years I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, back when smoking was considered cool rather than life threatening. The smell permeated my clothes, my bedroom, my car, my skin, my hair and various other body parts.
Actually, I shouldn’t complain. I’m not the perfect neighbor. I don’t have a fire pit, but I have a dozen bird feeders, which attract gangs of squirrels and wild turkeys that go trotting through the neighborhood like hormone-crazed teenagers, gobbling and pecking and pooping on everyone’s lawn. If they’re not careful, I’m convinced they’ll end up in someone’s smoker.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.