I would've liked to have been a pyromaniac like the other kids.
I could have set one of those roaring hillside brush fires
that stings your nostrils and makes the LA sky orange at midday.
People down in Torrance would've had to comb bits of gray ash from their hair.

As it was, the first time I tried to light a match, I failed.
Miserably. Not enough friction, I guess. Scrape. Scrape.
You could smell the phosphorus. Scrape.
I was doing a science experiment in front of my fourth grade class. Scrape.
They were all watching, waiting for me to light the match.

The experiment was simple: one side of a can was painted black,
the other side white; a candle in the middle would heat them up,
and one side would become warmer than the other. But the match wouldn't light.

My father burned down his house when he was five
by playing with matches in the closet.
His father was the Fire Chief. His grandfather was the Chief Dispatcher.

I was a failure. My match wouldn't light.

Years later, Tom told me how he fought a fire in the East Bay Hills
when he was a teenager, high on PCP.
How the wind fanned the fire in every direction.
How the flames rolled down the slope, and how, finally, he ran.


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