50. Explosively


In 1975 I moved in with three guys into the second floor of an old, once grand house on Floyd Ave. in Richmond, Virginia. It was a shotgun flat with the kitchen and a large room with a bath out front overlooking Floyd Ave. Then came a square room with maybe one window. Then my large room with two big windows and a separate doorway. Then another bathroom, a back staircase, and then a single room with its own locked door. I moved from around D.C. to Richmond with all my stuff during one early evening. Must have been October. We stayed up late drinking beer and talking. It was exciting to be living away from home for the first time in my nineteen year old life.

In the morning I was hungry and sauntered through Bruce’s dark room into the big front room/ kitchen with a bath area. My roommate Weird Conspiracy Paul was sitting in his designated Spartan area with a chair and a mattress  on the floor.  I asked if he’d like some pancakes. He gave an enthused “yeah!”  So I began putting together the ingredients in a bowl. Meanwhile I turned on the gas oven to preheat a cookie sheet on which I planned to pile up freshly fried pancakes. As I whipped up the batter, I chatted mindless nothings with alienboy Paul.

Then the moment of truth arrived. You see this stovetop had a visible pilot light, just like the stove at my parents’ house. I assumed incorrectly that it also had a pilot light in the oven. Wrong. As I turned the front burner knob on to heat the skillet, a soft “poof” was instantly followed by a thunderous, concussive “whoooomphhh”.

In one long slow motion trauma film with four camera angles I sensed the oven door exploding out as it disgorged the cookie sheet in a straight line right at Paul. He screamed as it came toward him like an incoming missile-launched Exorcist baby. In the same millisecond I was aware that the panes in the old double hung window next to the stove were exploding out onto the stoop and sidewalk below. At the very same time I heard the locked door of the room we were in buckle open and slam against the outside hallway wall. The hair on my arm was singed and stinking. The plaster dust drizzled down from the hundred year old plaster ceiling like a fine snow. I wondered if anyone was maimed or killed by the shattered glass. I peaked out and saw, amazingly, that there was no loss of life or scalps below. Then I remembered to breathe.

“Holy Shamolie!” I said or some equivalent. Paul shakily brought the cookie sheet up to the expanded stove that had grown about an inch and a half. We didn’t speak as much as just utter vowels…”Whoa, oh, wow, no”. I walked to the hall door and pulled the door shut. I could not believe that the concussion waves had blown this door open and nearly off its hinges. “HallolieShamolieLAkaLaka” I said, or some equivalent. Real speech was knocked out of my voice for a few minutes.  Well, so much for the pancakes.

I spent the rest of that day measuring glass and shopping for glazing and tools to repair the blown out panes, sweeping up the mess. Thanking God that no one was killed inside or out. But it was not over. The next day my roommate Bruce was taking a shower in the bathroom attached to the blast zone. He was lathered up with shampoo and soap when the old horsehair plaster above him let go and coated his wet naked body like Shake and Bake chicken coating on a frying rooster. He screamed and cursed and came out of the dusty room spitting out dirt and plaster and hundred year old horsehair. The image haunts me to this day. He looked like a cross between a survivor from Hiroshima and Kentucky Fried Chicken. We laughed till urination as he floundered and swore at us, which just made it all the funnier.

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