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The New Neighbors

The people who live on A Street are about to experience change. Things have been calm and quiet for some number of years now. But the older folks remember that it wasn’t always this way.

The homes on A Street are built on small lots. As such, the homes are all rather close together. The majority of the homes are pretty small in size. That is, with one obvious exception: The Big House. The Big House is important to everyone who lives on A Street, because whoever lives in the Big House makes the decisions about how to keep everyone else on A Street safe.

Right now, Mr. Olson and his family live in the Big House. They’d been there for years at this point, but it was time for them to move on. Most of the people of A Street liked Mr. Olson and his family. When Mr. Olson first moved into the Big House, he went around door to door to meet everyone in the neighborhood. He introduced himself with a smile and a genuinely warm presence. He asked the people of A Street questions about their families and their lives. He really listened to them and heard the concerns and fears that they raised.

But don’t get it twisted. Not everyone on A Street was on board with Mr. Olson being in the Big House. When Mr. Olson arrived at certain homes on A Street, no one would even open the door. Their cars were in the driveway, they were clearly home, but some families had simply already made up their minds about Mr. Olson. They had heard about him, and about people like him, and they didn’t want any part of it. When Mr. Olson arrived at their doorstep and rang the bell, some families just pretended that nobody was home. They may have even quickly glanced through the peep-hole to see the new Big House occupant at their doorstep. But just as they expected, some people took one look at him, and they didn’t like what they saw.

Remember that the homes on A Street are built pretty close together. And it doesn’t rain much in this area. Many years ago, the rains were much more regular. But today, A Street is lucky for any sparse dampening it can get just a few short weeks out of the year. The wind is fairly strong in this area too.

The leader of the Big House is responsible for anticipating and preparing the neighborhood for any potential threats to its own safety. Given the layout of A Street, and also factoring in the changes in weather in recent years, Mr. Olson quickly deduced that there was one main threat facing A Street that dwarfed all the others: fire.

If a wildfire from outside the neighborhood got too close, all of the homes on A Street could be in grave danger. Even an accidental home fire started from within any given home on A Street could be catastrophic for the whole block.

The Big House has a budget set aside for neighborhood safety. Once a year, every home on A Street is expected to chip into the fund. Almost every home does, but some people just say they’re going to contribute, but never do. The families who refuse to contribute are generally the wealthiest families on A Street. It’s not an enormous budget, it would be impossible to protect the neighborhood perfectly from every single possible danger, but it’s a solid start. When Mr. Olson occupied the Big House, he invested in several measures to increase A Street’s preparedness for a major neighborhood fire.

Under Mr. Olson’s leadership, each home on A Street was equipped with new, top-notch smoke detectors in every room of the house. Furthermore, each home was given three large fire extinguishers to quickly put out any accidental fire within their own walls. Each home was also given four long garden hoses, two for the backyard and two for the front. These were not professional fire-fighting hoses, but they were far better than nothing. If fire really ever did break out, at least each family on A Street was now equipped to take the basic initial measures to fight the fire themselves, while the danger may still have remained relatively small.

Oh, and about those homes who refused to open the door when Mr. Olson first stopped by to greet them? They still got everything they needed too. Mr. Olson believed that even if the people in those homes didn’t like him personally, and even if that in some way hurt his feelings, it was still his responsibility to protect them all the same.

The fire detectors, the fire extinguishers, and the yard hoses did make a lot of people on A Street feel safer. But their proactive spirit didn’t stop there. One day, some of the residents of A Street were outside talking, and someone had an idea. They soon agreed to form a new neighborhood organization: the A Street Fire Squad (ASFS). The ASFS would be made up of one or two residents from every home on A Street. A few homes decided not to send anyone at all, but most homes were on board to help protect their own neighborhood.

The ASFS agreed to meet up one afternoon per week to conduct drills and strategize about general fire preparedness. Mr. Olson was right there with them every step of the way. He’d offer guidance when appropriate, but he rarely insisted on making every single decision himself. The ASFS practiced fire safety essentials. They practiced communicating with each other using concise, clear language. The Big House provided the group with brand-new walkie talkies so they could communicate clearly even if spread out down different parts of the block.

The ASFS members jogged long distances together to get in shape and increase their physical fitness and stamina. They practiced using their fire extinguishers effectively. They practiced using their yard hoses effectively. They were out there working together quite nicely. They were not paranoid. They were not panicking. They were simply being responsible and proactive towards the common goal of protecting their own neighborhood.

And keep in mind, life on A Street was far from perfect when Mr. Olson was living in the Big House. It still got dark at night during these years. It still got cold in the winter. Sometimes, if a resident threw a piece of trash on the ground on A Street, it would stay there for a while. Elderly people still died of cancer and heart attacks. Most adults did not have the job of their dreams. Many people didn’t have jobs at all. Most children were not actually “learning” very much in school.

Also, there were other very scary threats to A Street that had nothing to do with fire. Most residents of A Street remember that two decades ago, a small but passionate group of very religious men from Z Street (very far away) came to express their hatred and rage towards the residents of A Street. These angry men from Z Street had never met anyone from A Street. Nonetheless, they were very much committed to hurting, even killing any resident of A Street they could get their hands on. Three people from A Street died that day. It was a fairly distant memory by now, but the fear and chaos of that day still lingers in the consciousness of pretty much everyone on A Street who’s old enough to remember it.

One day, Mr. Olson sent out a postcard to every home on A Street. It reminded everyone about something everyone technically knew was coming, but had kind of forgotten about. The time had come for Mr. Olson to sell the Big House. He and his family would move out, and a new family would take up residence in their place. Some families on A Street were excited about the change. Other families were a bit sad, and even a bit nervous about the transition.

When the day came, Mr. Olson greeted the new buyer, Mr. Templeton, at the front door of the Big House. Mr. Olson welcomed his new guest inside, and proceeded to give him a tour of the entire place. They methodically covered the need-to-knows of every inch of the Big House. Mr. Templeton was briefed on every room, every closet, the entire large basement and even the cluttered attic. Mr. Olson walked Mr. Templeton through the finer points of the front and back yards, and the edges of the property lines. Throughout the tour, Mr. Olson was friendly, patient, and kind with his new replacement. Mr. Templeton, however, did not reciprocate. Mr. Templeton actually seemed rather annoyed by the tour and all the friendly reminders and suggestions. This wasn’t the first home Mr. Templeton had owned after all, he was a very successful man.

Mr. Olson then started telling Mr. Templeton about the neighbors on A Street. He goes through the homes on the block one at a time. Mr. Olson tells Mr. Templeton who lives where, what each family is like, what’s important to them, and what they’re worried about. As Mr. Olson is explaining this crucial information to Mr. Templeton, it’s clear that Mr. Templeton’s attention is elsewhere. For starters, he’s taken out his phone. While Mr. Olson is still speaking directly to him, Mr. Templeton is scrolling and scrolling through his phone, eyes down. When Mr. Olson comes to a pause at the end of a sentence, Mr. Templeton offers a “Yep…Ok…Sure…Right…Got it…Ah huh.”

Confused, but knowing he needs to proceed, Mr. Olson now turns to the single most important topic of conversation. Mr. Templeton must understand, and be up to speed, on all the latest information the Big House has with respect to fire readiness on A Street.

When Mr. Olson brings it up, Mr. Templeton makes a quick and uncharacteristic flash of eye contact with the man he’s speaking to. Mr. Templeton’s facial expression communicates some combination of amusement and scorn, as if to dismiss the very topic of fire as unworthy of even discussing. Mr. Olson explains why fire is the number one threat to A Street. As soon as he gets into the details, Mr. Templeton adopts a smirk, but keeps his attention and his eyes downward, back onto his scrolling screen.

Mr. Olson updates Mr. Templeton on the schedule and activities of the ASFS. He informs the new Big House leader of the actions that had already been taken to prepare each house for fire. But regular maintenance would be needed. The new smoke detectors in every home, for example, in the not too distant future, would need to have their batteries replaced by the Big House. “Ok.” Mr. Templeton states flatly. The fire extinguishers should still be good for now, but down the line you’ll have to make sure they are regularly tested to ensure they’re still in working order. “Ah huh.” Mr. Templeton offers. He’s clearly not paying attention.

Frustrated, but realizing he’s done all he can at this point, Mr. Olson decides to wrap up the conversation. Mr. Templeton again makes approximately 1.5 seconds of eye contact as he shakes Mr. Olson’s hand on his way out. Mr. Olson is about to leave the Big House, and thus leave the people of A Street who he’d genuinely come to enjoy working on behalf of. But something really felt off. The last night Mr. Olson spent in the Big House, he had great difficulty falling asleep.

On Sunday, Mr. Templeton wakes up very early in his large new bed in the Big House. If he were to fully extend his arm towards his wife, so as to embrace her, he would not be able to reach any part of her. That’s how big the bed is, and that’s how far apart this couple sleeps.

When Mr. Templeton wakes up in the morning, he reaches for his phone and starts scrolling while he’s still laying down. Sometimes he sees something that makes him feel happy. But more of the time, he ends up seeing something terrible, something that makes him feel angry. And his own wife and kids know that when Mr. Templeton gets angry, it’s usually not just for a fleeting moment.

Mr. Templeton spends about two straight hours in bed, scrolling on his phone. But then he starts to get hungry. He wakes up his wife so she can make him something to eat. He tells her exactly what to do, and without so much as responding, she gets up, gets dressed, and silently walks downstairs to the kitchen. The wife of Mr. Templeton is not the type of wife who talks very much.

Soon Mr. Templeton is downstairs sitting in his favorite luxury chair. He’s watching TV now, but sometimes when he gets bored with what’s on TV, he’ll scroll through his phone while the TV’s still on in the background.

Mr. Templeton has three sons, ages 7, 10, and 13. All morning the boys have been thrilled running around the Big House, exploring all its rooms and intriguing new features. Mr. Templeton rises from his perch on his favorite luxury chair. He slowly heads over to the bathroom. On his way there, he notices something ugly on the ceiling. He almost laughs to himself, forgetting how recently Mr. Olson used to live here in this very same place. And to be completely honest, the Big House was nowhere near as nice of a house as Mr. Templeton and his family had been accustomed to living in. To all these peasants who live on A Street, they probably think the Big House is like, so amazing, Mr. Templeton thought to himself, with a rare smile on his face. But to him, the Big House was actually a major downgrade. But whatever, he concluded.

Mr. Templeton calls for the boys. He tells them to find a ladder and some tools in the garage. He says to his sons, “Boys, I’ve got a very important project for you. I need you to go through the entire Big House, one room at a time. Look up at the ceiling in every single room. Anytime you see a smoke detector, you rip it down, ok? And when you’re done, move on to the fire extinguishers. Apparently, they’re all over the house in cabinets and closets and places you wouldn’t even believe. But you know what? The Templetons don’t need all these ugly, useless smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in here just because Mr. Olson was so uptight about some big fire that’s never even going to happen.”

It takes the boys a while to finish, but they get the job done. They’ve made a pile of all the smoke detectors they’d removed in the garage. They made a different pile of all the fire extinguishers they ripped out of the Big House down in the basement. “Ok.” Says Mr. Templeton. It’s now mid-afternoon. “Now I need you to go to every single house on A Street and do the same thing. Just knock on everyone’s door, tell them you’re the very important sons of Mr. Templeton, and go inside their houses and take out their smoke detectors and remove their fire extinguishers too.” The boys nodded eagerly. They spent the rest of the day and part of the evening carrying out their father’s first big initiative on A Street.

The next morning, Monday, while Mr. Templeton was still in bed, the doorbell rang and knocking was heard at the front door of the Big House. Mr. Templeton yells for one of his sons to go answer the door. Minutes later, the 13-year-old arrives in his parent’s bedroom. He says it’s one of the neighbors at the door. The neighbor asked for Mr. Templeton to come join them outside. It’s the practice day for the A Street Fire Squad.

This was the one day a week where at least one person from every home on A Street gets together to practice fire safety drills. A Street has been doing this for years, and they’re now very excited to welcome their new neighbor and Big House leader to the team. Mr. Templeton tells his son to tell the ASFS that he’s on his way. “Tell them that the group can get started. Don’t wait on me, but I’ll be there shortly. I just have some other important business to attend to at the moment.” The 13-year-old runs back to the front door to relay the message.

Mr. Templeton eventually rolls out of bed. He watches TV for a few hours, then he makes a couple phone calls to chat with some friends. He never shows up at the ASFS meeting.

Monday evening, the entire neighborhood noticed a buzz on their phones. The new Big House leader just sent out a new message for everyone on A Street to see. It read, “Attention all residents, effective immediately, all activities of the A Street Fire Squad (aka ASFS) have been suspended. It’s over. No more drillz, no more getting together to talk about fire. Quite frankly, a lot of people are saying that these fires are never even going to come. If you ask me, all this fire talk is just one more way that Mr. Olson used to control you and force you to constantly live in fear. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. People of A Street, I am your new Big House leader, listen to me when i tell you, don’t be afraid of fire!”

Just as many of the families on A Street were finishing reading the first new message of their new Big House leader, another new message came through. This one read: “Also, don’t you even think about saying that we don’t have protection from fire anymore! Instead of the A Street Fire Squad (which I just killed), my three sons (very good ones) will now fill in for that. If we have a fire (which we won’t!) then my 7-year-old, my 10-year-old, and my 13-year-old will take care of it. They’re really gonna do a bang-up job of it just you wait. If A Street sees any fire, which is never going to happen, then my boys will be all over it like you’ve never seen before. People will be asking me, ‘Wow, how did you put out that fire so fast, and so good?’ I’ll say, ‘That’s the kind of service you can expect when mr. Templeton and family are in charge. It’s something in our jeans or the blood you know?’ It’s really going to be something I can tell you that.”

Many of the neighbors on A Street read these two messages, then looked at each other, slightly confused. In some homes there were slight murmurs of dismay and even criticism. In other homes, some residents actually felt kind of invigorated. This new guy actually sounds pretty tough! People in some homes remarked. Maybe having such a tough guy in the Big House would actually help us fight fires even better!

Just before Mr. Templeton crawled into the very opposite side of the bed that he shares with his near mute wife, she spoke to him directly. This didn’t happen much, thank god, but he knew it was something he’d have to put up with at least once in a while. Right now, she was droning on about the mail. Turns out quite a bit of mail had arrived at the Big House on Monday. There was one envelop in particular that appeared to be rather urgent. But Mr. Templeton hated mail. He really didn’t like being forced to have to look at words written on paper in general. Sitting down, quietly focusing on words written on paper was just about the most boring thing Mr. Templeton could think of. Sometimes, his wife would try to read the mail to him aloud, to try to make it less boring for him. Sometimes she felt like it helped, but sometimes she could tell that he was still not paying attention.

Tuesday morning, Mr. Templeton woke up with a great idea. He realized that he needed some big way for the people of A Street to realize that there was a new sheriff in town. He needed to show them this was no longer Mr. Olson’s A Street. So he rounded up his sons and gave them a big new project. “Boys,” he said, “the truth is that the Big House looks kind of ugly. And we are going to fix that. Right now, the Big House basically looks the same as most of the other houses on the block, only it’s bigger of course. But that’s not good enough. I want you boys to give this puppy a brand-new paint job. That’s right, I want you to repaint the entire Big House from top to bottom! Paint it bright red. Completely, totally, bright red.”

Then the Templeton family heard someone knocking very loudly on the front door of the Big House. The knocker rang the doorbell three times in a row too, Mr. Templeton hated it when people did that.

The 10-year-old Templeton son answered the door, as his father was watching TV and sitting in his favorite luxury chair. It was one of the homeowners on A Street, Mr. Jao. Mr. Jao was out of breath. “Please, quickly,” Mr. Jao gasped to the boy. “I need to speak with your father right away.” “Whatever it is, you can tell me.” The 10-year-old responded with complete confidence. “Ah, I don’t think you understand, this could be an emergency situation for everyone on A Street. I need to speak to an adult! I need to speak to the leader of the Big House right away!” Unfazed, the 10-year-old crossed his arms and adopted an expression of annoyed frustration on his face. “Is there a message you’d like for me to leave him or not? I have other things to be doing.”

Exasperated, Mr. Jao stated, “Look, I have a very large family. My house has more people living in it that any other house on A Street. And we’re on the north side of the block, which is on the complete opposite end of A Street from your family here on the south end. I know you might not smell it right here, but if you go down to the north end of the street, right outside of my house, it smells like smoke in the air. I double checked and no one on A Street is having a bon-fire or a trash-fire or anything right now. So, some of us are afraid it might actually be a wildfire in the area. And if it gets too close to…” “A wildfire?” Cuts in the 10-year-old. “Gimme a break.” He stepped out a single pace from the doorframe and onto the front porch of the Big House. The boy took one big sweeping scan of A Street, he dramatically inhaled a breath from his nose as loudly as he could. He said, “You see, I don’t smell anything at all! I’m looking at A Street with my own eyes, and I don’t see any fire either! I’m over this. Why don’t you go back to the house that you came from! And why don’t you stay there and stop bothering us!”

Mr. Jao, feeling confused, defeated, and frustrated, started walking back home. On the way back, he ended up chatting with a few of the other neighbors of A Street who were out tending to their yards or getting the mail. Mr. Jao warned them about the smoke he was smelling on the north end of the block. He shared his worry that a wildfire very well might be headed their way. A few of the neighbors seemed as genuinely concerned as he was, but a few others seemed to brush it off just like Mr. Templeton’s 10-year-old son had.

Tuesday evening, everyone on A Street got a new message from the Big House leader on their phones. It read, “Bootiful people of A Street, it has been brought to my attention that some of you are getting scared about “smoke” being “supposedly” smelled around A Street. What a load of crap, really. I didn’t smell any smoke at all today inside the Big House, so I really don’t know what all the fuss is about. (Some certain neighbors just trying to get attention???) I’ll tell you this. Even if there was smoke out there over by Mr. Jao’s home, I’m still not worried about it you know why? Because it’s going to disappear…One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

This message from Mr. Templeton made some families on A Street actually feel pretty good. Many of the fathers on the block liked the way he wasn’t afraid to say exactly what he was thinking. Many of the mothers on the block liked the way he seemed so confidently in charge, and so unafraid. One of the children in one of these homes asked their parents if they’d seen the Big House’s bright red new paint job. The parents had not. After dinner, some of these families went for a walk around the block so they could get a glimpse of the Big House’s new look. Many of them really liked what they saw. You could tell the paint job was a little rough around the edges, but didn’t that just make it all the more…authentic? Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing for Mr. Templeton to make such a bold decision to shake up the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, over in Mr. Jao’s home, the whole family was feeling pretty anxious at this point. Even though their windows were all closed, they could still smell a bit of smoke even inside the house. If they walked out into their yard, the smell was concerningly strong.

Mr. Jao’s family lived next door to Mr. Moon’s family on the north end of A Street. Each family had their own way of doing things, but they both considered themselves to pretty much be the most responsible and well-disciplined families on the entire block.

The Moon’s had heard about what Mr. Templeton’s son said to Mr. Jao, but they too could smell the smoke for themselves. Mr. Jao and Mr. Moon had been living on A Street far longer than Mr. Templeton had, and they planned to live there long after Mr. Templeton’s turn in the Big House had ended.

Quietly, on their own, Mr. Jao’s family and Mr. Moon’s family each spent the rest of Tuesday evening preparing. Mr. Templeton’s sons had already removed the smoke detectors and fire extinguishers from their homes. But the boys somehow forgot about, or never knew about all the yard hoses. Fortunately, this meant Mr. Jao and Mr. Moon could still take some preventative fire safety measures on their own, with or without the direction or approval of the Big House.

Mr. Jao and Mr. Moon each put ladders up to the top of their roofs. They dragged their yard hoses up with them, and sprayed down their roofs with water. Then they sprayed down the entire exterior of their homes from every angle. Then they put on the sprinkler attachments. This way, they could soak the half-dead grass on their yards nice and wet. This was an imperfect solution, but it was certainly a decent start which could at least help to delay the spread of fire to their homes if in fact that moment were to come.

First light Wednesday morning, the Big House was again woken up earlier than appreciated. Their doorbell was ringing again and again. The pounding on the door, the yelling from the porch became inescapable to any and all ears in the Big House. The 7-year-old answered the door, wiping sleep from his eyes. “What the hell do you want?” Mr. Templeton’s youngest son demanded to know. “Sir…Mr.…I mean…” Mr. Jao sputtered. “Out with it already!” Snaped the boy. “We need to speak with your father right away!” Mr. Jao exclaimed. “Gentlemen, I’m afraid my father is indisposed at this particular moment. But rest assured, I’m fully authorized to personally speak on behalf of the Big House myself. So, there it is, how can I help you?”

Even more so than the day before, Mr. Jao was simply frantic. But this time, he wasn’t alone. His next-door neighbor from the north end of A Street, Mr. Moon, was there with him. And oddly, Mr. Keyzer was there with them as well. Mr. Keyzer actually lived here on the south side of A Street, directly next door to the Big House itself. Anyway, the 7-year-old quickly understood that all three men at his porch were simply there to complain to his father about the “smoke” that they claimed to be smelling. Some people will do anything for attention.

As the boy appeared to be turning his back and about to shut the front door, Mr. Moon pleaded once more, “Please, just come with us to the north end of A Street and see it for yourself! I swear if you come over and see what we’re talking about you’ll see how serious this is. We have to make sure that everyone on A Street is ready for a fire!” “Pfff. Whatever.” Says the 7-year-old. “I don’t smell anything at all. And besides, people like us don’t go to the side of the block where Mr. Jao and Mr. Moon live.” With that, the boy shut the door on his neighbors and went back inside.

Mr. Jao, Mr. Moon and Mr. Keyzer walked back to towards their homes with their tails between their legs. On their way, they noticed something strange. Not one, not two, but three separate houses on A Street could be seen repainting the exterior of their homes. All three homes had both parents and children alike working like busy little bees up on ladders. They were painting their homes bright red.

The 7-year-old knew that technically he should tell his dad what Mr. Jao, Mr. Moon, and Mr. Keyzer had said right away. But he also knew from experience that his dad hated to be interrupted, even if he really wasn’t doing anything in the first place.

At the end of the day, the 7-year-old ran into his father at dinner. He told the whole family about it as they ate. But as soon as the 7-year-old brought up the subject of smoke (which is associated with fire), he could see the anger and irritation on his father’s face.

Mr. Templeton stayed up even later than usual that night. He still seemed kind of wound-up, fidgety. He ate a ton of ice cream, but that only helped a little bit. Now he just felt bloated and uncomfortable. And Mr. Templeton hates it when he feels uncomfortable.

Anyway, Mr. Templeton felt like this might be a good time to send out a new message to the people of A Street. Mr. Templeton really liked sending out messages to people on his phone. So he went for it. “Look, people of A Street. I know that some of you who are maybe not the most smart people on the block are making such a big deal about this so-called “smoke.” You wanna know the real truth? There is no smoke. There is no fire. There never has been. I’m sitting right here in my favorite luxury chair in the Big House right now and let me tell you, I smell absolutely zero smoke in here ok. Zero. Zilch. Anyway, seriously. You all need to relax and stop fricking out, ok. I’m very busy.”

Many of the families on A Street were just on their way to bed when this message was delivered. Hours later, dead in the middle of the night, the people of A Street got yet another message on their phones from the Big House.

This one simply said, “We have it totally under control.”

“Help! Our house is on fire! Help! Our house is on fire!” It was Mr. Jao’s children. Mr. Jao sure did have a lot more kids than any other house on the block. Mr. Moon’s children ran up and down A Street with them, trying to sound the alarm to the whole neighborhood bright and early on Thursday morning.

The smoke which had been building over the past few days had now evolved into the worst-case scenario. We’re now dealing with an actual, enormous wildfire right at the foot of Mr. Moon’s home. The flames have already breached Mr. Jao’s property. Mr. Moon’s home was next. And after that, it looks like this fire is headed on a path which could very well destroy every single home on A Street.

All the commotion in the street did not go unnoticed inside the Big House. Mr. Templeton sent his sons out to go see what was going on. The 13-year-old ended up walking all the way down to the end of the block. As he got closer, he smelled profound smoke. As he got closer still, he saw the flames at close range with his own eyes. He got scared actually. But then he stiffened himself back up, not wanting to look like a loser in front of Mr. Jao’s family, whose house was burning down right then and there.

The 13-year-old finds one of Mr. Jao’s sons in the front yard of his burning home. Mr. Jao’s kids are desperately using the yard hoses to little effect to try to combat the growing flames. Mr. Templeton’s son walks up to one of Mr. Jao’s sons and asks him why his father is so stupid. “I mean, if you would have really told us that you guys needed help with this, we totally would have given it to you! I mean, come on. What did you expect my father to do?”

After spending the morning walking up and down A Street, observing what was going on and criticizing anyone who’s house was on fire, Mr. Templeton’s sons regrouped in the Big House for a two-hour lunch. Mr. Templeton seemed to actually be listening much more to his sons right now than he typically does. Turns out that just about all of A Street was now urgently requesting, some even used the word “demanding” a range of basic supplies they might use to protect each of their homes from the fire that had now clearly arrived in the neighborhood. Mr. Templeton sure didn’t like the sound of that. What do they all even want?

Mr. Templeton’s sons scrambled to do some inventory in parts of the Big House property that they’d never even seen yet. Inside the garage, the 10-year-old found the pile of the smoke detectors they’d recently removed from every home on A Street. But there was a leak in the ceiling, and a large pool of water had clearly been leaking on at least some of the smoke detectors. Would those ones even work anymore? He grabbed as many of the dry ones as he could, then jogged back inside. His brothers hadn’t found anything yet. When Mr. Templeton saw the pile of smoke detectors, he perked up a bit.

“Alright. Well, we don’t have enough of these bad boys for every house on the block. So…who are the lucky winners going to be?” The 7-year-old mentioned that some of the neighbors he spoke to that very morning were rather rude to him. The 13-year-old interjected, “What if we just give the smoke detectors to the families who, you know, the ones who treat us the way people like us are supposed to be treated?”

“I like that.” Stated Mr. Templeton, almost sounding proud of his boy, “The families who get these smoke detectors, they have to treat us well, also.”

Moments later, the doorbell of the Big House rings once again. Normally he doesn’t answer the door himself, but he was downstairs watching TV and was right there anyway. Mr. Templeton opens the front door, looks out, and doesn’t see anybody.

Irritated, he’s about to slam the door shut. But then he realizes a child from the neighborhood was standing right in front of him. Looking down at the boy, Mr. Templeton didn’t even know which house the kid lived in. The boy spoke, “Excuse me Mr. Templeton, my family and I live just a few houses down from you. The thing is, our house is fine right now, but we can smell smoke in our yard and it’s pretty bad. We also just heard about what happened to Mr. Jao’s house, at this point it’s severely damaged and might be destroyed completely. Mr. Templeton, as the leader of the Big House, what’s the plan here? What is A Street going to do to save itself from the fire burning down our neighborhood?”

With venom in his eyes, Mr. Templeton responds, “I think that's a very nasty question. And I think that's a very bad signal that you're putting out to the A Street people.” Mr. Templeton slamed the door in the boy’s face, and walked back to his favorite luxury chair.

Friday morning, the people of A Street woke up to a fresh new message on their phones from Mr. Templeton. It read, “Good morning A Street! The finest street to live in all the world I’ll tell you that much. People from all over the world want to come here and live like we live on A Street. But if they did that would be too many people right? We don’t want it to get crowded and dirty here with other people coming from who knows where to live on our beautiful street. Anyway. So yeah, you should know that as of today there is definitely a major fire on A Street. But don’t you worry your pretty little heads about it because you’ve got the Big Man Mr. Templeton in charge! And some of you might be thinking, you know what? Fire is not that easy. Fire is actually very bad. It can actually be very difficult, very complicated some might say, to do a good job on putting out a big neighborhood fire like this but you know what? You’re in luck, Mr. Templeton’s in charge now and I guarantee you that my Big House will help you more than anyone else in the Big House has ever done before. I was just talking to some professional firefighters this morning and I said to them, “I like this stuff (fires). I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it.”

After Mr. Templeton had sent out the message, he gathered his sons together. “Look boys, I need results right now. I’m the one in charge of the Big House and I’m the one who runs the show. So look, I’m pretty sure we should still have a big pile of fire-extinguishers somewhere in the Big House right? We already found the smoke detectors and gave those out, I think. But right now, we should find and give out all of the fire extinguishers we can find. Ok? Go get it done.” The boys listen with rapt attention. Given a task, they spring to action, searching the Big House far and wide for the fire-extinguisher pile.

After a few hours of looking, the 13-year-old hit the jackpot. A big fat stack of barely used fire extinguishers, the ones that Mr. Olson had put in every home on A Street not long ago, were strewn about the floor in an overlookable room down in the basement. The boys started gathering the extinguishers up, and running them over to one house at a time. Mr. Templeton tells them to give the fire extinguishers to the families in the newly minted bright red houses first.

By mid-afternoon on Friday, some of the neighbors of A Street came knocking on the door of the Big House. It was the bright red house neighbors. They said they were there to thank Mr. Templeton and to express their gratitude to the whole Templeton family for giving them their old fire extinguishers back. Mr. Templeton happily put his phone in his pocket, turned off the TV, and went to the front door to greet them. Mr. Templeton had a very great talk with these loyal bright red neighbors, and he agreed to do one of their new ideas about this whole fire thing. They said that the A Street Fire Squad might actually need to be reactivated. At least three homes on A Street were fully on fire at this point, so it might be nice to actually get out there and put a stop to this before the flames reach one of the bright red homes on the south side of the block near the Big House. I guess when you put it that way, Mr. Templeton thought to himself, that actually makes a lot of sense.

Right after they left his porch, Mr. Templeton returned to his favorite luxury chair to fire off a new message to everyone in the neighborhood. “Attention residents of A Street,” Mr. Templeton wrote, “MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT! The long-lost A Street Fire Squad (ASFS, another word 4 it) is now IN ACTION ONCE AGAIN. Thanks to my greatest leadership, effective IMMEDIATELY, we will be sending the ASFS to the north side of A Street, over by Mr. Jao and Mr. Moon’s homes. That is where the smoke and that is where the fire is coming from right now. If that’s where the fire is coming, then that’s where our heroes of the ASFS are going to go to work and put a good stop to this bad thing with the fire burning down some people’s houses mostly.”

About half of the people on A Street were sitting down inside of their homes. Those people saw the new message from Mr. Templeton on their phones right away. The other half of A Street was outside in their yards or on the street. Multiple homes were actively on fire, some looked like they could still be saved, some were starting to look like there was no turning back.

All this work made Mr. Templeton pretty tired. After he’d met with some of the neighbors and after he had fired off that last awesome message, he was feeling rather pooped. He spent the rest of the afternoon watching TV. He checked his phone as usual, but maybe even a little less than normal.

Something that Friday evening ended up stirring Mr. Templeton’s attention and energy once again, even at this late hour. Maybe it was something he’d just seen on TV or on his phone, at this point he wasn’t even sure. It was so important that it made him feel like he just had to share it with the neighborhood right away.

Mr. Templeton hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, but he’d heard that some of the residents on A Street were still outside trying to put out the fire on the north side of the block by Mr. Jao and Mr. Moon’s houses. Mr. Templeton wanted to give them and their families some good news. He already knew about flames being not good for you. Really, according to Mr. Templeton, if your body catches fire with flames, that’s really not a good thing for you to have happen to you. But people were talking about smoke and how bad it was to breath in smoke from your mouth (or your nose) into the inside part of your body. Not good at all. But on his phone, or maybe the TV, Mr. Templeton saw something that just might be the solution. Yes, this one might be the ticket! I know some people on A Street are saying bad things about me and complaining about why their homes are on fire and everything, but wait until they hear this!

Mr. Templeton sends his final message of Friday evening right around dusk. He now sees that many neighbors on A Street are dealing with breathing in (very bad) smoke into their lungs. Confident, he thinks he’s found the solution.

With everyone on A Street in full blown crisis mode, Mr. Templeton writes: “I see the disinfectant (by this he means household cleaning products like Lysol or generic bleach) where it knocks it out in a minute (smoke in your lungs). One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So, it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds, it sounds interesting to me.”

As her husband was sending this message out to the people he was entrusted to protect, Mr. Templeton’s wife was taking a walk around the Big House. She rarely did things outside, Mr. Templeton preferred she remain indoors unless she was with him, but there she was. Just for a few minutes, she walked the perimeter of the front yard. Then she aimed around the side, and took a leisurely stroll through the back yard too. As she breached the back yard, she immediately noticed something jarring that caught her attention. Mr. Templeton told her that he had the boys paint the entire Big House bright red. But here she was in the back yard, and the entire back yard wall of the house wasn’t newly painted at all. It was still the same blah color it had been before. The front and the sides of the house were painted bright red (mostly), but apparently, the boys just skipped painting the entire back?

And then, she noticed something even more startling. Squarely planted in the middle of the back yard of the Big House, she paused. Her posture became erect. She looked out, straight south, directly opposite from the rest of the houses on A Street. She smelled smoke. It was dark, and her heart rate instantly accelerated as she looked square ahead. In the distance, not too close, but not too far either, Mr. Templeton’s wife saw flames. This was not the fire that had already hit the north end of the street at Mr. Jao and Mr. Moon’s homes. This was a totally different fire. It looked like it might be headed right this way.

Saturday morning, Mr. Templeton and his wife were woken up very early and in a very unpleasant way. All three boys crashed into their parent’s room at the same time. They were super amped up, talking quickly and over each other. It was hard to understand them. “Father! We’ve got to get out of here quick! The Big House has caught fire! The Big House has caught fire!”

“Bullshit.” Mr. Templeton says, and rolls back over. His wife, now sitting up in bed, says, “I smell the smoke! Let’s go!” The three boys bolted back out of the room, their mother following them in suit.

Mr. Templeton couldn’t fall right back asleep. Frustrated, he reluctantly sat up. Mumbling angerly to himself, he takes his sweet time getting dressed. By the time Mr. Templeton makes it downstairs, a wave of anxiety floods his nervous system. It did smell like smoke in the Big House. WTF was that all about?

Mr. Templeton finds the boys and his wife in their nice, large living room filled with expensive things. The outer wall of the living room faces the backyard, and it’s on fire. The entire backyard is on fire. Who let this happen? Mr. Templeton wondered to himself.

Well, they didn’t have any smoke detectors up in the Big House anymore. The fire likely started and grew while the family was still asleep. They also didn’t have any fire-extinguishers in the Big House anymore, so the boys and Mr. Templeton’s wife were making due with what they could find. In the kitchen, the 7-year-old found the family’s drinkware. He grabbed as many gold-platted champagne glasses as he could carry, filled them with tap-water (gross), and ran them over to the rest of the family to douse the flames on the living room wall with.

Mr. Templeton then rallied his sons, taking them away from their desperate attempts to put out the living room wall fire. He says, “Boys, look. This is bad, really bad. Right now, the Big House is on fire and really anyone on A Street might be able to see it. That’s no good, we don’t want that. So here’s what we’re going to do. Stop trying to put out the actual fire in the Big House. Go to the garage and gather any protective equipment you may need. Get some helmets, some shields if you can find them, and get some baseball bats too. Then I want you to go out into the street and keep all the neighbors away from the Big House. Ok?”

Mr. Templeton continued, “If people find out that even the Big House is on fire, they’re going to panic and they’re going to start thinking that Mr. Olson was better for A Street than me just because when he was in charge there was never a fire in the Big House. Or any of the other houses. Ok you got it?” The 7-year-old asks, “But what if some of the neighbors won’t listen to us? What if they keep trying to get closer to the Big House to try to take a look?” Mr. Templeton responds, “Listen I’m not telling you to do anything but I’m also not telling you to not do anything with the baseball bats ok? Do whatever you need to do to keep everyone away from the Big House, period.”

Meanwhile out on A Street, pretty much everybody on the whole block is outside. No one is even looking at the Big House yet, because the same houses that were on fire yesterday are still on fire today. There are even a couple new houses that were fine yesterday, but now they’re on fire too. There was smoke in the air up and down the street. The sky was an odd color. Many of the kids on A Street were scared just seeing how scared their own parents were. The situation was bad, and right now it wasn’t clear whether or not it would continue to get even worse.

Just then, around mid-morning, the people of A Street noticed their phones were buzzing. This time, about half the people ignored it and kept trying to save their fledgling homes. But some were curious and hopeful, they opened their newest message from Mr. Templeton. It read, “Very fine and handsome people of A Street, just member one thing. Some people are saying bad things about A Street write now and we’re not going to let them get away with it because we know the truth. I, your Big House leader, want to remind you that A Street today is stronger than it’s ever been. A Street is the 100% best neighborhood to live anywhere in the whole world would you believe it? And so many people are trying to tear us down. Not me. I say you should all be proud to live on A Street, because A Street is the total best street. In my line of work, I know a lot of people. A LOT of people I tell you, and you wanna know a little secret? When Mr. Olson was in the Big House, he was always saying that you should do work to make A Street a better place. But how can you make A Street a better place when A street if you ask me is already the best place? Ever think about it that way? Everyone in the world would die to live here on A Street if they had half a chance, but they can’t and they don’t and they won’t. Because I’m here working for you every day. How about we have a little #astreetpride am I right?”

Everyone on A Street was outside, except for Mr. Templeton and his wife who were still inside the Big House. About half of the families on the block started walking towards the Big House. These families were frustrated, scared, and angry. Why did he have to get rid of the ASFS? This might never have even happened if the ASFS was still in place! And if all the homes on A Street still had their smoke detectors and fire-extinguishers like they used to, they would have been so much better prepared. As the flock of upset neighbors approached the Big House, they saw something that confused them. It appeared to be Mr. Templeton’s three young boys. They were jumping around on the balls of their feet, appearing to be readying themselves for action. They had helmets on. For what? And in their hands, what was that? Baseball bats? What in heavens was going on?

As the families approached closer, the boys started to yell and hiss and scream. The boys adopted a more aggressive physical stance, as if they were about to pounce with their bats. “We need to speak to your father!” One of the neighbors cried out to them. “Get back or I’ll swing!” The 10-year-old shouted. “We’ve been authorized by Mr. Templeton himself to protect the Big House and our property from any intruders or looters!” “But we’re not intruding. Or looting.”

One of the women in the crowd pleaded, “We just want to talk to your father! Right now, at least half of A Street is up in flames! We just want to know what his plan is to fight the fire.” “ENOUGH!” The 7-year-old screamed. He ran right up to the woman and caps her in the knee as hard as he could with the bat. She cries out in pain and collapses onto the street. The other two boys whoop and yell in support. Now they’re all revved up, ready to defend their father and the Big House. “Get back! GET BACK! GET BACK!” they yell at their neighbors, pushing them further and further away from the Big House.

Moments later, another buzz descends upon the neighborhood’s phones. New message from Mr. Templeton: “Ok everbody, don’t freak out. Don’t get mad. But I have a little update for you. Ok. So, technically, the Big House is now on fire. I know, I know. But listen, it’s really not that big of a deal if you think about it. I was sitting in my favorite luxury chair scrolling through my phone with the TV on, right? And all the sudden, I’m like, I think it’s a little warm in here. The warmness seems like it might be coming from my legs, right? So I put my phone down and I look down at my legs, and wouldn’t you know it, both of my legs were on fire. It was really uncomfortable to be honest. I totally get it now why people say that fire and getting burnt with fire on yourself is really not so good to do. So anyway, I’m looking around and I never drink water of course so I didn’t have any water in a nice location to just put myself back out of fire you know? So I ended up grabbing the plastic Mountain Dew bottle I was sipping out of, and I unleash it on my leg flames. It didn’t work that well, but it also didn’t not work very well too you know?”

Another message: “So anyway, I just wanted to give you a little update on the fire now being inside the Big House and how your main man just got burned pretty bad himself. Some people out there are still making such a big deal about this neighborhood-wide, increasingly severe, improperly addressed fire that’s wreaking havoc on all of our lives you know? Well I say, don’t be such a sissy about it (the fire burning your home down.) I got burned a little and trust me when I tell you, it’s really not as bad as they say it is. You got a half a bottle of warm Mountain Dow by your side? Problem solved. Don’t let this out of control fire and its toxic smoke dominate your lives! Be free! Be not afraid! Liberate A Street!”

The large group of families who had just been beaten by Mr. Templeton’s sons were headed back towards the north end of the street. Some of them were injured and battered by the boy’s bats. A small number of other families were just sitting on the curbs outside of their homes. These were the people whose homes hadn’t even been touched by the flames yet. But they were so confused, so exhausted, so frustrated, that they just sat on the curb with their heads in their hands, not knowing what fate had left in store for them.

It was getting dark again now. Some of those who looked over at the Big House saw something they didn’t expect. In the darkness of the night, they could see that the Big House itself was now quite fully on fire. Mr. Templeton, his wife, his three sons, were all inside.

The phones of everyone on A Street buzzed once more.

Everyone on A Street could see with their own eyes that the Big House was lit up, and was likely to come crashing down in a blaze of glory any moment now.

The neighbors pulled out their phones and read the last message they’d be receiving. It was Mr. Templeton. He said, “You know, some people our saying that all this fire coming to A Street is a bad thing. But you wanna know what I think? I think this fire that’s burning down all of our homes is a blessing from god.”

About 60% of the adults on A Street read the message, and concluded that Mr. Templeton had lost his mind.

About 40% of the adults on A Street read the exact same message, and solemnly nodded their heads in agreement.


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