That Time I Almost Set My Building on Fire

Taxes suck. We all know that. But small business taxes when you can’t afford a full-time accountant? A two-month long nightmare. That’s how long it would take me to go through all the bank statements, receipts, Excel files, missing paperwork crumpled up in my bar partner’s truck and mail hidden in the office by bartenders who couldn’t care less, all while working two full time jobs. So one particularly brutal New York Winter in 2013, the subway shut down for snow removal (thanks Mayor de Blasio) and we got my first ever snow day. While most of my friends used this as an excuse to drink bourbon and go sledding in Prospect Park, I actually looked forward to 24 hours of uninterrupted time where I could bang out the majority of two months’ work in a single day. (I am officially a workaholic).

Given that it was my first day off in forever and I had a hot date with my computer, I decided to make it as romantic as possible. Or at least straight out of an Anthropologie catalog. I made a pot of coffee, the smell wafting into my bedroom where I sat in my pajamas, surrounded by bank statements and receipts on my fluffy white comforter, and a huge candle lit on the table next to me. The smell was floral and intoxicating and kept me calm as I crunched numbers.

Realizing I was missing a few sales statements, I leaned forward to grab my cell to call the credit card processor when out of the corner of my eye I saw it; a flash of orange. I turned, and instead of seeing the small soothing flame from the middle of the candle providing the most spa-like tax atmosphere ever, I saw a flame nearly 12 inches high, licking the wall against my bedside table.

I jumped out of bed, paper flying everywhere, the thud of my iPhone hitting the wood floor, and ran to the kitchen. I grabbed my potholders and tried to remember what we learned about fire back in second grade. Running back into the bedroom, I grabbed either side of the candle with my hands in the potholders, carried the candle into the kitchen and set it in the middle of my brand new sink. Thank God I chose the super deep one. The flame danced higher and higher, kissing my faucet and growing quickly. ‘Ok, think, think,’ I told myself. ‘Water or no water?’ I knew a fire extinguisher would be better, but clearly I didn’t have one in my fifth floor Brooklyn walk-up. So I decided water. At full blast.

I turned on the faucet as hard as it would go, hoping it would drown the flame like a fireman’s hose. Instead, it only fueled the flame now tall enough to reach the bottom of my new wood cabinets. ‘Oh no, you are NOT burning down my brand new kitchen. ‘I worked way too hard for this,’ I thought as I turned to my front door. I threw open the door, used the potholders to grab both sides of the candle, pulled it out of the sink and held it at arms-length in front of me as I padded down the sixty-nine stairs, praying none of the other nine tenants were home to witness this flame growing in front of me.

I got to the bottom of the stairs, faced with our double glass doors to the outside world. Unsure what to do, I quickly glanced outside for pedestrians (witnesses), before carefully balancing the candle on one potholder and opening each door. Once outside, I looked for the most open space out of harm’s way. I gently placed the candle smack in the middle of the sidewalk in front of our building and backed away. It was then I realized that although the snow had been shoveled from our walkway, the ground was still frozen and I was barefoot. And in a tank top and boy shorts. In the middle of Park Slope, which felt way busier than it should for the middle of a weekday in the snow. I went back inside and stood in the hallway, watching the flame about 15 feet away, willing it to go away.

After about 20 minutes, where I’ll admit at one point I took a break from watching the mini campfire in our front yard to run back upstairs for my mug of much needed coffee (and a winter coat and a pair of shoes), it finally died down. I ventured outside to check on it, and the glass was cool to the touch. Looking at the bottom of the candle, I could see where the three original wicks looked like they had become about 15. I’d had the candle so long I forgot just how many matchsticks I’d lost in the wax trying to light the three wicks over the years. Apparently once the candle ran out of wax, all the leftover matchsticks became kindling, creating one large flame. My b. I picked up the candle and flipped it over, dumping the ash into a nearby trashcan. When the trashcan didn’t catch fire, I threw the glass in after it before heading back upstairs to start my taxes. And drink more coffee.