Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's Just Stuff

Two weeks ago, a house fire made the news here in Cincinnati. It was news-worthy for two reasons:

1. Eleven firefighters were injured while fighting the fire.

The fire was so big that 10 or 12 fire departments from different areas of Cincinnati were called in for support-- It was classified as a four-alarm fire. A couple of my friends are firefighters, and they know a some of the guys who were involved, so they heard a bit more about the fire than just what was reported on the news. Apparently, a group of firefighters had gone inside the house, to try to fight the fire on the third floor. (Most of the water from the hoses outside wasn't getting through the slate roof.) Luckily, they were in the process of retreating to the second floor when the flashover occurred. After the explosion, most of the firefighters were able to get out of the house on their own, but two guys got lost inside, and several other firefighters went into the house to find them and bring them out. One of the guys had gotten stuck to the floor because his gear melted. A total of eight firefighters wound up being hospitalized because of their burns.

Firefighters do this kind of stuff every day, and we don't thank them nearly enough!

2. The house was located in Indian Hill, the most prestigious area in Cincinnati.

And it wasn't so much a "house" as it was a "historic mansion." It was built in the 1920's by the Kroger family. According to the news, it was one of the most valuable properties in Indian Hill. Again, I have some inside information, because I've been there a few times-- The owner is one of my dad's college buddies, and he's hosted several reunions for the "Bishop Street" gang.

Photo from the Cincinnati Enquirer

The house wasn't just huge, it was beautiful-- a work of art. The foyer looked like something out of Gone With the Wind. It had a marble tiled floor and a big sweeping staircase, and there was room enough to stash a grand piano out of the way in a corner of it. I have no idea how many bedrooms there were in the house. I tried counting once, but I wound up getting lost, and I'm not sure I found them all. The bedrooms that I saw were all furnished with gorgeous antiques, and the rest of the house also contained some unusual stuff-- several old phonograph machines (the kind that used wax cylinders), rare books, etc. In a nutshell, the house and most of the things in it are simply irreplaceable. That kind of craftmanship doesn't exist anymore.

The news crew, with their typical sensitivity and tact, interviewed him that night. Now keep in mind, his house was still burning at the time. As nearly all of his personal possessions were being destroyed right there in front of him, this is what he said:
"There's a lot of stuff in there, but, oh well, it's just stuff."

Frankly, that amazes me. I think it's a truly awesome attitude, and I don't know how many people could take that point of view, under those circumstances.

Now of course, you can say, "Yeah, but it's not like he's going to be out on the street. He's got insurance. He can buy new stuff." And I'm sure that's very true. But my impression of him has been that he's the type of guy who's pretty fond of his toys. (And he has a lot of toys. What you can't see in the news photos is the huge garage on the property, which is separate from the house. In it, he has an amazing car collection that has to be worth millions of dollars. Remember that car in Ferris Bueller? He has two Ferraris like that one, in red and black.) And he keeps his extensive gun collection in the basement of the garage. Because that's where the shooting range is. It even has moving targets, like the police training facilities you see on TV. (I got to shoot a Tommy Gun there-- It was COOL.) So you can imagine how big the garage must be.) OK, so maybe I'm wandering a bit off topic here, but the point I'm trying to make is that he has lots of stuff. And it's the kind of "stuff" that almost anyone would love.

My step-father has a few unique sayings that have been etched into my psyche over the years:

  • Life's not instant pudding.

    (I was 25 before I realized that no one else in the world has heard of this expression.)

  • Just remember-- You can be dead right.

    (He said this a lot when I started driving.)

  • It's just stuff. It doesn't love you back.

    Most often, when he says this, he's referring to cars. (In fact, he hates cars, and that feeling does seem to be mutual.)

To a certain extent, I think the concept has rubbed off on me a bit, I don't want to own a car that's so nice that I won't feel comfortable lending it to a friend. I like my car-- It's been very reliable, it gets decent gas milage, it's fun to drive, and it's small enough to get into just about any parking space. (For the record, I have a 2001 Integra.) But if it got stolen or wrecked tomorrow, it wouldn't phase me all that much.

But my house burning down... ...that would be really, really difficult for me. In all honesty, I love our house. And the thing is, it's only a couple years old-- It could easily be rebuilt. We don't own any priceless antiques. I only own maybe a half-dozen pieces of jewelry that have any sentimental value at all. But I really like a lot of my stuff. Maybe I even love some of it.

I don't think I'd be able to stand there and say, "Oh, well, it's only stuff."

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