THE BLOG
06/09/2011 02:27 pm ET Updated Aug 09, 2011

The Great Montclair Fire of 2011

Here is the email I received yesterday from my lovely wife Coco... the subject was "Power":

Is out at home. A transformer blew and there was a fire in the alley. Harry and marva called the fire dept. They are over at debbies while smoke clears. No damage to our house.

Allow me to translate and put this into perspective -- a transformer, or in this case a pole-mounted power distribution transformer with center-tapped secondary winding (thanks Wikipedia!) -- is basically a big metal barrel-shaped thing that is attached to telephone poles all over this great country of ours. My very basic understanding is that these suckers "transform" the voltage of the electrical power in the wires before it can be used safely in your home. But who am I kidding? I have no real clue what these things do or why they do it, but I do know that when one "blows" it's not a good thing and when that results in a fire near your home it is even worse.

Back to the email: "Power... Is out at home." This is not good either because yesterday it was 95 degrees and since we live in a house that is 105 years old it tends to get ridiculously hot if you aren't cranking the AC at all times... something to do with all the asbestos I guess.

I wasn't looking forward to spending the night in a sweat box but, I had to rush home because of the words "fire" and "smoke clears." Those are not the best words to read in an email unless it's something like, damn Graham, you're on fire today, or let's wait until the smoke clears from this communications strategy meeting before ducking out early for beers. We're talking about a fire in a big metal barrel located four feet from my house and I figured I should probably head home and make sure that everything was cool... that's part of my job as Suburban Dad I guess.

Not that I could really do anything since it would take me at least an hour to get home and Harry and Marva (our gift-from-the-gods nanny) had already called 911 and were safely over at the neighbors. But still, when shit goes down like that you're supposed to be on-site directing the recovery efforts right? I saw myself with a bullhorn ordering around firemen while Coco draped wet blankets over the children and treated the dog for smoke inhalation but no such luck.

Long story short, once I got home the smoke had in fact cleared and the power was back on. The only evidence of the drama was a couple of dudes from PSE&G cleaning up some kind of chemical powder residue on the sidewalk (that's got to be healthy). So no bullhorn or half-asphyxiated dachshund or anything cool like that.

The only really disturbing thing I discovered was that the hippie gardener had come back sometime during the day and re-re-graded the backyard so my stubbly little lawn was completely destroyed (again) and replaced with a huge pile of dirt. I'm beginning to dislike the hippie gardener.