Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My name is Elder Capel and I'd like to almost burn your house down.

When I was nineteen I served a mission for the Mormon church in Toronto, Canada. I was there for two years knocking on doors and talking to people on the subway.

I spent most of my time in the city, which I was grateful for. I loved how multi-cultural it was. Every door we knocked on was answered by someone of a different nationality or religion. And surprisingly we were met with very little hostility. The only people that didn't like us were Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutherans, Methodists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists, Anabaptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Christadelphians, Eastern Orthodoxes, Western Orthodoxes, Chinese Orthodoxes, the Religious Society of Friends, Pagans, Puritans, Rastafarian's, Scientologists, Wiccans, Amish...es?, Atheists, Agnostics and various African diasporic religions. But other than that.

I loved how every culture had it's own smell. I got pretty good at telling them apart because the door that was being slammed in my face also carried with it a burst of air from the inside of their apartment into my nostrils. East Indian apartments were my favorite. Thinking of that curry-and-body-odor smell hitting me square in the face still makes my eyes water. (seriously, it stings.)

After serving in the city for a little over a year I was finally transferred to a smaller town about three hours northeast of Toronto called Kingston. I had two companions and one of them was coming to the end of his two years. Missionaries have a tradition where every six months they burn part of a suit. The first six months you'd burn a tie. The second six months, a tie and a shirt. The third, a tie, shirt and pants and at the end you'd burn a whole suit.

I'd been in my new area for maybe a month when my companion, for the sake of embarrassment we'll call him Elder Aaron Fluhman (because that was his name), decided he wanted to burn a suit. So one really really hot, dry summer day we set out to find the perfect spot. Now I'm no eagle scout, but if there's one thing I remember from all those camp outs it's that if you want to set something on fire, find an area with lots of tall, dry grass. Preferably near a lot of really expensive houses, in case you have to go to the bathroom. Oh, and the wind needs to be blowing toward those houses. Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

I like the amount of grass here, but where are
all the houses?

Getting warmer. Note the light poles in the backgroud.
A sure sign houses are nearby.

That's more like it. Perfect conditions and more than
enough fire to burn a suit.

If you want to be extra cautious/lame, make sure there's a water source nearby and bring a tiny bucket with you. (like you'll need it)

After ten minutes or so of driving around we found a spot just like the one I described above. It was perfect, so my companion hung his suit on a tree branch and wasted no time hosing it down with lighter fluid and setting it on fire. We each took a picture standing next to it and afterwards stood there watching it burn.

I don't remember which of us was the first to notice but after a few minutes it was clear that we had made a mistake. The tree the flaming suit was hanging from was on fire. (don't ask me how that happened, okay. I'm not a rocket scientist.) From there the fire spread to the grass and the wind carried it toward the surrounding houses. We tried filling the tiny bucket we brought with us at the nearby pond and it helped a little but we knew we needed to call the authorities. Our bucket was just too tiny.

We ran to the nearest house and told them to call the fire department or the Mounties or a lumberjack or whoever takes care of fires in Canada. By now the whole neighborhood had gathered along the street to marvel at the inferno. It was near the end of June so I thought it might be convincing if I started running around yelling, "HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY EVERYONE!" but I didn't have any of those little American flags to hand out. Plus I was in Canada.

To make a long story a little less long, the police and fire department showed up, (i was really hoping for a lumberjack) and put the fire out before it could do damage to any houses. We still had to take a ride with the police and give them our statements and the whole time all I could think was, "I hope they have Playstation in Canadian prison." But nobody pressed charges and by the end of the day everything was back to normal.

That night my companions and I drove home in silence, but I knew that we were all thinking the same thing. Next time, bring a bigger bucket. Lesson learned and no harm done.


Bethany said...

Keep the stories coming. I am in dire need of good entertainment...(the dish stopped working in the middle of The Office).

Lindsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

luckily i never found out. but knowing canada they probably had something lame, like a Wii or Sega CD.