Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
The Hillcrest Fire: Jason's Story
On Monday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m., Moxie Theatre hosts "After the Fire -- A Benefit Jam for Jason Connors and Gwen Fish." They lost everything in the recent Hillcrest fire.
On July 1, Jason gave his landlord 30 days notice. He and his girlfriend, Emily Merchant, wanted their first home together. The lease on his current apartment, at 1033 University Avenue, only permitted a single occupant.
Around 3:10 on Wednesday, Jason was on his way to inspect a possible rental. As he drove past 1033, a friend riding with him saw smoke coming from the roof.
Jason pulled over. "There were no fire trucks then, just some onlookers. And smoke getting blacker and blacker." For the next two and a half hours, Jason watched as flames and crowds and noises grew. Fire trucks charged in. Police erected barricades. Lights blinked. TV trucks, with familiar logos, arrived soon after.
Jason watched the fire go out in one location and flare up in another. Then puffs of smoke arose from his third floor window.
"A flame started where my closet would be: all the memorabilia of my dad [who died two years ago], letters, his old LP records probably melting, pictures of us when I was a little boy."
He watched a fireman hack a hole in the wall of his apartment. Another brought a hose on a hydraulic lift. Water shot through the opening. The torrent wouldn't stop.
"That's when it became real for me: water power-blasting my home. That was my rude awakening."
A second came when he had to phone Emily. She was teaching English as a Second Language in Suzhou, China.
"I've got to tell you something," he said. "It's serious. Nobody died. And I didn't do it. The apartment caught fire. It looks bad.
"At first she thought I was pulling her leg. It took time to sink in."
Emily returns from China this Saturday. Jason hopes to have the new apartment as ready as possible.
He's a Resident Artist at Cygnet Theatre (the night of the fire, he performed in Our Town: "the show went on"). He's an actor, sound designer, composer, playwright, and director. The fire destroyed his instruments of creativity.
On Saturday morning he was allowed back into the building. Tenants went in one at a time. Most stayed about five minutes and left. As he walked down halls of bubbling wallpaper, Jason began to feel dizzy. He saw "skeletons of rooms; no way they could have retrieved anything."
He saw comparatively little soot or charring. The room was just soaked through. His prized Yamaha S80 keyboard looked clean, as did his desk and laptop computers (and his expensive, Sample Tank program that can replicate every musical instrument). Maybe his library of sound effects -- hundreds, accumulated over the years -- withstood the havoc? He peered closer.
"I thought I was prepared, but wasn't. You expect hardwood floors to be hard, not warping. And walls solid, not full of holes. And not the ceiling on the floor. It's your apartment still, but not yours at all.
"The guitars and keyboard looked as beautiful as ever, but I knew they were ruined. The Sample Tank -- ah, my love! -- destroyed."
Along with clothes and furniture and the countless, often unnoticed objects that make a home, Jason lost all the music he'd composed, a catalog of lyrics to more than 60 of his songs, original plays, sound effects, and all his instruments: A shortlist: accoustic and electric guitars, Peavey amplifier, violin, bongos, harmonicas, Stennheiser Mics, and more.
"It would be safe to say my life's theater work."
More like this:
- No Air in North Park, Stand in Someone Else's Doorway — Aug. 15, 2012
- The Hillcrest Fire: Gwen's Story — July 20, 2011
- Life in PB — Feb. 23, 2009
- Neighbor Noise — Dec. 13, 2007
- Where the Grass Is Blue — Jan. 25, 2007