Before I get started, I need to let you know that this absolutely didn’t happen, and I absolutely was not involved in any similar occurrence at any point during my time in college. Besides, I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on any crime that may have been committed during the fictional event that I had absolutely nothing to do with.
There’s an area of Starkville, MS located near the campus of Mississippi State University called the Cotton District. It’s the result of a developer buying up a bunch of shotgun houses, renovating them to the least degree necessary to get students to live in them, and charging really high rent. Naturally, it was a pretty desirable place for students to live. In the district was The Bulldog grill, The Bulldog Deli, Flo & Eddies before it burned down my junior year during the Christmas break, and Coconuts, a gas station that sold more beer on a football weekend that the city of New Orleans on Mardi Gras day.
My friend, Pete, who you may remember from my earlier story about our high school graduation trip, lived about 3 houses down from Coconuts in a converted duplex set 50 yards off the street up on a hill. Behind the house was a patio but there was no door leading out onto it. The only way to get there was to walk all the way around the house. That’s a critical detail you need to hold onto. In the woods beyond the patio was an abandoned cemetery. Down the hill to the side of the house was an apartment complex, and the driveway to the hill was narrow and snaked between two houses on the street in front.
The hill was a pretty hopping place 3 or 4 nights a week. I bet 1,000 lbs. of wild game was grilled in the front parking area, and there was enough aluminum waste generated to build a fleet of C130s. On a good night there may have been 150 people there with vehicles filling the driveway and any other real estate not too muddy to slide into. Amazingly, in the 2 years Pete lived there, and through the hundreds of parties, there was not a single fight.
Now that the background is out of the way, on to the fire…
It was a Saturday night, and there were just a few of us on the hill that night. Pete, Mitch, Bama, a few young ladies, not me, and Pete’s neighbor studying in his side of the duplex. The grill was hot, music was playing, and various libations were being imbibed. It was pretty laid back night, overall. Until…
Mitch was a pretty wide open guy. We hadn’t known him for a long time, but he was fun and fairly cool. That particular night his engine was running on brown liquor, and he was having a particularly large time. It was quite entertaining watching him operate unimpeded by good sense.
Let’s get back to the patio I mentioned earlier. On this remote concrete pad sat an old couch. Nobody knew where it came from, just that it existed, but it wasn’t much of a concern because we never went back there. However, that particular night, Mitch went exploring. That’s when things went south or got really fun, depending on your perspective.
The official story of what happened next was that somebody (Mitch) must have wandered by and accidentally spilled half a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid on the arm of the couch. Then, somebody else (Mitch) must have accidentally dropped a cigarette (lit book of matches) on the couch. Who knew a wet couch could produce flames higher than a two-story house so quickly?
Panic set in immediately as Mitch came stumblerunning around the house yelling for the water hose. He grabbed it, yelled for somebody to turn on the water, and he took off running back around the side of the house. Unfortunately, the water hose was only long enough to make it 5 feet past the front corner, so he grabbed the next best thing, a red solo cup.
He filled the cup from the hose and took off again around the side of the house, but he tripped over an old wire fence spilling most of the water in his cup. Undeterred, he got up, pushed forward, and threw two tablespoons of water on the blaze before running back around the house to get another cupful. Of course, he tripped over the fence again on his way back to extinguish the blase with his trusty red solo cup. This is how Mitch got his name. He looked like Mitch Buchanan running down the beach on Baywatch
About this time, Pete’s neighbor saw the flames through his kitchen window and came flying out the door in a panic. We, by we I mean they, decided it was time to call 911, so not I grabbed the cordless phone and dialed 9-1 when Bama snatched it out of not my hand. Not I then told him to hit 1 and talk to them.
Once the authorities were notified, not I looked inside at a sea of liquor bottles and realized that we should probably tidy up a bit before our guests arrived. So, not I rounded up all the young ladies and organized a liquor bottle bucket brigade of sorts. They stuffed liquor bottles in the freezer, kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, toilet tank, and anywhere else there was a cubby. This was also the time that everyone’s stories were getting synchronized.
By the time the firefighters got their truck through the narrow driveway, the fire had spread into the cemetery and a few cedar trees in the immediate vicinity. The entire population of the apartment complex had also congregated in the parking lot looking up at the fun we were having.
We, minus me, were surprised to see the firemen not preparing the hose and cracking open hydrants. They filed past in their turn-out gear carrying what looked like a hoe handle with a mudflap on the end of it. Apparently flapping out a cemetery fire is the approved course of action, and it was quite effective.
Just a few minutes later, the fire was out, and Pete was inside showing the fire captain the deer mounts on the wall in his den in a feeble effort to distract him from the causes of the fire he and his men just extinguished. Not I’m pretty sure the captain knew exactly what happened, but there were no consequences, thankfully.
Just before the big red truck began reversing back down the driveway, Mitch ambled outside to thank him and offered him a beer.
I lost track of Mitch for a few years after college, but one night I got a text from Pete to turn on The Bachelor. Mitch was one of the two finalists and is apparently some sort of country music artist now.