The Great Fire of 1987…(or How to Win Homecoming Hall Decorating Contest)

It was the meeting of the minds, or at least some of the Levelland Senior Class. It was also homecoming week in the small west Texas Town and James, the class president was holding that meeting of the minds in his parents’ home.  It is important to note, at this juncture, that the parents were not home.  And in a small west Texas town, homecoming ranked just behind early settlers day and the second coming of Jesus Christ.  They called it homecoming as if people actually made it back for a Friday night football game.  The truth was, if an individual did escape the gravitational pull of self-descriptive Levelland, the likely hood of making it back for a Friday night ball game was zero.  None the less, homecoming was a big deal.  And big enough to have a meeting of the senior class minds.

This meeting’s topic, “Homecoming Hall Decorating Contest!”  A traditional ritual where each grade decorated the assigned halls depicting how the great Levelland Lobos would lord over the Canyon Eagles in the epic battle of good and evil.  Or at least in a mediocre played game by a team who hadn’t seen the play offs since the birth of any residing senior.   The class president spoke up, “any ideas on what we are planning for this year’s theme.”  You had to have a theme.  It wouldn’t be good hall decorating if you didn’t have a theme.  And it wouldn’t be a winning hall if it wasn’t good hall decorating.  And the seniors have never lost a hall decorating contest.  And By Gosh, they weren’t starting now.  “This is homecoming…not the Rapture.  Jesus Christ has that covered.  But the seniors will win this one.  Simply, because we are seniors.”

It was quickly determined that the décor would be about “Roasting those Canyon Eagles.”  The girls were working out the details on what the “big wall” would show.  The guys didn’t really add much in the decorating category.  In fact, the seventeen year old guys were there more for the girls and for offering smart aleck comments.   Frankly, you wanted the guys to be present at the meeting for the “girls and the smart aleck comments.”   If “decorating prowess” was what was hoped for from the boys, then the football game was further out of hand before kick off than one could have imagined.  Especially in Levelland.

“Oh my Gosh!,” exclaimed Rhonda.  “We have to decorate the display case in Mrs. Griffin’s ‘Home ec’ class!”

After lots of ideas being thrown around, one finally caught some traction.  “I got it!” exclaimed Karen.  “Let’s dress the lobo mascot outfit on a mannequin.  Have him roasting a chicken on a grill.  It’ll be real burnt an all.  Above his head will be one of those things you see in cartoons that says, ‘We like our Eagles Well Done.’ ”

“One of those cartoon things, huh?” chided Marcus, “I think they call it a dialog bubble.”

Evidently this idea won by default as the girls sent the guys scurrying to United Supermarket to buy a full chicken.   As best as anyone could remember, the boys had boycotted any idea of “burning the chicken in the oven.”  Preston thought that it would be much more economical and a lot more fun to just take the chicken out back on the dirt alley.  Pour gasoline on it.  And let it burn.  The girls didn’t think that was the best idea but were quickly outvoted. Mainly because James quickly ran to the garage and returned holding a red plastic container designed to specifically hold gasoline.

Marcus grabbed the frozen chicken from United Supermarket, tearing off the plastic wrapping from the chicken.  A hoard of 17 year old boys followed Marcus and sauntered out the back gate to the undeveloped dirt alley.  The wind was blowing the tall dried grass along the alley. The acrid odor of oil drilling rigs drifted in from the north.  That odor was just something one got use to when they live out on the plains where farming and oil were what brought in the money….especially in the brisk night air. James’ younger brother had run to the kitchen for the matches.  He was two years behind James and was more amused at the idea of catching a chicken on fire, than the potential outcome of starting a flame in an alley with a brisk wind and dried, dead grass.

Preston grabbed the red container and liberally poured gasoline onto chicken sitting on the dirt. The gasoline fumes wafted and the mixed with the oil field smell.  No one really noticed the smell though when Kevin lit the match and threw it on the doused chicken.  The flame roared up and a minute later subsided to nearly nothing.  As the gasoline burned off, the chicken was left mildly singed and mainly still raw…half frozen.  It was so obvious that you had to keep pouring gasoline on it.  And you had to keep pouring gasoline on it before the flame went completely out so that you would waste no time relighting it with matches.  It was quite apparent that Preston would be in charge of this very precarious task of providing gasoline to a an open flame on a raw, half frozen chicken sitting on a dirt path behind a house surrounded by dry grass and a brisk evening wind.

Seventeen year old boys get bored inside the time it takes to change a light bulb. After dousing the mostly raw, half frozen chicken from United Supermarket three or four times, the excitement quickly subsided.  That was until Preston started pouring gasoline down the alley making a trail of a combustible fluid.  The flame would run from the mostly raw, half frozen chicken from United Supermarket down the dirt trail.  Preston was good at this as he could get that flame trail about ten feet long.

Somewhere in this well executed scheme to roast a chicken, things went kinda awry. James didn’t see it exactly happen.  What he did see was his younger brother, who seemed to be in awe of the older boys’ skills of manipulating gasoline and flame concurrently, on fire…somewhere around the head and arm areas.  Additionally, several fires were flaming up among the dead grass along the dirt alley.  If it wasn’t for the hazardous potential, the orange flames would have been really pretty and comforting in the brisk night air.  James ran to fill up a five gallon bucket that was stranded in the backyard.  Even though he only filled the bucket half full, it seemed like it took forever because in Levelland you are under the restrictions of the water pressure produced from one of the three water towers.  The thoughts that ran through James’ mind while filling that bucket  were to first put out his brother, who would by this time, sure to be hauled off in an ambulance to a burn ward… he would probably have to call 911 because by the time this damn water bucket gets filled, all that damn grass will be on fire and half the damn neighborhood will burn down and this will be one of the hardest things to explain to the his parents and the cops and the fire department…that they only meant to roast a chicken so that the Seniors would win the hall decorating contest because the seniors never lose….and.

James ran through the gate to the alley with water sloshing out of the bucket with each step. Evidently, the same boys that had incredible technique in operating gasoline dispensing to open flames where pretty good firemen.  James gazed in wonder as he realized that half the damn neighborhood would not burn down.  In fact, most the seventeen year old boys where stomping around, putting out the flames, beating them back in what looked like a pagan ritual of stomping square dancing and yelling things that would not be uttered in First Baptist Sunday School.  James’ little brother was no longer on fire either.  Lack of eyebrows and arm hair where the only indication that he had impersonated a stuntman on fire in the latest Chuck Norris movie.

After that brief stint of excitement, the chicken was still mostly raw, half frozen and wreaked of gasoline. The brain trust of the boys present made an executive decision.  A handful of the guys went up to school and broke into the cheerleader’s storage closet.  They quickly grabbed the black and brown temper paints used to paint posters and huge signs for the football pep rallies.  James will tell you that if you mix black and brown paint and apply liberally to a mostly raw, half frozen, gasoline fumed chicken from United Supermarket located on College Avenue, you can get it to look like it was burnt to a crisp. James never mentioned to anyone that the “burnt to a crisp” chicken was only camouflage and that the bird was one big breeding ground for salmonella.  The other issue with that is after two days of sitting in a display case located in Mrs. Griffin’s Home Ec class…well, a raw chicken can get what Mrs. Griffin kindly called “ripe.”  At which point, James was called out of class early Friday Afternoon to come dispose of a chicken that was nearly the root cause of burning down Cherry Street.  If Mrs. Griffin was ever concerned about salmonella, she never mentioned it.  She also didn’t know that a “ripe” chicken in a display case was a minor incident compared to the Great Alley Fire of 1987.

2 thoughts on “The Great Fire of 1987…(or How to Win Homecoming Hall Decorating Contest)

  1. Love it, Wild Dave! So glad that in all the opportunities you’ve had to die, God has seen fit to keep you alive for times like these and for guys like me. Thanks for making me smile! Keep ’em coming!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad to see you’re writing again. Knowing we both have boys in high school I can only hope they are a little smarter “James”. Keep the stories coming! It is one of your many talents.


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