I was at the office late, putting the paper to bed, when the phone rang.
“Hey, do you know the number for the fire department?”
I wasn’t surprised. We get people calling our office all the time, asking for phone numbers of other businesses, public institutions, the White House, long-lost relatives, etc.
“Well, sir, we have a volunteer fire department, so I don’t think they have a number,” I said. “Do you have an emergency?”
“No, not an emergency,” he replied.
Dead air for about 40 seconds. I decided I better undeaden it just in case his head was aflame.
“If it’s not an emergency, why do you need to call the fire department?”
“I just need to ask them something about fire (pronounced faaar).”
“Well, then, maybe you need to call 911.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know the fire (faaar) department’s number,” the caller responded.
“I don’t, sir. 911 is the number you call in case of an emergency.”
Again, dead air. Then, “I told you it’s not an emergency. I just need to ask a question about fire (faaar).”
It was late. I was ready to go home. But, then again, he may be a reader, or, more likely, related to someone who is a reader.
“Well, I don’t think I can help you, sir. Maybe you can call the Georgia Forestry Commission in the morning and they can answer your question.”
This response seemed to confuse, or perhaps startle, the caller, because the phone seemed to drop and I heard a bunch of rustling around. Just as I was about to hang up, he jumped in with: “See, I got these old propane tanks and I know you ain’t supposed to set them on fire (faaar) when the air’s in ‘em, but the air ain’t been in ‘em for a while. So I was wondering if I could set them on fire (faaar).”
“Whoa, whoa, sir, don’t set them on fire (which I also pronounced faaar),” I quickly asserted. “I don’t know much about fire (again, faaar), but I know you shouldn’t set a propane tank on fire (faaar), even if you think there’s no propane in it. Do you understand?”
My words of caution proved to be a disappointment.
“Man, dang,” he said. “I’m trying to clean up ‘round here and I wanted to burn them in the pile with the other stuff. What can I do with ‘em if I can’t burn ‘em?”
Visions of a giant pile of refuse, including paint cans, antifreeze containers, sofas, muriatic acid bottles, Christmas trees, CB radios, and a 1982 Dodge Ram popped into my head.
“Sir, I wouldn’t set anything on fire (switching back to its normal, less popular pronunciation) unless you know the items are not dangerous,” I said. “As for the old propane tanks, you can take them back to where you got them and exchange the empty tanks for new ones.”
I’m all in now.
“Wherever you bought the propane tanks, they usually allow you to exchange the empty tanks for new ones, and you get a discount. Where did you purchase the propane tanks? At a convenience store?”
“Yeah, yeah, at the gas station down the road,” he replied.
“Good. Go down there and exchange them.”
Dead air again. Hoping to avert an explosion, I asked, “Sir, did you hear me?”
“Yeah, I heard you,” he replied. “Hey, do you know the number for the gas station?”
I reached for my phone book. Just another Monday night at the old newspaper office.