The Nextdoor website is a nice way to keep up with people in your vicinity, and they’re always posting useful things:
• 37 pounds of drier lint, free! It’s in my garage. Bring hooks
• Looking for wet basement solutions — Pampers didn’t work
• Grandpa for sale
• Telescopic lens for sale / for $100 more, I’ll burn the negatives in front of you
And so on. Wednesday we welcomed a new member to the list: City Hall. Yes, the City of Minneapolis has signed up to send us helpful little messages. I quote:
“Nextdoor is not the appropriate way to request emergency services. If you require emergency services, or wish to report suspicious activity, please call 911.”
Let us imagine the following scenario.
Do you smell smoke? I smell smoke.
I think you’re right. I dropped a cigar in a bin of shredded paper before I turned in. Could be that.
Isn’t the shredder right by those sheer, easily combustible curtains, which wave back and forth when the window’s open and lightly brush the shredder bin?
You’re right. Hand me the laptop. I’m going to send the Fire Department a message through the Nextdoor website. Ah, shoot! Wi-Fi is out. The fire must have spread to the desk where the router sits. Is your phone charged? Good. You can use the data plan to open the Nextdoor app.
I don’t have it! I’m really smelling smoke now! It’s starting to get hot!
Go to the App Store and download it. Shouldn’t take a minute.
Got it. (cough) Now what?
You’ll have to register, but it’s easy and only takes a minute (cough) and once you get the verification e-mail you can complete registration (cough) and send them a message.
Should I read these terms and conditions?
Yes, you should. They’re (cough) legally binding.
The next day’s headline says: “Fire tragedy remains a mystery because people can’t possibly be that stupid.”
There is no one on Earth who would e-mail a 911 request. Where’s that ambulance? Boy, I hope it didn’t go into their spam folder.
As it turns out, one of the city e-mails had to do with fire: safety tips for grilling. Such as:
• Only use your grill outside. This will dismay anyone planning to drag the Weber up the back steps into the kitchen so you can use the stove to light the burners, but I’d bet most people know this without the help of a colorful infographic. If you are the sort of person who thinks this is a smart idea, the city cannot insulate you from your stupidity. You are also the type who sees a downed power line snaking and snapping in the back yard and hollers, “Get the frozen steaks! I’ll grab the line and we can flash-fry ’em.” You’d wear an oven mitt while handing the line, of course; safety first.
• Never leave grill unattended. This is impossible. You have to go inside and get the food to put on the grill. What are you supposed to do? Have someone stand by the grill with a pail of sand while you run to the fridge?
• Keep a 3-foot zone around your grill. This will keep kids and pets safe. Good idea, but how? You could draw a chalk circle; kids would understand that. They would also understand Uncle Hank waving a tongs and saying, “Get out of here. You’ll burn yourself and then we’ll have to put butter on it, and that butter’s for the corn,” because gruff uncles are much more effective than chalk lines.
As for dogs, well, in 16 years of canine coexistence I’ve never had a pup get close to the grill despite the fantastic aromas the thing throws off. Because there’s fire. It’s almost as if there’s 10,000 years of instinctive experience running from that stuff.
Point is, we’re not idiots. Right? I know fire prevention is important — it’s right up there with “putting them out” — but if the city thinks I’m stupid enough to melt the side of my house because I placed a metal inferno against some vinyl siding, I don’t know why they don’t license gardening shears and mandate a safety class. Be Finger Wise! Don’t operate a shears with your knees while putting a branch between the blades, especially if you feel a sneeze coming on.
There was one DON’T that made me pause, because I violate it every time. Clean the grill after cooking. Maybe it’s just my own innate laziness, but people who clean the grill afterward are probably the same people who say, “Now that we’re done with the corn on the cob, we will floss, and then check ourselves for ticks.” I start the grill and let the fire burn away previous gunk, and then I scrape off the charred remains. As fire hazards go, this seems to rank below “Roman candle in a napalm factory,” since all the stuff on the grill was previously subjected to fire and did not resemble a newsreel of the Hindenburg’s last moments.
But these are minor complaints. They’re trying to be helpful, and indeed, the comments on their posts ask questions about regulations, and the city’s rep responds with brisk chatty cheer. They seem like people you’d like to have over for burgers on the grill. Unless they start asking whether I’d ever considered taking the grill inside, and, you know, making some burgers in bed. Here’s a chart about the dangers of grilling around cotton sheets —
Sorry. There’s a 3-foot advice-free zone. Stand back.