Eddie Bigelow had seen dumpster fires before, but only virtual ones. To him, they were nothing but funny pictures or GIFs, convenient ways to poke fun at the latest scandals in Washington or Hollywood. They appeared on social media as if by magic with snarky captions like “Actual Footage,” or “Burn Baby Burn!”
But now Eddie was staring at a real dumpster fire across the street from his apartment.
He tossed his still-lit cigarette on the ground, not bothering to grind it out. He then reached for his phone. He had to get a video of this. The fire was small, but the flames bright and intense. Eddie thought maybe there were chemicals in the dumpster; the flames licking their way up the rusted sides were so colorful. He couldn’t look away.
Eddie knew, instinctively, that this would look good online. Especially in HD.
From the other side of the street, he began filming. In his excitement, he tried to hold the phone steady. He was already plotting the target of his virtual vitriol. He hated the Mets. They always qualified as a dumpster fire. Republicans, democrats, libertarians—all complete disasters these days. Eddie was sure the girl who lived next door to him was cooking meth in her apartment. That was a real-life dumpster fire. But Jill followed him online, and he wasn’t sure outing her was worth it. Even though it would be incredibly satisfying.
As Eddie pondered, the fire grew in intensity. It filled the phone’s entire screen now. Tilting the device upward, Eddie’s eye followed the smoke, which was now leeching into the blue sky. Black and blue? Black on blue? It had potential, he thought.
At that moment, Jill and her boyfriend, “Skeevy Stevie,” entered Eddie’s frame. He couldn’t believe his luck. It was a cool autumn day, and Jill’s hands were stuffed deep into the pockets of her coat. Her eyes were red. Eddie wondered if it was tears, the drugs, or both. Next to her, Stevie carried a phone. He was pointing manically at the screen and yelling at Jill. As the couple approached the burning dumpster, Eddie could faintly hear a profane duet of “fuck you’s.”
As content went, this was promising. Eddie hoped that Jill and Stevie would suddenly stop and stare at the fire with their (possibly) drug-addled eyes. He could then zoom in and capture the exact moment the fog cleared and they realized what they were seeing. Maybe one of them would scream. Eddie envisioned all the replies from his Twitter followers, who would love making fun of the vapid, terrified looks on the faces of these two tweakers.
But Jill and Stevie were so involved in their argument they didn’t even notice the dumpster fire. They walked right past it without a glance and moved on. As they did so, they stepped around Mrs. Crispin, who was headed in the opposite direction pushing her newborn in a stroller. She was deep in conversation on her phone. On his screen, Eddie noticed her furrowed brow and the worry lines around her eyes. He figured that, as a caring mother, Mrs. Crispin would definitely notice the fire and move to the other side of the street with her baby. But instead, she put her head down and calmly pushed the stroller through the smoke. She never stopped talking.
Eddie kept filming.
Five more people from the neighborhood walked by without acknowledging the dumpster fire. All of them were pecking away on phones or tablets. Eddie watched as the flames crept still higher. They were now dangerously close to the second-floor windows of a nearby apartment building. The only thing Eddie could hear around him was the soft crackle of the fire, punctuated from time to time by the loud bang of an aerosol can exploding in the dumpster. On his screen, not a single head turned at the noise.
Eddie stopped filming.
He checked the memory on his phone and realized he might have to erase what he’d recorded so far, but that didn’t bother him. Eddie was frustrated. People weren’t responding the way he expected them to, the way he wanted them to. There was nothing remotely viral about his entire neighborhood completely ignoring this potentially dangerous event. There were no shocked faces, no screams of “Holy shit!” No one had made a funny comment like, “So...that’s a real dumpster fire.” No one else was even filming it.
Then Eddie saw Mr. Rayburn walking up the street. He quickly deleted the old file from his phone and started filming again.
Mr. Rayburn entered from the left, then stopped and leaned on his cane. He looked at the fire with an appropriate combination of shock and horror. Finally, thought Eddie. After an ominous pop, the old man took two steps back, raising his hand to shield his face.
Eddie could sense this might be the moment he’d been waiting for. Old man Rayburn in the left third of the shot, the fire center-right with the flames stretching up to the top of the phone and then out of the frame. All he needed now was for this crotchety old bastard to start screaming in fear. Or crying, Eddie thought. That would be even better.
Instead, Mr. Rayburn looked away from the dumpster fire and stared directly at Eddie’s phone. Then back at the fire. And then back at the phone again.
“You that Bigelow kid?”
“Is that one of those cameras that’s also a phone?”
“I don’t have one of those.”
“Too bad. It’s really handy in situations like this,” Eddie said.
“I’ll bet. Hey, could you do me a favor?”
“Could you stop filming and use that damn thing to get the fire department over here to put this
Eddie hit pause on the video, and then stared blankly at his screen.
“It’s easy,” said Mr. Rayburn. “Just dial 9-1-1.”