If you havent done it already this winter, you might want to check your chimney. You never know what youre going to find in there. Just going through the daily rituals of our little home-inspection business, weve found active football-sized wasp nests, heaping piles of chimney swift babies (some alive, some dead), and a gone-to-heaven cat or two. Those are just the critters. Theres more. Weve found wood formwork and framing, just waiting to catch fire and burn the house down. Weve found foamboard, newspaper, rugs, rags, towels, and plastic wrap all meant to stop drafts, and all ready to fill the house with smoke, burn the house down, or both.
Sooner or later, I figure well find a person. Thats because some poor crazy sumbitches do end up in chimneys. Just a couple of months ago, Fort Worth resident Mark Vaughn got locked out of his house and decided that the chimney was the best way in. Dont you know, he ended up stuck. Firemen had to come knock a hole through the chimney to get him out. Vaughn would probably still be in the chimney today if some observant neighbor whose identity is still unknown hadnt called for help.
Earlier this year, a grocery-store owner in Evansville, Indiana, opened up his store and heard somebody hollering in his chimney. Once again, firemen came to the rescue. Although police suspected that the chimney man was just a would-be robber with a bad plan, they bought his story that he had been chasing his escaped pet parrot across the grocery-store roof and followed the bird when it flew down the chimney.
Two years ago, masons renovating an old building in downtown Natchez, Mississippi, found the remains of Calvin Wilson, who had disappeared in 1985. Wilsons family was upset by this development, because they thought his body had been recovered from the banks of the Mississippi River way back in 1986. As it turned out, Wilson didnt meet his fate in the river. Instead, he went to his reward when he tried to break into the Riverboat Gift Shop by taking a headfirst dive down the chimney.
Back in 2000, Southern Californian Shaun McCarthy, seized by a powerful urge to spend some time with his estranged girlfriend (never mind the restraining order), jumped down the chimney of her duplex. The flue was 12 inches by 15 inches, which is just a little bit bigger than a laptop computer. So, dont you know, McCarthy didnt make it to the bottom. He found himself stuck in a squat, his arms up over his head. Los Angeles firemen tried to haul him out with a rope, but he couldnt get it around his body. The firemen finally jackhammered a hole in the chimney, with McCarthy screaming like a circus monkey the whole time. Once McCarthy was out, he got stuck again, this time in the La Mesa jail.
Weirder than all of em, though, was the poor soul who tried to break into Nashvilles Pancake Pantry back in 1992. He didnt exactly go in through the chimney. He went in through the whopping-big exhaust vent over the restaurants grill. And he went in buck-naked. All the better to slide through the grease, I reckon. He went feet-first, and his feet almost made it to the grill. He mightve gotten in all the way if he hadnt caught his neck on his arm and suffocated himself.
The incident got one last crazy twist that evening, when the news showed video of the recovery effort. We all got to watch as the heat from the firemans cutting torch activated the Pancake Pantrys fire extinguishers. Next thing you know, the whole scene was enveloped in a rapidly-expanding cloud of fire suppressant, which knocked most of the oxygen out of the room and sent rescuers and reporters alike running through the fog, fighting for air. By golly, that was fine television.
Theres a lesson here, and its obvious: If youre a dumb-ass looking to break into a building, the chimney is not the way to go. Try the doors or windows instead. Or, if you want to do something fancy, go get yourself a decent battery-powered reciprocating saw. Thatll get you through a roof or a wood- or vinyl-sided wall. Heck, you can get through a vinyl-sided wall with a utility knife.
I know some of you are thinking, Hush, Jowers. Dont tell the criminals how to cut holes in houses. Well, dont you worry. Ive checked the demographics. Burglars who are looking to upgrade from their usual chimney-diving break-ins dont read this column. But even if one does, if he tries to cut his way into a house, hell mostly likely end up incapacitated or at least leave a really easy-to-follow blood trail back to his place.
If I come home one day and hear somebody hollering in my chimney, Ill yell back and make sure its not my old drummer. I say this because, even though hes crazy and hard-up enough to rob me, I still love him. If I had the drummer in my chimney, Id call the fire department. If anybody else gets stuck up there, I guess Ill just fire up the gas logs.