I’D BEEN EMPLOYED WITH EXXON three months, and living in my brother’s home for a year, when my sister-in-law found me an apartment on the other side of town. 1101 N. Starrett Road, Apt D, Kenner, Louisiana. It was a one-bedroom no frills apartment that rented for three hundred and fifty dollars a month.
My starting salary at Exxon was thirteen thousand dollars a year, (Did you catch that Triskaidekaphobia salary? Coincidence?) So paying the rent was not a problem. However, with the new apartment came memories of my last apartment back in Maywood. I was literally afraid of enjoying the place and of owning anything. Having things, especially nice things, usually brought nothing but trouble. And I didn’t want any trouble – not now. I had a job I loved working with people I cared about. And I didn’t want that taken away. So I waited months before doing anything to the apartment.
After several visits (my brother and sister-in-law usually came to visit me after Church on Sundays) to my empty apartment my sister-in-law, Jeanette, gave me an old bedroom set she and my brother had stored in their garage. Other than that, the apartment was empty.
At work things were going well. When the Training Coordinator quit, I volunteered to do that job along with my regular one, while still maintaining the File Room.
The Training Coordinator’s job was to schedule training courses (both in-house and away) for all one hundred and two offshore rig workers and for the thirty-five engineers working in the Drilling office. Adding to that was the hour and half bus ride from Kenner to the CBD – Central Business District where Exxon’s new Offices were and the hour and a half bus ride back in the evenings to Kenner. Some evenings I was so exhausted by the time I returned home, it was all I could do to stay awake through dinner.
One night in particular stands out for me. I came home exhausted but hungry.
Determined to lose some of the weight I’d picked up, I was eating everything fresh and home cooked. No take out. Most evenings that meant skinless chicken breast, rice, and vegetables.
I put a little oil in a heavy cast iron skillet, turned the flame down low, plopped in a chicken breast to brown, while the rice simmered in a small sauce pan on the back burner. I went into the bedroom to change figuring I’d go to bed right after eating. I sat down on the bed, and heard a voice whisper, “You’re so tired. Rest.”
I woke to an apartment filled with white smoke so thick, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I felt along the walls until I found the front door. I flung the door open and smoke billowed out of my apartment.
The apartment building where I lived had a front walkway balcony for those living on the second floor as I did. I remember standing there on that balcony absolutely convinced that someone had tried to kill me by spraying smoke into my apartment. Why you ask?
Reason number one: Smoke is billowing out of my apartment in volumes but neither neighbor on either side of me has out of their apartment to complain about the smoke.
Reason number two was the color of the smoke. I’d always thought that smoke from a fire, especially a grease fire, would be gray, brown, or black. But never white. Years later my suspicions would be confirmed while watching a TV special about what to do in a fire. I learned from that TV show that there is such a thing as ‘theoretical smoke’ and it’s usually WHITE!
And finally, I wasn’t choking on the smoke. That’s why I was able to stay calm and find my way to the front door.
After the smoke cleared, I calmly went back inside the apartment and examined the food I’d been cooking. The chicken and the rice were just barley burnt mostly from the time I’d spent standing outside on the balcony.