By William Thomas
I used to be a landlord. For six summers, I rented up north through an agency where my contact was a nasty woman name Frankie. Her two-pronged business policy was that the renters she sent me had to be rowdy and destructive, and when bad things happened, it was always my fault. When the kid ran through the kitchen screen and somebody busted the sliding glass door downstairs and, contrary to the rental agreement, a guy showed up with a big honkin’ jet ski — it was my fault.
“The place is old and needs an upgrade,” she would say, and “you live too far away to handle these problems.” The place was solid and functional and I wrongly believed that’s why I was paying Frankie fifteen percent of the rental fees … to solve the problems.
One day Frankie called me and I detected a tone of delight in her voice, which meant something must have gone seriously wrong at my cottage. A client from Toronto had lit the barbecue the previous evening and it had exploded. The steel cover had blown off and landed one story below in the backyard. I was told he extinguished the flames with a seltzer bottle, which is an odd thing to bring for a week at the cottage.
“The regulator was faulty,” said Frankie. “That barbecue was not properly maintained.” The barbecue was nearly new and working fine when I used it the previous week.
“You could be charged for something like that. You’re lucky that guy wasn’t killed.”
Frankie hung up before tears of joy began streaming down her face. I imagine it was her best day ever on the job.
I immediately called Adam, a smart kid who lived in the nearby village. Adam started the summer doing yard work at the cottage and created a whole new career for himself by fixing things my renters wrecked.
“See if the barbecue is salvageable and you’ll probably need to get a new regulator,” I said.
A few hours later, Adam called me back. He had gone to the cottage, and although BBQ Bob had gone back to the city for the day, his wife and sister-in-law were there.
“It wasn’t the regulator,” Adam began.
As the story goes, the girls were drinking wine at the patio table and watching Bob do something he’d apparently fantasized about but never actually done before – operate a barbecue. Bob wanted to put on a good show for the ladies by first demonstrating his mastery of the outdoor cooking machine itself so he …
“He switched the tanks,” said Adam. The tank didn’t need changing, but no matter. Then he …
“He got the threads crossed.” Okay, now he’s got gas coming out of the tank and …
“Then he turned both burners on.” Now he’s got gas shooting out from three sources and let me guess, “He hit the starter?”
“No. Then he sprayed barbecue starter fluid into the barbecue.” That would be volatile, inflammable, methanol barbecue starter, normally used on charcoal barbecues.
“Then he hit the starter.”
The fireball that erupted from the housing of the barbecue singed two eyebrows and ten knuckles, sent wine glasses rolling across a table top and caused at least two moose in Algonquin Park to cock their antlered heads in that curious way that says, “Bob? Was that you?”
The cast iron top exploded off its hinges and missed Bob’s head by inches.
“You need a new barbecue,” said Adam.
I asked to speak to Bob, but I was told he was on his way back to the cottage from Toronto, no doubt speeding north on southbound Highway #400 wondering why all the other drivers are giving him the finger.
I called Frankie. She was horrified … that it wasn’t my fault. I informed her that I’d be buying a bigger and better barbecue out of Bob’s damage deposit – “It’s called an ‘upgrade,’ Frankie.”
I asked her to quit calling me with tales of false hope. “Please Frankie, never call and say that guy almost died. Guys like that are supposed to die in order to enhance the gene pool. I mean what if one day he woke up and decided to reproduce?!?”
As I said, I’m no longer a landlord. Insert high five and Highland Fling kick here.
For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to www.williamthomas.ca