The Towering Inferno; or, 2 Hours And 45 Minutes Of Sheer Terror. Plus, Therapy.

My last post was about the time my parents took me to the drive-in (which was full of random cars) to see Death Race 2000, which ultimately led to my irrational fear of drive-in movie theaters, parking lots, car dealerships and junkyards.

Much therapy followed, during which my therapist or "special talking friend", reminded me that Death Race 2000 had only been a movie, and she attempted to persuade me that Frankenstein, "Machine -Gun" Joe Viterbo, Matilda the Hun, "Calamity" Jane Kelly and Nero the Hero did not actually exist, nor did their gas-powered death traps of terror. Nobody was going to gun for me in the Kroger parking lot as I crossed with my mother.  Aha, that's where she was wrong, and since she hadn't seen Death Race 2000 I once again familiarized Ms. Louise with the point system and reminded her that I was worth 70 points and my mom was worth 10 points more than my dad, so who wouldn't want to run us down? Hello? And this bone of contention was what ultimately led to the end of my therapy our friendship.

Ms. Louise gently broke up with me during a fine summer morning, as we were strolling through the park and eating chocolate ice cream. Oh, she made sure to tell me it wasn't personal, we just needed "time apart" until I realized that life did not always imitate art.

Here is my rendition of the event:


I was despondent and eventually sank into a deep melancholy over the distressing loss of Ms. Louise in my bleak life and I stubbornly refused to eat anything but dry bread and water until she returned. I made several attempts to contact Ms. Louise via telephone and postcard, but she eventually had her line disconnected and the postcards were sent back "return to sender". I believe my parents told me she moved to Alaska, but I have since come to realize that my parents are liars.

That following year, when I was 8, in a last ditch effort to bring me out of the dark morass that was my futile existence, my parents made a bold decision that they believed to be in my best interest.

The took me to a dark, crowded movie theater to see The Towering Inferno. My parents excitedly told me that it was a movie about a building that had 138 floors and was 1,800 feet high. But they left a few key elements out:


So, yeah. The movie started out fairly benignly, with the architect of the building, Paul Newman, at a party on the 135th floor, for the "Glass Tower."  I had candy, popcorn, soda and onscreen everyone was dressed in glamorous eveningwear for the festive gala. This was NOTHING like Death Race 2000. And then, up on the screen, Paul got angry. Really angry. It appeared that his specifications for the wiring of the building had not been followed and, as a result, a small fire had broken out on the 81st floor. That's below the 135th floor, and the stupid PR director refused to evacuate the building, since the fire department had been called. I started feeling a little knot grow in my tummy and glanced nervously at my mom. She was riveted by the movie. My dad was asleep, snoring.

Pfft. There's nothing to worry about, silly, I told myself calmly. The fire department will show up and save the day, just like they did that time I'd locked myself in my Aunt Kathleen's bathroom when I was 4. A cute fireman had climbed up his ladder, come in through the window and saved me. I sat up a little straighter, wondering if the fireman who had saved me would be in this movie, because I was 8 and didn't understand that there were "real firemen" and "Hollywood firemen" and when you're 8, anything is possible. Especially when you're 8-years-old and worried about killer bees, waking up blind and deaf, going retarded or being picked off by a man who wears a black leather bondage hood and drives a car with spikes coming out of the hood.

So, where were we? Oh, yes, the entire 81st floor had caught fire, trapping all of the guests on the 135th floor. The fire chief, Steve McQueen, forced the idiotic PR director to evacuate all 300 guests. Finally, someone in this movie was showing an appropriate response! The first 30 guests were sent to safety via the elevator, and the others were lined up calmly, waiting their turn for the second elevator. Just the way a movie should end, I thought happily. I heaved a sigh of relief, knowing that everybody would get out alive. I started to gather up my coat and food wrappers, but then my mother whispered, "What are you doing? There's still another 2 hours left." 2 more hours??? That's right. This movie was 2 hours and 45 minutes long.

Just then, the second elevator that I thought had carried  more people to safety, opened up ON THE 81ST FLOOR!!! Aaaagggghhhhhh!!! Somebody was on fire! He was screaming, begging to be killed!!! OH MY GOD WHAT WERE MY PARENTS THINKING!!!!

It was to be the longest 2 hours of my life.

Very quickly, the action became non-stop, with people catching on fire, jumping out of windows and jumping out of windows while on fire. I distinctly recall crying and hiding my face, whimpering to be taken home. My mother patted my back a few times and let me hide my face in her arm, probably out of a sense of guilt. Why would she feel guilty? BECAUSE WE F*CKING STAYED, THAT'S WHY!!!

Oh no! There's a deaf woman with two children living on the 87th floor! The mother is taken to safety by a fireman, while the fire inspector takes the children a different direction. WTF????!!!  The number one rule of being a kid is NEVER ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE SEPARATED FROM YOUR MOTHER!!!!!  Because if you do, this will happen:


You end up trapped in a burning building with a childless woman who strongly resembles Faye Dunaway and knows nothing about keeping kids safe, as your caretaker. Really, she could care less whether you live or die, she's just watching you because her boyfriend, the architect, asked her to. So from here on out, you're basically on your own. Pay attention.

So, of course the deaf mother makes it out alive and the kids end up trapped in the building. Of course. At that point I began hyperventilating and checking all the exits to make certain the paths were clear.  CRASH! POW! WHOOOSH! My attention was once again drawn to the Screen of Terror. Now, Naval helicopters had landed on the building, in an attempt to lift some souls to safety. Thank God. But, what...I....OH MY GOD!!! Two women rushed the helicoptor and it ended up flying off with them HANGING ON FOR THEIR VERY LIVES! Then the helicopter crashed and now the entire roof is on fire. In the distance, two more people-on-fire jumped to their deaths.

By this time, I'm pretty sure my body had gone into shock in order to protect what was left of my delicate psyche. From here on out, I was basically a zombie.

The Naval helicopter decided to attach a breeches buoy going between the Crystal Tower and an adjacent building. This is what a breeches buoy looks like:

Only this one had fire all around it, and people were rushing towards it, causing all of them to fall to their deaths.

Lesson learned? Wait your turn.

So, with the breeches buoy, they were able to rescue all of the female guests, so I knew my mom would be safe in a similar situation. I'm guessing they rescued the women because of their childbearing ability. Then, THEN Faye Dunaway and the kids get into an elevator (which you are not supposed to use during a fire) and descend to the lobby. But in between the top floor and the lobby, the elevator falls off of it's track!!!

I mentally checked off one more thing that could snuff out my life. Elevators.

But Faye and the kids survived, because a helicoptor came by and rescued them just in the nick of time.

But this movie had to end sometime, right? It ended with the fire chief deciding that they should puncture the  million-gallon water tanks that are on top of the building. Everybody is told to tie themselves down, or the water will carry them away. Some people decide not to and are swept out of the windows by the water. I wanted to know, why didn't the people who tied themselves down DROWN??? 

Finally, the fire is put out by the water tanks. I'm pretty sure the movie ended with Steve McQueen lighting a cigarette and having a good laugh with Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway.

From that night on, I refused to enter any building that was over 2 stories tall, and I would not, under any circumstances, enter an elevator. Why? Because I might come out into a fire!

So there.