My Pyromaniac Friend
The Not So Very Original Sinner


When I was 5, I lived next door to a pyromaniac named Allen.  He was 8.  We floated boats in my kiddie pool, played with my train set, climbed on stacks of wood in the lumberyard, and eventually learned about original sin from his Baptist church.

It seems that God made a perfect world and we fucked it up.  That’s the consensus version of original sin that Allen told me about.  We were children and we were sinners.  In fact, everyone lived with the burden of sin — a ridiculous concept, but like so many other damaging nonsensical things, the idea of original sin has staying power.   According to the legend, Adam (of Adam and Eve), got the sin ball rolling by eating an apple that God told him not to eat.   As a result, the first man on earth allegedly passed along the double whammy DNA of not only sin, but death to every person who has lived here.   In other words, blame Adam.  Or maybe Eve.  After all, Eve succumbed first to the charm of Satan in snake drag.  Eve convinced Adam to take bite one.   But alas, the male gender, as usual, got the credit — credit for either a means of control by guilt or a very bad joke.   As for me, I had yet to discover my built-in urge to do evil, disobey the almighty and to lose my one with God.  My little friend Allen wanted to clue me in.

As I said, Allen, liked to set things on fire. It started with little things in his basement.  Paper dolls, toothpick houses, plastic soldiers — I watched them burn, but Allen stared right through them with an intensity that I hadn’t seen in anyone ever.    It was as if his eyes were locked on some distant pleasure palace.  It was as if he had found his calling.

When Allen and I moved our personal flaming fun show out of his basement into an ashtray bonfire on my Lionel train set flatbed car, my mother smelled smoke and came running.   Allen and I were in big trouble.   I explained to my mother — innocently (honestly) — that Allen and I were just burning things.  No worries.

Allen was sent home.

The next day, the North Hollywood Fire Department put out a small blaze on a vacant lot next to Allen’s house.  Allen could not be found.  A week later, a house down the street burned.  Nobody was hurt.  Still, no Allen. 

And so I awoke one night, to sirens — my bedroom wall reflecting firelight.  It was the lumberyard across the street, now an inferno — flames 30 feet in the air — burning, smoke blotting out the sky.

The Christian mystic Simone Weil said, “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring."

I never saw Allen again.  He was sent to a home to be cured.  Original sin, as I learned from him, isn’t just an action; it’s a state of mind — a gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring (childish) state of mind.   It’s a binary state in an infinite world.  A one and a zero.  A good and a bad.  I watched the lumber yard fire burn and saw much more.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast September 14, 2012

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


Broadcasting Fridays at 8:50 am from KUCI 88.9 fm Orange County, California