Harry “The Hollywood Arsonist” Burkhart was apprehended, but not before giving me a personal view of the lives affected by his über-tantrum.
At 2:30 a.m. on Monday, having been jolted from sleep by sirens aplenty, I saw for myself the fear, loss, and abrupt gratitude on the faces of an apartment building full of people watching their cars and property burn.
Living in Los Angeles, you get to know the difference between a burning hillside and 3000 lbs. of plastic car, so when I looked out our kitchen window and saw a huge column of thick tire smoke mushroom-clouding over the house, I knew two things: that the response by police and fire had been nearly instantaneous (bravo!) and that this unhinged piece of shit had made his way into our neighborhood.
At the scene, a mere 275 yards or so from my driveway, I found the same people I’d been watching in TV news footage all weekend: arson victims milling about, not quite sure what to do with themselves yet completely aware of their immediate predicament:
How will I get to work this week? How will the kids get to school? Sure, we could be an ashtray full of smoldering cigarette butts right now – and I’m thankful we’re not – but are we covered for all this?
These were my neighbors, a group of families suddenly six to eight automobiles lighter, perhaps some of them suddenly shoved below the official poverty line (because even if their insurance is paid up, with all the countless WTF loopholes given to corporations these days, the likelihood of full value replacement is pretty slim.)
Burkhart, the demented dingdong now considered most likely to have set all 53+ fires apparently blurted to his arresting officers that he hates America because his Mommy could be facing deportation. To Germany, that is…that poverty-stricken, judicial hellhole anyone would rather get shipped to Guatemala to avoid. Although authorities won’t yet confirm that this is Burkhart’s motivation, the dough-faced dumbass is supposedly bitter about not getting something to which he feels entitled, so he goes and burns people out of their homes, literally lighting fires under people’s beds. So yes, friends, I smell a forthcoming courtroom excuse that would choke a holding cell full of shoplifters and junkies, and you can bet you’ll find future commentary on that right here.
Until now, I had nothing to say about what this individual may or may not have been doing with the incendiary devices in Burkhart’s minivan. Until now, I could only hope for the perpetrator’s quick apprehension, because what does one say about someone as destitute of sensibility as a man-eater arsonist?
It wasn’t ‘til I was standing in front of a bathrobe-swaddled neighbor, watching firemen hose down her car, that my own desensitization to stupid human tricks was stripped bare. The look on her face and the faces of her fellow tenants was a mix of disbelief and “What am I going to do now?”
She told me she’d allowed her son and visiting nephew to stay up late at the controls of his PlayStation: when the two boys heard a loud POP! at the back of the building where the carport is, they ran to the window, saw the flames, and started hollering. None of this could have occurred more than 12 minutes before she and I spoke, and already 5 trucks-worth of firemen were saving the remaining cars in the structure. (Over the past four days, we Angelenos have been marveling at what might as well be L.A. firefighter drive-bys. These guys were working their asses off, running all over town playing arsonist Whack-a-Mole alongside site-investigators and police detectives. On Monday they were as tight as a rock band at the end of a 48-city tour.)
So we stood there, a couple dozen children and parents and folks watching the firefighters go nuts with the most badass, gas-powered metal cutting circular saw you’ve ever seen. Sparks were flying everywhere off the hood of my neighbor’s now torched Single Mom Mobile, and I could see on her face the struggle with what might have been. She had fallen asleep. Her son could have kept right on playing Call of Duty. Now she was standing there trying to be strong for him, when most likely the totality of the situation hadn’t even hit her yet.
I realized then that this crackpot was hurting people who could least afford it, all over the city. This lady and her fellow tenants, as well as many of his other victims, are struggling to keep their bills paid, struggling to maintain a sense of dignity while the working class settles generally for less and less. The best excuses imaginable are gonna back away from Burkhart before his assigned public defender even shakes his fat, clammy hand. An on-scene LAPD detective I spoke with said it best: “If Karma exists, it can’t get much worse for this guy.”
Having been born in Germany myself, living there in my 20s, and having lots of German friends that my wife and I try to visit every other year, I’m not looking forward to the impending references to the clichéd methodical approach to tormenting innocent people, nor the assignment of German megalomania to a single crybaby twisted fuck. Me, I’ll find humor in the fact that Harry Burkhart is the spittin’ image of the Comic Book Guy character from The Simpsons.
But sarcasm aside, no one knows what’s yet in store for this dumb bastard. I, on the other hand, now have a better understanding of how his actions affected the community – and certainly a better one than he ever will.
To be continued…