Five Things I Learned From the Hollywood Arsonist OR “Cornmeal Thyme Cookies”

Don’t be fooled by the two ingredients in the name, these babies cook up with a sweet, buttery flavor and just a hint of cornbread goodness. This is the perfect cookie to ween you off the daily sugar showers you took through the month of December.

Last weekend, a crazed arsonist terrorized the streets of Hollywood, igniting over 50 fires all over town in the span of three nights, and causing over 2 million dollars in damage.

Here are five things I learned from the experience, followed by a recipe for cookies.

1.) I probably am not the person to contact in case of emergency, especially if I don’t know you.

MG called me at 4 in the morning last Saturday to tell me he’d woken to the sounds of his neighbors screaming “Fire!” He looked out his bedroom window and saw the carport of the apartment building next to him engulfed in flames.

“Okay, what do you want me to do?” I asked — not in a snotty way, but because I actually did not know what I was supposed to do!  Thankfully, he didn’t know what I was supposed to do either.  Then there was about five seconds of awkward silence, like when you run out of pieces for your new IKEA credenza but there’s still a page and a half of assembly instructions left to go.  Finally, I managed to come up with, “You need to get out of there!”  Boy, the Red Cross really needs to put me on the payroll, don’t they?  My split-second thinking would be an asset to any life-threatening crisis.  Did MG actually need to hear this from me?  Was he sitting there thinking, “Aw really?  I was planning to just go back to bed.  The fire is like twenty feet away, and if I can’t jump twenty feet, will a fire really be able to?”

Despite what the stickers on the elevator wall ask of me, I do not stay calm in a crisis.  When I first heard the phone ring, I immediately panicked, the way one does when they hear the words, “I think we should run additional tests,” or “Now we’re going to go around and all say something interesting about ourselves.”    Before I even picked up the phone I had the thought, “Please please please don’t be a number I recognize,” because at least then I’d be off the hook.  If someone I actually know is calling me in the middle of the night, it’s probably going to require a level of cool-headedness I’ve never had to muster before.  No one ever calls you in the middle of the night with good news.  Even if your sister went into the delivery room and instead of giving birth to one baby, as the doctor had predicted, she gave birth to nine babies and a Cuisinart hand blender, everyone knows you wait until sunrise to spread the good word and invite people to omelettes.

If someone I don’t know is calling me at 4 am, while it’s true they may be in the process of getting mugged, going down in a plane, or choking on a chicken bone, what’s also true is that thankfully, it’s not my problem.  That’s why you should always make sure you’re dialing a phone correctly, especially if it’s the middle of the night and your life is in jeopardy. Grandma may hop into her Yugo and speed over to your house with a pamphlet on the Heimlich Maneuver, but once I get my six pillows into their proper sleepy-time configuration, if you call me by mistake, you’re pretty much fucked.

2.) You may imagine that you’ll save your pets in an emergency, but you won’t.

I threw on some clothes, made sure the new knit cap I got for Christmas was on straight, and then drove the three blocks down to MG’s building… without my glasses on.  I never ever do that.  Without my glasses, the world permanently looks like that special effect sitcoms use when they’re about to go into a dream sequence.  But I figured there were going to be more than enough emergency vehicles down on MG’s street, so if I hit any pedestrians I could just scoop them up and bring them down with me.  While weaving and swerving down those three hazy blocks, I was certain of one thing and one thing only: when I finally saw MG out on the street, he’d be holding his cat carrier, and inside, safe and sound, would be Thsibe, MG’s super-brilliant, super-loving cat – the joy of his life, the best animal companion he has ever had, and the only other living creature besides me who is allowed to sniff his hair.

When I got there, I was shocked to find that MG had one thing in his hands and one thing only: his laptop computer.  I hugged him, and once I was sure he was ok, I asked, “Where’s Thisbe?”  MG pointed to his building, “up there, probably under the bed.”  “Oh,” I said, “I thought for sure you’d have gotten her and brought her down.”  MG calmly tapped the lid of his laptop and replied, “No.  I’ve got plenty of pictures of her in here.”

It only sounded harsh to me for a moment, and then I put myself in MG’s shoes.  If I had to choose between saving either my MacBook Pro or my 18 pound cat, Z, from a fire, I’m pretty sure I’d go for the one that helps me secure employment and gives me scrabble cheats, and not the one that throws up wet clumps of Science Diet behind the ficus.

3.) You can be famous by association

When MG told me two days later that the person arrested for the arson spree was the German dude who lived in the apartment right next door to him with his mother until just a few months earlier when they were evicted, I did what any person would do in response to such disturbing news.  I immediately insisted, “You need to put that on Twitter.  You will totally trend!”

I, of course went ahead and immediately posted the news on my own Twitter feed, and within minutes I was flooded with replies, re-tweets and direct messages.  I became the sole focus of the Bachelor tweet stream for over eleven seconds!  I was a star, and all for just dating the guy who knew the guy who blew up fifty or sixty carports over a three-day weekend in the greater Hollywood area.  Talk about luck!  Spit out all the silly platitudes you want about hard work and tenacity.  Everyone knows that the greatest success anyone can achieve is the kind where someone else had to do all the hard work.  I now share a rarified air with people like Frank Stallone, Amber Frey, and Chong.

 4.) There are no parking spaces left in Hollywood

It’s always a thrill to see news vans in your neighborhood.  It’s the next best thing to a UFO landing in your swimming pool or randomly running into Janet Jackson at Pep Boys.  News vans are a fabulous reminder that I live in a city that my mom likes to say, “is really right there… in the center of it all!”  Of course what mom never remembers is that this particular “center” is also over-populated with greasy criminal types, crack heads, and people complaining to you on the sidewalk that the police came and stole all their pigeons.  No matter.  A news van is always a sign of excitement. At first, you don’t even mind that you have to park your car three blocks away from your apartment complex and walk uphill with your groceries.  Who cares if the fro-yo melts… is that K-NBC anchorman Paul Moyer???

But after three or four days, the thrill really starts to wear off, much like Club Med or getting married.  Not only are you still having to schlep your dessert uphill, but once you know that the news reporters are only in a suit and tie from the waist up, and from the waist down it’s baggy sweats, black socks and Sketcher flip-flops, you’re forever robbed of just a little bit of television magic.

And sad to say, when the news reporters see you coming up the street, they don’t charge towards you and inundate you with questions about additional information you may have on the case.  When they aren’t in the midst of reporting, all they do is lean against the sides of the van, sweating and swapping stories with the camera guy about things they found growing on their scalps that morning in the shower.

5.) In the end, no one cares.

The perp has now been in custody for almost five days, and boy has the bloom already fallen off his rose! For almost a week, everyone in town was bonding over him.  At last, we all had something we could use to relate to one another.  The unemployed actors, the unemployed writers, the unemployed musicians, the unemployed spokes models… finally we could celebrate having something in common!  This guy was the talk of the town.  Unfortunately, the stupid schlub didn’t know how to even begin capitalizing on it.

You really need to move fast when you gain some notoriety in Hollywood.  Most people here, no matter what they do for a living, have a publicist on retainer.  That’s because you never know when you might accidentally do something buzz-worthy that could ride you to a small fortune. I’m constantly on the lookout for children of celebrities I might be able to lure into traffic so I can boldly save them in front of a thousand on-lookers, and then book passage on that night’s Piers Morgan.

What a pity this guy couldn’t see the star potential written all over him.  With the right “people” in place, this flame thrower could have been dazzling the talk show circuit by night and the game show circuit by day (“I’ll take the suspected Hollywood arsonist for the block!”).  Instead, the dude’s in a holding cell, and worse… he’s on suicide watch.  He’s got a ponytail, he’s thirty pounds overweight and he’s massively depressed.  You try to pitch that one to the booking team at Ellen!

It occurs to me that this gentleman might have some mental problems.  When you start over four dozen fires in the span of 72 hours, you’ve got to realize that some people might throw a flag on the field.  Nevertheless, it can’t be argued that while we won’t miss him or what he did, we might just regret having to say goodbye to the particular brand of excitement he stirred up.  That probably couldn’t be said if he was an arsonist in, say, Concord or Des Moines.  But things are different in Hollywood.  Where others see tragedy, we see story rights, 3-D potential, and a new cop role for Sam Elliot.

Cornmeal-Thyme Cookies from Martha Stewart

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup dried currants
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cornmeal, and salt in a medium bowl.

Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; cream on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs, 1 at a time. Add flour mixture; mix on low speed until just combined. Mix in currants and thyme.

Using a tablespoon or a 1 1/2-inch ice-cream scoop, drop rounded balls of dough onto lined sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake, rotating and switching positions of sheets about halfway through, until pale golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer cookies, on parchment, to a wire rack. Let cool completely.


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3 thoughts on “Five Things I Learned From the Hollywood Arsonist OR “Cornmeal Thyme Cookies”

  1. i think you’ve analyzed this crisis situation accurately and honestly. Someone calls me in the middle of the night with an emergency, unless it’s my roommate, my mother, or my brother I’m not picking up. And I probably won’t call back either.

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