Burning and leaking

Fire czar: While others went to sleep Christmas Eve with visions of dancing sugar plums and holiday Hummers in their heads, yours truly was jolted awake from a dream in which local “Car Czar” Doug Brauner was going after Bites’ non-denominational holiday tree with a blowtorch. SN&R psychologists attribute this now-recurring nightmare to a strange coincidence that took place earlier in the week. A colleague recently had told Bites about how, during summer barbecue season, Brauner accidentally had set a tree in his backyard ablaze. According to Bites’ source, the fire department arrived to find the car czar heroically fighting the flames with his garden hose.

So, imagine our surprise when, a week before Christmas, Bites tuned in to the exciting new Good Evening Sacramento program on KMAX to find Brauner preparing to ignite a Christmas tree live on camera. Happily, there were four uniformed firemen standing by, but the gleam in Brauner’s eyes was still unsettling. “You’re not going to believe what happens when this tree goes up,” he told anchor Mark S. Allen as one of the firemen approached the tree with a blowtorch.

What followed was one of those special moments that underscores the magic of live TV: Basically, the Christmas tree failed to cooperate. Sure, a couple branches where the blowtorch was being directly applied finally lit up, but the raging inferno Brauner had hinted at before the commercial break was nowhere to be seen.

Eventually, the fire department got the tree started enough for Brauner—himself in uniform—to spring into action. “Can I work the hose?” he pleaded as the Ohio Players’ “Fire” played in the background. “This is my lifelong fantasy.”

Bites caught up on Friday with Brauner, who verified the tale of his inflammatory past. “I was having a summer barbecue with some close friends, and, being the morons we are, we decided that, since it’s a brick fireplace, we might as well throw some wood on it.” Brauner, who recalls that adult beverages may have been involved, said his friends were enjoying the fire when he noticed a crackling sound “reminiscent of the many forest fires I’ve covered over the years, only to realize that now my backyard as well as the backyards of my wonderful neighbors were pretty much fully involved.”

Brauner said the Sacramento City Fire Department later lectured him on the irresponsibility of setting that kind of fire near so much foliage, particularly during the broadcast of a Sopranos season finale. Nevertheless, firefighters were kind enough (or perhaps nervous enough) to return for Brauner’s TV segment. Asked about their inability to get a good fire going the way he can, Brauner lit up with excitement. “That’s really, I think, where I shine,” he beamed. “They’re all about prevention. I’m all about the blaze.”

Groping toward Babylon: California Democratic Party adviser Bob Mulholland recently circulated an internal memo from the Arnold Schwarzenegger camp detailing current “hot topics” and “what we are currently saying about them.” The December 11 memo leads off with the topic that just won’t go away: “Groping: No calls on this today. All groping calls are being forwarded to the lawyer.” Mulholland said that, since candidate Schwarzenegger made a big deal about how open his administration would be with everything, including e-mails, his staff is being “foolish” with its cavalier use of the word groping. “I mean, that’s the term that developed when 16 women came forward,” said Mulholland. Other topics in the December 11 memo include Hummer fuel-cell retrofitting (Arnold won’t settle for a “one-time fix”) and house hunting (Maria hopes to become at least a part-time Sacramento resident, but not anytime soon). “As for unemployment benefits,” the memo notes, “Schwarzenegger does not plan on lobbying the feds for a third extension for unemployment, and freezing the amount that workers get will probably happen (off the record answer) but is just one of the many things the governor will consider (on the record).” Taken as a whole, Mulholland sees the memo as “a lesson to reporters that it’s spin all day, every day, at the Schwarzenegger camp.”