Tuesday, November 1, 2016


That little voice. We all have it. A primal vestige from the days when we might have taken higher ground to avoid a Mastodon stampede just from seeing the small clues - how the grass vibrated across a long plain. Age and experience come in handy in these moments; how you react to the little voice, the bending of the grass, is often a result of how much of either, or both, you have on hand in a given moment.  Age says, "Listen." And experience says, "I'm gettin' the fuck out of here!"

Avoiding danger is something I seek actively to do. I've never craved the thrill of the drop, nor speed with a cross-wind. I watch those You Tube long-board videos, of a dude with a tiny helmet on, tucked at the waist, rocketing down a mountain road and I can only think of the impact. There is no part of me that thinks it must be like flying. I can only think of his young body turning in an instant into a wobbly flesh sack filled with tiny bone marbles, as it impinges on the pavement.

Being such a person, who enjoys personal safety, I've developed a very reliable survival sense. I tend to heed my little voice. But this was not the case on the day of the neighborhood block party.

My friends live on a cul de sac in Chagrin Falls. Every house on the street has a family living in it, most with two or more kids, often three. Three children seems to be the thing.  One more than is practical or useful.  It's a delightful street filled with happy kids and their charming parents; I enjoy their block party.  There are always many kinds of craft beer, grilled meats, and a bounce house. Kids of every age fly around dragging dogs, and each other, from yard to yard as the parents shuck and jive to their own beats. I only know the one family really well, the rest are just nice neighbors I've met a few times.

Reaching into one of the many coolers I pull out my first ever I.P.A. I flip the top off with the bottle opener provided on the picnic table. It was as I put the first sip to my lips that I discovered just how truly revolting an I.P.A can be, and also that I had not only removed the cap, but cleanly the top third of the bottle. I had just drank from it's razor-sharp edge.

Recognizing the potential to sever my own tongue, I threw away the broken beer in its defective bottle, and exchanged some releived "Phew!"s with the friends standing around me. Someone handed me a fresh brew, of the drinking kind, and we went on with our day.

Later, the party is really in full throttle, everyone's talking and eating, drinking and playing games, I focus in on a group of kids, median age 7 years, heading down the cul de sac with their scooters. They look a little rogue to me, but I'm far off, under a tree by myself, eating a plate of beans and an ear of corn. They are heading for an incline on the street, blocked off for the party, that is short, but very steep. There are littler kids in tow. I crane my head around hoping to see a parent jogging along behind. After all, there are adults everywhere. Bear in mind, these are not my kids, and this is not my neighborhood. I don't know who belongs to who, which are siblings, who are friends, which husband goes with what wife.

My attention turns to the bounce house, which has been set up on the pavement in the turn-around. There are a dozen pairs of mostly Crocs, lined up outside the inflatable house and the whole thing is quivering like a bowl of jello with kids popping around inside it like so much human Jiffy Pop. A rotation of parents man the flap entrance, grabbing kids as they bounce toward the opening and shoving kids in from the outside, preventing collision the best they can. My eyes cast over the scene and I notice that there are no sandbags on the straps, to hold the undulating contraption onto the surface of the earth. Normally, I think, this thing would be staked into the grass somewhere, but here, I think, there should be sandbags. I sort of say this out loud, but to no one in particular. The thought and my voice are immediately drowned out by the sound of a high pitched wail coming from the scooter hill. All heads turn and here comes a grown up with a child in their arms, whose leg is oozing road rash from the nasty spill he's just had on heartbreak hill. A collective cringe goes through the party attendees. That mom gets to spend the rest of her afternoon deep in peroxide and gauze. Jesus, I think, I should have said something, I had a bad feeling about that. Shit. Darn it.

Just then I see one more kid enter the bounce house and the combination of his balance tipping weight and a light updraft, and the entire bounce house starts to roll end over end. I'm up and running toward the now launching space craft. Kids are screaming inside. I, and another parent grab and heave the space station back on it's correct axis. We reach into the flabby airbag to pluck the disoriented kids out from inside. No one is hurt. But there are a lot of tears, and some shrieks of joy, for just as I am this person, there are also those people who love the dangers. I pull a couple of those tiny, smiling lunatics out, too.  Jesus, I think, I should have said something. I had a bad feeling about that. Shit. Darn it.

I start to say my good-bye's, round up my hoodie and thank the hosts. There's a certain amount of chaos still. The party is big enough that not everyone even noticed the events at the bounce house. There are lawn games being played and music and voices.  As I am collecting my purse, frankly now a little rattled, heading for my car, I see a wife hustling her husband up the driveway, his hand wrapped in a white towel rapidly turning red. He's holding his hand up at the elbow and rushing for the house. I hear someone say, "The bottle opener took the top of his beer off, and it cut his hand!" It wasn't a defective beer bottle, it was a defective opener! and I had thrown it back onto the picnic table without even a moment of consideration. It simply had not crossed my mind that I was setting down a bottle render for someone else to use to cleave their terrible I.P.A asunder with, and with it, their own soft tissue.

It then occurs to me that all this is happening not in front of me, but BECAUSE of me. I become paranoid and convinced that it is my presence that is causing all this anarchy to happen.  Because of my inability to react quickly enough, the veil that separates a serene block party from utter carnage is being lifted.  Age is saying, "Listen", and experience is saying, "Get the fuck out of here. " And so I head for relative safety of my car, lucky, I think, to have missed the Mastodons.

1 comment:

  1. Life is fragile. We are so bound up in our belief that things will work, that cars will hurtle in the correct lane centimeters away from your own hurtling car, that little ones won't be cut short, that at the machines of loving grace will keep operating, electricity, wifi, clean water. It all seems impossible sometimes. Your essay is timely. Lots happening on these fronts these days...miss you. - n