Sunday, October 17, 2010

Natural Opposition

One of the things I've learned in dog class is that a lot of dogs have a "natural oppositional reflex." This means that if your dog is pulling and you choke up on the leash they're going to keep pulling because they're naturally going to go in the opposite direction of the weight they perceive they're pulling. It's an asset when you want the dog to pull a sled. When navigating the Farmers' Market not so much.

I've got a little bit of that with my emotions. There's a thing you can do to discourage dramatic kids where you quickly assess the damage of a skinned knee and tell them they're OK, put on a bright face, kiss it and send them off to keep playing. If you're super hard core you can even put a band aid on a broken leg, set the child up in a nice chaise lounge with a book and wait until someone arrives who can take said child to the hospital. I was a dramatic kid so this technique was used on me and to good effect. Such good effect, in fact, that I often use it on myself even now. In a potentially upsetting situation I try to assess the logic of it and talk myself out of the drama. It's not a fantastic asset to an actor but I'm great in a crisis, man. If someone gets a limb chopped off, as long as you're panicking, I'm going to be cool as a cuke.

Sometimes I wonder if this is going to get me killed. I tend not to assign appropriate urgency to dangerous situations.

Anyway, last night I woke up in the middle of the night because I smelled something. It reminded me of when I was a kid and we heated the house largely by wood stove. We had some wood with paint on it left over from something and tried to burn that. Don't do that. It smells tragically awful and is probably toxic and dangerous.

A few things had happened in my neck of the woods over the course of the last few weeks. We'd had a tornado and there'd been some sort of pre-fire incident in the guard's booth. It smelled a lot like this smell I was smelling. The guards kept themselves all buttoned up in their glass booth despite the pungent odor until I wandered through and suggested strongly that they open a door or two since that sure smelled like burning insulation (it was, the insulation on phone wire) which was likely to be toxic and dangerous to them. Also there's been work on the apartment next door by some hard working gentlemen who speak not one word of English. During the flood I couldn't even get them to understand that I was asking if there was inappropriate water in the apartment. After painting the walls and polyurethening the floor they were careful to seal the apartment closed with tape over the cracks in the door so it didn't leak into the hall. Of course my apartment and that one are separated only by the backs of our medicine cabinets. Painter's tape did little to keep the smell out of my house. But I couldn't tell them that. Last week someone on my floor had a stove installed. Stoves are gas in New York City. The only time I've ever had a stove installed in one of my homes it was done improperly and I had to call the gas company. They react swiftly and surely to that shit, I'll tell you.

So, at about 2:00 am there's a smell so strong in my apartment that it wakes me up. I lie there for a minute telling myself that it's nothing and I should go back to sleep. It's really strong. I think of ChemE who will allow almost nothing to be plugged in and/or turned on while she's out of the house. She doesn't charge her computer while she's out, she turns off her wireless internet, she unplugs the toaster and coffee maker. She actually monitors her "offs" when she departs. I do not. I leave my laptop plugged in and resting on puffy couch cushions. After thinking about that for a minute or so I got up and did a circuit of the apartment to make sure no outlets or appliances were smoldering. Nothing. Despite being in my underwear I opened the apartment door and sniffed the hallway. Didn't smell like anything out there. I opened the medicine cabinet to see if that intensified the smell. It didn't. I thought about calling the guard's booth. But I didn't.

I went to bed and decided to wait and see if it got worse. I thought that maybe I should lean out the window and see if it smelled worse out there. But that seemed silly. I didn't want to overreact. I wondered a bit how much of a bad smell could cause brain damage in small dogs and mid-sized cats. I was grateful when the girl cat breathed her dead inside breath on me because it was somehow better than the weird smell.

Finally I went to sleep.

This morning I discovered that some kind of junk yard in New Jersey was burning. The horrible smell included burning tires and other detritus. My neighbor had gotten down her pet carriers, gotten her emergency supplies ready and eventually gone to the guard's booth to see if they'd call the authorities. The guards told her about the warehouse fire. Apparently a whole apartment building of folks much further into Brooklyn had called 911 and informally convened in front of their dwelling until they heard back about whether they'd need to evacuate. Kath did a circuit of her apartment similar to mine then did actually stick her head out of the window. Once she'd determined it was an outside smell she went back to bed.

To my credit I had actually thought about where the cat carrier was and getting the dog leashed and where my pants were. But I hadn't acted on any of that. I hadn't even called the guard station to see if they had any information.

On the one hand it wasn't something that was actually threatening me. On the other hand in a city where people used planes to try and kill us, where I still actually get a teensy panic attack at bed time when the planes fly over, you'd think I might be a little more pro-active about disaster recovery, wouldn't you?

Miraculously I have survived nearly 42 years on this earth. Clearly through no effort of my own.

1 comment:

  1. Over the summer the house smelled of smoke so bad that I was positive it and or the lawn was on fire. I ran around like a crazy lady trying to find it and figure out how I was gonna get our elderly landlord out without wrecking her recent back surgery. After I determined our property and the neighbors were not a burning inferno, I decided it must be a brush fire nearby and convinced The Girl of the same. Later that night, the news man told us it was from a fire in Canada! Can you believe that shit?!
    Anyway, you were a lot calmer than I would have been. Way to butch up!