We were driving home from my youngest's soccer game on Sunday, when NPR's This American Life had us all shushing each other to catch the story that Ira Glass introduced with, "... when things go wrong. Really wrong. When you leave the normal realm of human error, fumble, mishap, and mistake and enter the territory of really huge breakdowns. Fiascos. Things go so awry that normal social order collapses. This week's show is a philosophical inquiry in the nature of fiascos — when something simple and small turns horribly large."
Hooked, line and sinker, into the stories, we didn't go straight home but instead drove around so that we could hear the things we knew we would relate to so well. The fiasco, when in the snap of a finger, things go out of control and all moments become ones of no sense.
Halfway through the 60-minute show, I turned the radio volume down and shaking my head, I asked, "Do you all remember our fiasco??"
Today's theme: Fiasco.
It had been a quiet evening home, not a sound in the house, I was on the computer and my oldest, Alec, was on the sofa reading. The youngest, Auggie, was upstairs with the middle boy, Xavier; I assumed playing video games.
In the middle of this peace, I hear a shriek, then guttural cries, then screaming of OH MY GOD! Tripping over my chair, visual images flashed before my eyes of broken glass, even though I didn't hear anything shatter. Glass glass glass is all I can imagine -- one of my boys falling through the glass shower door. What else could it be? My oldest was pushing me out of the way to get ahead of me, shouting as he hurled over the steps, "We had a paramedic come in once last year in junior year! I know what to do!" Meant to make me feel better, I'm sure. But the scene we had here was our legs moving as slow as molasses while we heard two boys primally shrieking in the bathroom that had lots of glass shower doors all the way around. And the back of the second floor never seemed so far away.
With both of us pushing the bathroom door open so hard it hit the shower door, my oldest and I see the littlest on the floor, curled up while crying out insanely, covering both his eyes like he's just gotten his hands on a 1959 Home Science Kit where things had gone horribly wrong with sodium sulfate. The middle boy is shouting and hopping like the floor is on fire, his wild eyes tell me he's detaching from reality. I'm shouting above the din, "What the hell happened! Someone tell me what the hell happened!" But no one can answer... it's all, madness.
Fits the criteria for fiasco so far.
Answering my question would have helped so much at this time, but there is only wailing and spasms and more rolling on the floor. My mind is racing as I check the horrible possibilities. Did he drink mouthwash? Did he think it would be fun to spritz my Guess perfume into his mouth? Did my middle boy lose his temper and hurt the little one? Did they hurt each other. But there are no answers, just sounds like an injured coyote.
I grab the middlest and through gritted teeth command TELL ME WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED! He answers me with I don't knows I don't knows. I keep shaking his shoulders, he keeps giving me more I don't knows.
It's clear now, Fiasco, and we are in the thick of it.
The oldest boy's voice suddenly grows 50 octaves deeper and pierces the wails, TELL MOM YOU GUYS! and adds the first ever heard to my ears from him, swear words. He's been spending some time with the masters, that much is clear. But despite the swears, no one snaps into shape. There's just more out of body cries, screams. The level of pandemonium and freakedoutness cannot be imagined. There are bodies tripping over each other and legs sticking up in the air and so much yelling. I am starting to see dark spots before my eyes like you see right before you pass out from hyperventilating. Oh my God. FIASCO.
The only action I can think to take is threat level orange (no sense, I know) "If you don't tell me what happened I'll call 911!"
Even louder screaming erupts, but I need clarification, damnit. I demand from middlest, "Did you hit him? And why are you screaming? Did you both touch electricity with wet hands?" (don't ask, I didn't know what my brain was sending out of my mouth at this time.)
Finally, littlest screeches between slobbery gasps, "I crack-opened a glow stick! And now I'm blind! I'm blind with pain and squishing my eyes so tight from THE PAIN!"
The room starts to spin, "YOU'RE BLIND?? You mean you really can't see?? OH MY GOD!!"
I turn to middlest, "Why are you screaming? Are you blind, too? Did you both get juice on you? How many are hurt? Where did the rest of the juice go??" because the first rule of a Fiasco situation is that all victims are accounted for.
He answers, "I'm screaming because there's microscopic GLASS crystals in there and he's blind! That's how they work, right? The crystals are glass and they glow and OH MY GOD it EXPLODED in his eyes!"
What? Glass? What? Did they say glass? SHIT. I knew it, Glass, I saw it in my visions! Then, more frightening shrieks from littlest, "Is it going to seep behind my eyes -- the glass liquid juice -- will the glass cut my brain?? Noooooooooooooo!"
Full on and out of control twilight zone fiasco. Screaming, fear of blindness, claims of impending death due to pain F.I.A.S.C.O. Along with hints of glass shards. GLASS.
Reality of what's happening starts to unfold in my mind, I need to get busy. I push youngest into the shower over everyone's body parts and I corral him under the water, shouting "Keep your eyes wide open and stare into that shower head and rinse it all out. RINSE ALL THE GLOW STUFF OUT! Just like in Clockwork Orange!"
"Like what, mom?"
"Never mind. Shit. Alec, you stay with him, Xavier, you tell me what happened! Auggie, stay in that shower!"
Xavier stammers out, "We were in here where it's dark so we could see the glow necklace and h-h-h-h-he snapped it like you're supposed to to activate it but it opened and..."
"And the glop shot straight to my EYES!" I hear littlest from inside the decontamination unit. "Like it was AIMING for my eyes -- AIMING! *gurglegurgle* and I didn't even have my hands near my face to shield my eyes and the juice shot straight to my EYES! Am I going to be blind? I don't want to be blind! I don't want to be blind, mama!,'' his little boy water filled cries echo in the stall and break my heart.
I fly down the stairs and start banging at the computer. I don't know what to google first.
- "Death by glow juice."
- "Blindness by glow juice."
- "Is glow juice dangerous."
- "What to do with glow juice explosion."
I frantically settle on the ugliest: "Will my baby be blind."
My fingers are tripping over each other on the keyboard. Yahoo! has an entire page of "Help! Glow Juice in eyes!" As I start skimming through the entries, I slowly start breathing again. They all gloriously say the same thing: "Hurts like a mofo, stings, but no death." "Happened to me at a Rave. No blindness, dood." "You'll be all right. Just sucks, especially if you're high."
I head back upstairs with the good news, still wobbly legged, but able to breathe, finally. "He's okay!," I manage to eke out. "You're okay, honey!"
Only then do I begin to hear my oldest son's voice booming above the pounding of the shower water, "MOM! I said, STOP. GOOGLING. I know so many kids that have gotten glow juice in their eyes at parties and dances. It's safe. He won't be blind. MOM!"
"What? Why didn't you tell me?" I'm in the bathroom now and begin yelling again.
"Secrets. And anyway I was shouting but you wouldn't listen! I said OMG STOP GOOGLING MOM. I told you I know someone, kids at dances. Even hand sanitizer in their eyes. He'll be okay."
"Yeah, just throwing that out there."
Letting out a relieved sigh, I turn to the middlest, who was screaming louder than the littlest during the peak of the mayhem. "What were you so crazy about?"
He gasps a deep breath as if he's just broken through the surface of the Pacific Ocean, "Auggie was cracking a glow stick to get it to work and I was sitting by him and then he started screaming so I looked and he was covering his eyes and there was glow juice all over the floor and he was crumpled on the floor covering his eyes and then I started screaming too because it's Made in China and he was covering his eyes and who knows if glow juice is like those dog tag necklaces you never let us wear because they're Made in China and have lead in them and I thought he had sizzled out his eyes 'cause he was covering them and obviously in my panic, not realizing no one, not even China, would put things on the market that cause blindness as a child's toy. But you said, Mom, you said cheap products from party store catalogs like those petrolatum filled orbs, though they are cool and a fun time, are dangerous and carcinogenic. So, yeah, I started screaming and running around and I was worried Auggie's eyes were in dangerrrrrrrrr."
Oh, yes, Fiasco. With a capital effin' F.
From start to finish, the Glow Stick Fiasco probably only took six minutes, but enough time for lessons to be learned. Open the glow stick behind one's back from now on. My son has become the finger wagging community educator on Glow Stick Cracking. Yes, my fourth grade friends, this could happen to you.
Surviving a fiasco: unified by the sense of relief, that though things got crazy, we're all thankfully okay. A true fiasco, where all social structure and reason for resultant actions breaks down and the moments within, make no sense. Running around like chickens with our heads cut off, or at least our retinas day-glowed.
Ira? Pick up the phone, I've got a good one for you.
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