Friday, November 28, 2008

COLUMN: Carbon Monoxide

I couldn't believe it.

After years of hard work, I'd finally made it to the bigtime. There I stood, center stage, DJing at my first A-list Hollywood party. It was only an opening slot, but I didn't mind. The dancefloor was packed with celebrities and my mixes were flawless. Then I saw her. The love of my life and the obsession of my entire universe was staring straight at me. My heart skipped a beat as she walked up to the DJ booth, and I was face-to-face with my muse, Katie Holmes.

"I like the way you mix," she said.

"Yeah?" I said. "I like the way you look sheepishly at the camera, bite your bottom lip a little, and let out a smile when you say the word 'Dawson.'"

It was game on. As I gazed at her perfect face, I knew it was there. We had a --


-- connection that was electric. I swear I could almost see the sparks shooting between us as she sighed just a little. In mere moments, she'd be in love with me forever and we'd move to a small house along a creek somewhere.

"You know I hate my husband and my marriage is a --


-- sham, right? In fact, I'm pretty sure that he doesn't even like girls. Yep, I'm pretty sure that Tom Cruise is a total --


Ohhhh no. I could ignore some ill-timed 3 a.m. knocks on my door for the sake of Katie Holmes. But when someone's yelling "WAKE UP OR DIE," you've got no choice but to hit the stop button on even the greatest of dreams.

I got out of bed and sluggishly made it to the apartment door. On the other side stood most of my pajama-clad neighbors and a couple emissaries from the Rock Island Fire Department. Others were were busily beating on the remaining doors of absent neighbors. This was no fire drill.

It turns out that an upstairs neighbor had decided to crank up her heat. The complex's boiler thought about it long and hard and decided it would be much more entertaining to instead emit poisonous gas throughout the building. Were it not for one neighbor's carbon monoxide detector going off, we never would have known.

I don't pretend to be well-versed on science, but apparantly carbon monoxide is measured in some sort of units -- let's just call them kilodeaths. Obviously, a measurement of 0 kilodeaths is ideal, while a measurement of 30 kilodeaths or higher is cause for evacuation. Well, the fire department was there and measuring 300 kilodeaths in the halls and over 1000 kilodeaths in the boiler room. That's not cool.

So while a rep from the power company showed up to shut down the boiler, the fire department had us open all our windows and gather our fans in the hallways to help dissipate the gas. My apartment had an initial reading of 28 kilodeaths. That's enough for me to get reeeal scared, because I'd already played Fun With Carbon Monoxide once.

On Christmas Eve 1982, the fireplace of the house I grew up in backed up in the night, and our family awakened to a house full of black smoke. My folks got the windows open and had the place ventilated lickety split -- but the next morning, my mom and I both woke up to a shared headache that was beyond words. I was only 11, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It might have been the worst day of my life.

So no thanks, sir. I wasn't about to repeat that fun -- which is why I left the building, got in my car, and decided to see just what life was like at 3 a.m. on a Monday morning in Rock Island.

Answer: there IS no life at 3 a.m. on a Monday morning in Rock Island. The entire world was asleep. I did spot a few fine folks hard at work delivering this very paper on doorsteps aplenty. Otherwise, it was awkwardly quiet. Well, it would have been quiet, had I not also invited my two cats out on our monoxide-free field trip.

My cats have been in a car exactly: twice, and now I remember why. While Izzy decided it would be best to spend most of the trip shivering in my lap with her claws deeply embedded in my thigh, Bez decided the ideal activity would be to sit in the passenger seat, stare at me, and go "MEOWMEOWMEOWMEOWMEOWMEOWMEOW" for an hour straight.

I'm not kidding. The cat never stopped meowing. I'm pretty sure she figured out a way to meow and breathe simultaneously. There wasn't even a tenth of a meow-free second to be had. By the time I got back to a 0 kilodeath apartment two hours later, that cat was HOARSE and running around like a 4-pack-a-day smoker going, "MRACK. MRACK."

On the brighter side, though, we weren't all dead, which truly could have been a distinct possibility. I hate those stupid detectors and their shrill cries every time I overcook something, but one of them may have just saved my life. And of course, an apartment complex full of dead bodies in their beds just screams "I-bet-they-were-all-in-some-crazy-cult," and that's a horrible way to go out. Still, I was thiiiis close to being part of a real life Halloween legend that could have spooked generations to come.

Instead, your faithful columnist lives to ramble on. But right now? I'd rather just get to bed. Katie? Katie? Please wait for me!

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