Sunday, March 18, 2007

Close Calls

Friday, while I was at work, I got a call a call on my cell phone from my ex. I knew that if she was calling, rather than texting me, it was something urgent. I answered it and she told me that they'd had to pull our son out of his classroom while he was taking the ISAT standardized test; he was coughing so hard and so long that other kids were unable to concentrate. We needed to take him to a doctor.

Our wonderful pediatrician, Doctor Krishnan, passed away a few years ago, and we had not been able to find another doctor we liked. My ex asked me about my step-daughter's pediatrician. My wife raves about her (the pediatrician, not my ex, though they're pretty friendly on the phone these days), so I called, and we were able to get an appointment.

I talked to my boss, who told me it was no problem to take the rest of the day-- there were probably one or two kids in each of my afternoon classes.

I went to pick my son up at school, and was shocked; he'd grown a couple of inches since he was last at my house two weeks ago, and had sprouted a small batch of adolescent pimples on his face.

We drove downtown, swung by to pick my ex up and went to the hospital. I'd thought that he might have a case of bronchitis, which both my ex and I are prone to, but it turned out that the mild asthma he has had since he was 5 or so has kicked up a little bit. She gave him a treatment in the office, gave him some new medicine to try and wrote a prescription for a new inhaler, with plans to see him in five days.

All's well that ends well.

I had feared a rough weekend taking care of a very sick kid, but it has turned out okay. We had some great barbecue at Smokin' Woody's, a restaurant near our house, and went home, where my wife and my stepdaughter were already home. I played poker with my kids, and we did one round of Apples to Apples, a really fun game (even for grown-ups).

Today, we made a run to fill his new prescription, to buy some of those little red potatoes for tonight's St. Paddy's Day corned beef dinner and let him use the Toys 'R' Us gift certificate my parents sent him. Later, in the afternoon, we went to the Cornservatory Theater, a little storefront theater near our home. A couple of times a year, they do kids' productions. We saw "Aunt Nancy's Safari Stories" today.

I'm on the Cornservatory's mailing list, and a couple of times a year I get a notice that there are new productions. And every time I tell him about the new play, not sure if he's still going to like the plays. They're kids' plays, but they're well-written, sophisticated and well-produced, for a little store-front theater. He still enjoys them. All you Chicago-area folks with kids, nieces and nephews, I recommend them.

Afterward, he and I ran to Trader Joe's, and then the cheese store at Western and Wilson that belongs to my work friend Sarah (the restaurant) and her husband Matt, The Cheese Stands Alone. After exacting a promise that he wouldn't eat a pound of cheese curds in two days like he had a couple of weekends ago, we got a pound of cheese curds, a garlic brie that he loves and some smoked gouda.

We got home in time for me to cook up a big St. Paddy's day dinner. Lots of corned beef for everybody, and then boiled red potatoes for my wife, my ever-popular cream cheese mashed potatoes for the girls (my stepdaughter had her best friend over last night) and I, and of course rice for my son.

I played a couple of games of Apples to Apples with the kids, and the girls went to bed. My son and I stayed up and watched a movie I'd wanted to see for years, but had never gotten around to seeing, The Gods Must Be Crazy. We both liked it a lot.

All in all, it was a really enjoyable weekend that could have been pretty miserable.

When Adam and I went to Trader Joe's, I was reminded of the closest call ever in our lives. It was at the intersection behind him in the top of this post.

In early 1995, I was still living with Adam's mother. I had long promised my best friend Jim he could stay with me while he was getting set up, if he ever decided to leave Champaign, Illinois and move up to Chicago. On January 1 that year, he moved in with Adam's mother and I. It worked out well for everybody: he had a place to live while looking for a job and an apartment, we had someone who would help us pay the rent when we were frighteningly broke, and we had a live-in babysitter.

One night, I was at work at the fabled N.N. Smokehouse and I got a call from Adam's mother. Jim had come home from his graphic design temp job not feeling well. Within a couple of hours, he was really sick. She told me she was running him to the emergency room at Ravenswood Hospital.

The next morning, the doctors took out Jim's appendix. The day after that, I got a call from Jim-- that he was being released from the hospital, and could I pick him up? I didn't own a car at the time, and he told me to take his little red Ford Festiva if I wanted to. I debated for a moment in my head. Adam's mother wasn't feeling well, and I thought for a moment of bundling Adam up into his mother's car and taking it to pick Jim up.

For some reason, I decided not to. I hopped in Jim's car and drove over to the hospital.

A check had arrived in the mail from Jim's temp job, and he had asked me to bring it along so he could deposit it on the way home. He did so, and we drove north along Lincoln Avenue to head home. As I approached the intersection of Lincoln and Grace, the one pictured above, the light turned green. I continued on.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it to my left-- a huge pick-up truck, one of those ones with four doors-- was blasting through the intersection. It was like they say-- my life flashed before my eyes. It was headed right into our side. When I heard Jim shout "Fuck!" I realized that he saw it too.

The thought running front and center through my head was that I was suddenly glad that my son wasn't in the car.

I pumped the brakes and swerved the car to the right as hard as I could, muscling every bit of strength I had to steer it to the right. I think the other guy had hit the brakes finally and I'm pretty sure he swerved to the left. A wall of pick-up truck glanced hard off the left side of the Festiva, jarring my left shoulder really hard.

My next thought was Jim's stitches-- I realized he had a belly full of fresh stiches. I hoped they weren't torn out.

The left wheel had been demolished, and I had only a small amount of steering left. And now I had another problem. I had steered the little car far enough right that the left front part of the car had been obliterated instead of us, but now we were heading straight toward the door of Mangi's, the little fast-food place in the picture.

I'll never forget the look on the face of the person who was sitting at the window counter, eating their burger or whatever. Jim remembers it too-- I can't remember if it was a man or a woman, but both Jim and I remember their eyes as they got bigger and bigger as we got closer and closer. I hit the curb, ran up it and with every bit of strength I had left, pulled hard on the steering wheel to the right again. We glanced off the brick, ran down the sidewalk along the building, and finally came to a stop.

It took, probably, two seconds or so for all this to happen, but I remember it like it was a 90 minute movie.

Jim and I looked at one another in disbelief-- mostly, I think, because we were alive. I asked him how he was-- "Okay, I think," was his reply. "Your stitches?" I asked. "I think they're okay."

Then, the one funny moment of it all came, as we both crawled out of the passenger door. A woman who worked at Mangi's stomped out the door of the restaurant, looked at our car and the wall and said "What the fuck is it with this building? Why do people keep hitting it?"

It turned out that it was the third time in a year that this had happened.

The police arrived. Since no one had really seen all that had happened-- who had had a red and who had had a green light-- he issued no tickets. The guy in the pick-up, by what he was driving and by how he was dressed was probably a contractor. And by his breath, I think he'd had a couple of cocktails. The cop did and said nothing about it.

Jim was doubled over trying to catch his breath. I was on the cell phone with my girlfriend telling her I was okay, and could she come pick us up.

Once again, all's well that ends well. My neck, shoulders and arms hurt like hell for a few days-- probably from both the force of the impact and from desperately manhandling the steering wheel. Adam was okay because of my random decision not to take him with. Jim and Jim's stitches were okay. He was alive and well to be the best man at my wedding on December 30, 2005 (that's him to the left, me to the right). The other driver was okay. My girlfriend's car was okay because of the same decision-- a big deal, because it was our only car.

Here's the funny thing. There were only two real casualties that day, and only one of them lasting. Jim's Festiva was one of them. Ironically, though, he'd planned on getting rid of it. Since he was insured for collision, and nobody had been found at fault, they wrote him a check for the bluebook value of the car, which was way more than he'd expected to get for it. He got rid of it, got more money than he'd expected and hadn't had to bother with selling it-- though I suspect he'd rather had hassled with selling it than go through the accident.

The only lasting casualty, then, was the wall. Mangi's is still there, despite the subsequent gentrification of the neighborhood around it. Trader Joe's is now right across the street from it, where the Butera grocery store and laundromat used to be. When we went to Trader Joe's yesterday, Adam and I went up and took a close look at the wall for the first time in many years. The crack is still there. I'd forgotten until yesterday how damned close I'd come to going right through the front door of the place. But I'll never forget how close I came to not being around to raise my son.


Bubs said...

Yow. Talk about close calls...

My favorite car was a 1990 Festiva I bought used in 1992. I had it until it died with 120,000 miles on it in early 2002. The guys on Car Talk used to joke about the Festiva being one of the least safe cars ever--according to them, the new Festiva came with the funeral wreath attached to the hood when you bought it.

Good luck with your son's asthma. It seems that the secret with that is controlling it before it becomes bad enough to cause an attack.

Tenacious S said...

No wonder you blog. You have a lot of stories to tell. Johnny, each and every time I read your blog I am in awe of your ability to tell the story well, but more importantly, your ability to capture what life is really all about.

As for me, I had a Dodge Omni and the most exciting story that I have is that once when it broke down, it left my brother and I eating donuts on the side of the interstate in Kentucky.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Often it's dodging these bullets, or remembering past bullets dodged that really make you appreciate what you have in life.

Glad you had a great St Patrick's Day after all, and that you finally got to watch the Gods Must be Crazy.

Dale said...

That's a whole lotta living in one post! Glad your son's fine and everything else turned out so well, dinner included.

Anon. Blogger said...

Kids change the way you see the world, don't they? You thought of Adam not being there first. I wouldn't doubt that subconsciously you next realized how important your own life was - for him.

I heard some guy on TV once say, "Adults don't make children; children make adults."

For me this was true, and I am so grateful.

I wish you good luck working with asthma. I hope the new pediatrician works out great.

Mob said...

Whew, that was a helluva close call, I was expecting a near-miss story, not one that involved hitting a building at some point.

I'm glad you had a nice weekend instead of having it go south as they quickly can.

Skylers Dad said...

Amazing story, I am glad the outcome was good, both with the asthma and the accident!

Natalie said...

I have got to go to the cheese store. Unfortunately, the curds would be lucky to last two days. maybe I shouldn't go.

Johnny Yen said...

I'm with the Car Talk guys. It would have had all the protection of a cardboard box if that truck had hit us full-on.

Thanks-- the treatment has, apparently, changed a lot. They've greatly diminished the doses of steroids. My son kept making Sammy Sosa jokes after taking the steroids.

TenS- Thanks!

I owned a Dodge Omni in the late eighties. It died, and I had it towed away. It had died once before, in Cape Girardiau, Missouri. Easily the shittiest car I ever owned, other than the Plymouth Horizon I had a few years back. That's the Plymouth version of the Dodge Omni.

It definitely does make me appreciate things.

Thanks! I must have done something right-- I cooked about seven pounds of corned beef, and they scarfed a good bunch of it down. I was the only taker on the cabbage, though.

That's a great quote!

My life had to change pretty radically for him, especially when his mother and I were fighting over him. It was very much worth it.

That was the one moment in my life I really thought I was about to die. I truly didn't think I'd be able to swerve the car in time. I can still see the grill of that truck in my face. When I look at the spot (it's still near my home, and I go through that intersection often) and see what a short distance I was able to spin around in, I'm amazed.

Skyler's Dad-
Thanks! We've got a follow-up appointment Wednesday-- the treatment for asthma has improved a lot in recent years. I'm hoping we get it under control before his baseball season starts.

I'm such a doof-- when I first read your follow-up, my first thought was "What is she talking about-- doesn't she have a refrigerator?"

My wife and I were both nagging him about eating so many of the cheese curds. His response to her, a couple of weeks ago was "You don't understand-- these things are like nicotine to me." It's become quite the classic quote in our house.

GETkristiLOVE said...

I love The Gods Must be Crazy! Maybe that wasn't the point of this post, but I love it anyway!

lulu said...

Are the cheese curds as good as the ones you buy in Wisconsin? Or would that be a bad thing for me to know?

Johnny Yen said...

It was part of the post-- it was a great movie.

They are as good-- I think that's where they get them from.