Before we were married, Lindsay and I lived in a dank, dark, leaky apartment above a popular French bistro known for its bouillabaisse. It was almost shocking that Tom Waits wasn’t constantly perched in the corner smoking a cigarette. The previous tenants rescued stray cats, so there was a certain aroma that permeated the floorboards. Together with the heavy smell of last night’s fish stew rising from the kitchen below, our sinuses were permanently inhabited by the scent of ammonia infused clams (a Chechnyan delicacy). It was enough to knock you back a few steps. After a month, our brains adjusted and we only remembered the fetid smell when looking at the faces of new guests.
One particular afternoon, we were cleaning out various old papers and documents from a built-in bookshelf in the kitchen. It was one of those frenetic, let’s get this shit done projects that, despite its lack of physical demand, left us sweaty and out of breath. When we stood back to admire our newly organized life, Lindsay said, “Wow, I feel dizzy.” I took me a minute to consider my state, but I realized that I felt dizzy too. She looked at me sternly, “No, I mean I feel really dizzy.” I was right there with her. This was no normal fatigue-fueled unsteadiness. Something was wrong. We were either dying, or in the midst of a shared psychosis.
“Gas,” I said. “Do you smell Gas? I smell gas.” I totally smelled gas.
“I think I do. Wait, what does gas smell like?”
“You know, like gas. House gas, not car gas.”
“Right, yea, I think I do. Oh my God, what’s going on? What about the cats? should I get the cats out of here? Is the building going to blow up? Why is there a gas leak? How does that happen? Can we stop it? Should we call 911?”
“I think we should just call the gas company.”
“Right, yes, ok. Do that. How long will it take them to get here?”
“I have no idea, I don’t work for the gas company and I don’t have their calendar handy.”
I apologized and dialed the number. The words “gas leak” are taken FAR more seriously than I anticipated. It was only a few minutes before we heard the sirens. Two firetrucks, an ambulance and a Con Edison worker. The gas man came in alone. He was scouting the situation for the other aide workers as if entering an African Village during an Ebola outbreak. When he turned on his portable gas detector I could see in his face this was serious “I’m gonna need you folks and everyone else in the building to evacuate immediately.”
“What about the CATS?!” she asked in a panic.
“Ma’am, there’s no time.” Yes, just like in movies.
The other tenants were alerted and asked to leave the building. None of them reported any discomfort. The paramedics asked Lindsay and I if we wanted oxygen to help the dizziness. After a few deep inhales while huddled together in the back of the ambulance, we both felt better. Neighbors and business owners began to join the sidewalk congregation, asking questions, pointing and looking concerned. There was talk of possibly evacuating the entire block. The readings from the gas detector were so high, the paramedics were amazed we were conscious.
“Jason, the cats!” She said. I reassured her the cats were fine even though I honestly figured they were, at best, passed out.
The Con Edison worker exited the building a few minutes later wearing a wry smile. He spoke briefly with the fire fighters who nodded and began packing up to leave. Lindsay and I were still in the ambulance looking like we’d been the victims of a horrible crime as the gas man approached,
“Turns out my meter was broken.” He laughed. “I figured it had to be when it kept goin’ up and up, and I was still on my feet.”
“So there’s no gas leak?” I asked.
“Nah, it’s fine. You can go back in. You might want to see a doctor though for those dizzy spells.”
If life were a TV show, I would have made a clever, self- deprecating jab which alleviated all the tension and anger focused on us for making everyone stand on the street in their pajamas for 20 minutes on a Sunday morning. We would have all gone to brunch as the credits rolled and viewers looked forward to the scenes for next week which previewed all the new wacky mistakes made by the adorably eccentric but high maintenance couple in Apt. 2B.
Instead, everyone marched slowly back into their caves. Upon shutting our door, I looked at Lindsay and said, “I still feel dizzy. You?”