Today I walked into my coffee shop of choice to a scene I have experienced but a few times in my life: people crowded around the tube, silently watching as some disaster unfolds.
The first time I was a participant in GSA (Group Shock and Awe) was while on the Stair Master at my mom’s gym back in the days where I would work out for forty-five minutes and then reward myself with an Orange Julius Milkshake. What was playing out before me, as my underdeveloped body began to lightly dampen in the way that children damnpen, was the Princess Di tragedy. I stared up at the wall-mounted TV at a dark Parisian tunnel and an unrecognizable mess that used to be a car.
The second was an in school viewing of the OJ Simpson verdict. I sat in the library, quiet and still, with my peers doing the same. “Not guilty” came out of speakers and into our ears and I knew when I got home there would be a conversation waiting for me. During a DIY home remodel, my mom had spent the entire process listening to the trial on a shitty radio, painting crown molding and listening about ill-fitting gloves and body bags.
Other moments like this I have experienced on my own. I never had a TV in my bedroom before I moved to Tom’s house. The prospect seemed quite luxurious and privileged, both of which were not in my standard of living lexicon in the years previous. It was an older TV and it lived propped on a whicker table with thin wrought iron legs, placed under a window looking into the neighbor’s yard. When I wasn’t chatting on the phone or doing homework on a gigantic desktop computer, I was glued to the TV watching MTV and Talk Soup.
I remember the day that JFK Jr.’s plane went missing; he and his gamine wife most likely buried somewhere in the ocean. Before the accident I didn’t even know who these people were, being as I was too young to be familiar with Kennedy royalty and New York socialites. But they were so beautiful and chic and I was sucked in immediately. I sat in between my bed and a white wall, waiting for some indication that this couple had actually survived. I sat so long that the cream carpet began to itch my skin and my muscles were stiff.
Today I watched as what looked like a giant foil pool floatie move across the sky. My first reaction was that it might actually be a God damn UFO. I’ve seen my fair share of these films and I know how it all unfolds. I had a Will Smith-apocalyptic-doomsday moment and thought, “My dad is terrified by aliens. He’s going to shit.”
Soon enough, I garner that this is not the end of life as I know it. Instead, a gigantic balloon has absconded with someone’s six-year-old child. What an adventure! How very James and the Giant Peach of this boy!
The coffee shop waits in silence as the silver object zooms across a blue sky and eventually lands in a dusty field. He has been in flight for over an hour and the CNN talking heads are unsure that the boy will still be in there. I am still confused as to the construction of this balloon and whether he could have even survived at the altitudes he reached.
As the dust settles, a man runs at the crumpling object, kicking up dirt like it were piles of snow. More men run forward, deflating the balloon to find the child. We stand around waiting for something to appear, but it never does. There is no happy end to this story, at least not yet. But when the newscaster announces that the father was a retired weatherman and this family was on Wife Swap I couldn’t help but laugh just a little bit. I mean, come on.