High-Rise

Recently we had a fire in the building and had to leave the building for an evening. I wrote this out by hand in an exercise to remind me why handwriting is a practice that deserves to go extinct. One reason is that I tossed the notebook I wrote it in away from the baby who is now most interested in putting all of the paper in his mouth. It took several days before I found it deep beneath the couch… the notebook, not the baby. Throughout the ordeal, our dude had a fun time including a session where he tried to get his mom’s nose completely in his mouth. He succeeded despite mom's objections.

*****

Last night we were having a Chopped-style dinner using what we have in the fridge to make something new, maybe not a real dish with a scientific name. I was interested in using up a jar of artichokes that found themselves mixed with shredded cheddar, Asiago, mayo, sour cream, garlic, black olives and pepperchinis in a baking dish. I cooked. Up a package of gardein scalloping s and cut them into strips before adding them into the baking dish with a dash of hot sauce to bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Trust me, this is one of the more thrown together recipes in our apartment.

This was to be our first evening with the whole family after five straight overnight shifts and three nights away apartment hunting for my wife. Nights of work, days of sleep, then a long weekend in Sacramento were somewhat stressful. We had to make sure the fridge was adequately stocked of milk for the baby boy, manage naps and activities for him, make sure we had a place to live before July starts, pack up frozen milk in dry-ice to ship to California to be stored with family, deal with car problems, car shopping, hot and humid weather, large thunderstorms and not quite enough sleep for any parents.

I have to admit that solo parenting for four days and three nights wasn’t so bad. I watched a few baseball movies for the June Movie of the Month, the kid with the big ears and I went for walks three times a day, he got a ton of playtime and there was more than enough milk stashed for him to be well fed without mom in town. It certainly helped that I was aware that I would get reinforcements when his mommy got home. When he gets into his worst cries while my wife is home he will clearly let out a “mmmmommaah!” He knows where the best cuddles come from. He knows dad will let him play in his bouncer until he falls asleep standing up. It isn’t purposeful by either he or I to let that happen, just a happy accident before moving him to a better place to sleep… or take a picture to send to mom so that she gets a laugh at work.

We ate our cheese baked artichoke dish with crackers, watched Chopped for the first time in a couple of months and noticed a storm in the distance through our 17th floor looking west of Minneapolis over the Basilica. Our little guy was sitting in his playpen/travel crib playing with balls… his plastic balls… although he has started to notice things when he’s bathing or being changed. The storm seemed to be in the distance aside from a little light racing and quiet flashes of lightning.

We had just finished our dinner and relaxing before doing dishes that the lights flickered, then dimmed, flickered again, then went out. The sun hadn’t gone down yet. I knew it was just before 7pm as I was considering investigating the apartment building’s movie night on the fourth floor with the Little Chef. The monthly newsletter advertised a showing of Coco, but the fliers in the elevator skipped this week in announcements. I checked the fuse box to see if the power outage was just in our unit. The next course of action was to wait for the power to just pop back on or to listen for an announcement through the fire alarm system, although that capability might have been from our last apartment complex in a totally different state. In the meantime, I scooped up some kitty litter and took it to the chute in the hall. As I walked by the elevator lobby I noticed the door had closed as the power went out and a couple came out of their unit to head to the stairs. They turned around and I overheard them mentioning a smell in the stairwell. I opened the door to the elevator lobby to see if there was any power in there. I was hit by a Smokey smell and the sound of a chirping fire alarm from another floor and the sound of falling water in the elevator shaft. Back in the hallway, that couple was back in the hallway and let me know that they could see several fire trucks from their windows.

I don’t recall what I said when I came back to the apartment. Whatever I said, it conveyed a good evaluation of the situation from our perch with something like “we have to go downstairs now. Can you get the baby in the Ergobaby carrier and I’ll gather the cats.” My wife mentioned that I was pretty calm while saying that we had to evacuate, so I must have been pretty persuasive that we were going to leave right away, because there was zero delay in getting everyone out of the apartment.

Our last apartment complex was in Phoenix and our building’s fire alarm would go off every time it rained. We were only on the second floor and the little one was not around yet, so it was as though we were getting evacuation practice without having to deal with 100% of the challenges we would face. We would face one of the biggest x-factors in our family’s evacuations in the gathering of the cats into cat carriers. Fran must be captured first. In every other situation in her life she is the most cool headed cat I have ever encountered. She doesn’t flinch when she is getting shots at the vet, but if she knows that she is going to be placed into her carrier, she will try to hide in the least accessible part of the apartment. This earns her the first ticket for being captured. She saw the carriers coming down from their shelf and made a run for it. She was heading for the bed to scurry underneath and I was right behind her in cloud of cursing. Then, she did a curious thing. She turned around and skittered past me back to the living room. It wasn’t hard to pick her up and put her in the carrier due to this serious feline flub. The other cat, Mohan, did make a run for under the bed when he saw it was his time to be chased, but he had to slow up to crawl under. This gave me a chance to pull him out as he was only a third the way under the bed with a sniff of freedom being snatched away.

We had our two cats in two carriers, one baby in an Ergobaby (he did not try to make a run for it), diaper bag, pumping bag, a small box of personal belongings and a mom and a dad. We practically had the “wife and a kid and a dog and a cat,” from All the President’s Men. For some reason, we went to the stairs at the opposite end of the all rather than the stairwell situated right next to our door. I think I didn’t notice the closer stairway due to tunnel vision for the plan I had in my head of our way down. Luckily, this was not a bad decision, we didn’t have smoke in our hallway causing a danger that would require a closer exit. Another person from our floor came down the stairs with us and it was reassuring to make the journey down with others.

I don’t know if the little guy noticed much of the journey down other than the fact that his mom was talking to him while he got to cuddle her as she walked. Poor Fran happened to be in the one hand that moved around more as I moved her carrier around the corners of the stairwell. She let it be known in her meows and by moving around that she did not appreciate any of it. Our other cat had a smoother, quieter ride. He did not rub it in to his cat girlfriend.

By the eighth floor we could smell the smoke as the alarms got louder. Around the the fifth or sixth floor there were hoses on the stairs. One firefighter went through a door for one of these floors and another came out. Both men were earring respirators and when the door opened I could feel a little heat on my arm and saw a light in the corner of my eye. Water flowed down the stair as we reached the lower floors. My wife asked a firefighter that followed us down the stairs how things were going. “It’s bad,” he said.

It was lightly raining when we made it outside and there was a good number of people milling around the sidewalk watching the fire trucks and ambulances. Someone from another building saw our family with so many cats and such a charming baby that they offered to buzz us into their building to wait things out in their lobby. Over the next couple of hours we watched tenants enter with their dogs, enjoyed the dry comfort of being inside on a couch and gathering info on the fire through the grapevine. My wife ventured out to talk with EMTs she had worked with before where she learned that a power station or some such thing on the fifth floor had a mysterious electrical malfunction resulting in a fire that filled that floor with smoke. It set off the fire alarms on just the surrounding floors but also set off the sprinklers on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors, no doubt ruining all of the belongings for the residents on the fifth and sixth floors and the furnishings of the recently renovated fourth floor. I overheard one man from one of those floors saying that the smoke was so bad that they had to get out of their apartment before they could get to their cat, who hopefully hid from the smoke on the floor but probably ended up soaked and unhappy [note: I later ran into this man as he waited for a remediation specialist and he said that although they had “total destruction” their cat was okay but spooked].

I changed a couple of diapers in the lobby and the little man giggled his butt off through bounces, playing with the one toy that we had grabbed, raspberries through his pacifier, and rolling around with his blanket. A buzz through the grapevine was that residents were going back inside, but on further review, they were just going under the awning as the rain picked up, only to have the fire department move them back away from the building.

I went outside to throw away the Tiny Gentleman’s second dirty diaper to notice everyone coalescing around the front sliding doors for an announcement from management. It would be “five to ten” minutes before power would be back and we could go back inside. However, those on the fifth and sixth floors would not be allowed to stay in their homes that night. We moved our things to be closer to the entrance to wait for the reopening of the building.

That “five to ten minute” wait went on for more than an hour after that meeting and The Stinker got the chance to meet so many new people and other cats in their carriers. We didn’t know anyone in our building before yesterday and it turns out that a good fire is an excellent way to meet your neighbors. If you’re new in town one could start a mysterious fire and strike up conversations about how hard it was to get the blaze going that you can all laugh about when you get out of prison in ten to fifteen years. You’ll be the talk of the town.

I titled this post “High-Rise” after a Tom Hiddleston movie about an apartment building that falls into disarray and anarchy sourced from an argument over the use of the community pool. It’s not the movie for everyone and certainly not for big-eyed babies, but that’s what I was reminded when a representative of the management office announced that there wouldn’t be elevator service overnight (or today), the power would be out at least 24 hours and those who live below the seventh floor would not be allowed to stay the night due to water damage. When the representative finished speaking I started walking away to tell my wife and some of the other people around where we were sitting near the parking garage what had been said. Suddenly a roar of cries called out “how can you do this to us!?!” And various other means of letting out indignation. I could tell what group of people those comments came from without looking. It was a group of twenty-somethings that had camped out as close to the doors as possible and were last seen over the weekend sunbathing on the deck while I took the baby on walks. They gave off a real “pool party revolt” vibe at the announcement, but luckily they were as easily distracted as the emptiness in their eyes conveyed that they disappeared wandering off into the night, I assume.

Meanwhile, we had a real decision to make with the family. We needed to figure where we would spend the night. Baby’s car seat was 17 floors up and downtown hotels in walking distance were doubtful to take cats. There would have to be a trek up the stairs no matter what. It was starting to get late and my wife had to be at work at 7am the next day and also needed her laptop to write a couple of presentations for the end of the week. Without power, it is still our home and we still had so many things that were in the apartment that we needed to have access to and it would be our first night back together as a family in over a week.

Gathering our cat carriers, bags and baby filled ergobaby and headed up the stairs. A group of residents came in through the lobby and headed up the stairs as we were talking to someone from management who was considering moving some power around to give us a single elevator ride before realizing the liability of it. We hurried behind the group so that we wouldn’t be trekking up by ourselves, marooned on the stairs and exhausted. I had a cat carrier in each hand, my wife had the pump on her shoulder strap plus the baby and around the 4th floor a young maintenance guy offered to take the pump and a cat. Well, he said he would take both cats but I couldn’t let this dude leave me in the dust and not have an excuse that I was carrying the heavier cat. He powered all the way up without breaks as our lungs scorched on the way up.

In 2009 I was volunteering with a law firm before law school and on one trip to the clerk’s office I decided that while dropping off a form that I would take the stairs to the eighth floor. I thought I was going to die as a twenty six year old sweaty mess on the stairs. Somehow nine years later, I was able to make it up 17 flights with my wife and baby with minimal rest along the way. It was around the 15th floor that my legs became heavy and slow, but not so slow that they had to stop and I kept moving for the last few flights. I was surprised how soon after I made it that my wife and her 17 pound living exercise weight strapped to her chest had made it home.

It was dark in the apartment at first, but we are a prepared family. Three years ago, before baby, we went to Nepal for a month. This was the year that they had suffered their disastrous earthquakes and we had purchased a lot of battery powered and crank powered lanterns for fear of aftershocks that could knock out power. We also have battery powered entertainment (portable DVD player, ipad, iPod classics)) and several capacitors to charade everything many times over. The lanterns were a success here to give just enough illumination to have no problem getting around the apartment and even take showers without stumbling. Opening the shades added more light from the city outside and also provided a great view of the night.

It’s almost a full day after the fire and the power is still out, but our management of the freezers and fridges and bottles and pumping has kept the little guy’s milk stash in good shape. A little speaker and the iPod have given us music to play all day. My wife successfully made it down the stairs to get to work although I understand her calves have been burning all day. The DVD player has allowed me to watch Ken Burns Baseball during naps. Speaking of those naps, the Smallest All-Star (still smaller than Jose Altuve) has played so hard that he has twice fallen asleep standing up in his bouncer. When I briefly wake him lifting him to a more suitable nap position and location, he just tries to keep bouncing while half-asleep. The weather has been cool enough that we haven’t suffered without AC while marooned up here and we just might make it until my wife reprieves us again.

Holy shit, the power just came back on 23 hours later! And the baby screeched with joy.

*****

In the end, no one in the building was injured, we were able to keep all of the baby’s milk cold. All of his toys were able to be played with during the power outage, and I was able to charge our capacitor battery packs in the hallway that was running on the generator. I was able to stay well fed, hydrated and happy and the baby didn’t know any different. The elevators started working just before my wife came home and she didn’t need to walk up the stairs to get back home. The apartment complex handed out free pizza and sodas in the lobby, the common area will re-open at the end of the month but the email updates to the residents only mentioned an electrical problem and power outage, not a fire. Things are getting back to normal for most people, although it will still be quite some time before the people on the fifth and sixth floors are back to their everyday lives.

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