You know that fake sound people in movies make when they are really shocked by something. It's a sound you can only make inhaling; no amount of trying will recreate the sound pushing air out. As if you have been punched in the stomach, gasping for air to refill your lungs. The sound is guttural. Primeval.
I always thought that sound was absurd. Like so much in the movies, it struck me as something that did not exist in the wild. It was a chicken hit (that's the sound in movies allegedly made when a fist hits human flesh -- in reality it is the sound made when a fist hits a Purdue chicken) or a whirring light saber or a screeching dinosaur. It was fiction.
How wrong I was.
The shocked gasp does exist in the real world. But it is reserved for only the very most shocking moments in one's life. It is reserved for that second in time when you are walking along, not a care in the world, and suddenly your peaceful bliss is shattered. Like a punch in the gut, you recoil, sucking in as much air as possible in hopes of regaining equilibrium.
Just yesterday I made that sound. Not for show. Not for laughs. For real.
Two nights ago, Pamela, the kids and I flew to Boston on the redeye from the Bay Area. The problem with the redeye is twofold. First, the seats are not designed for sleeping. They are designed for sitting. They are seats. Not beds. Second, even if they were beds, they are beds that are only in the air for 5 hours. If you deduct the taking off time and the landing time ("Ladies and Gentlemen, we're preparing for our final approach to Boston, so please put your seats and tray tables in the full upright and locked positions" is the redeye equivalent of "Wake up!"), you are left with maybe 4 and 1/2 hours of sleep. Maybe.
But we survived. Landed in Boston. Made it to my parents' house, and attempted to groggily march our way through the day without prematurely falling asleep. Some of us did better at this than others. By the time we headed out for dinner, I had one zombie-like crew. But I thought I was immune. I've pulled so many all-nighters over the last decade, four hours of restive slumber smacks of beauty rest to me.
We made our way to our standard family pizza joint. The traffic was pretty monumental and, to my great dismay, all of my best short cuts were cut short by construction, fences, more traffic. Seriously frustrating. Add on top of that Boston drivers and by the time I got to the pizzeria, I was pretty burnt. I dropped Pamela and the kids at the door but kept a sleeping four year old in the rental minivan with me.
As I headed for the restaurant's parking lot, I was treated to a demonstration of some of the most aggressive and most inconsiderate driving I've ever witnessed. Had I merely been cut off a time or two, I'm sure I would have been unfazed. But these particular drivers broke the laws in mind-bogglingly creative ways. Who knew it was even possible to make a left hand turn from the right lane with oncoming traffic not just heading for the intersection but already in it? I was equally impressed with the percussive use of the horn -- it takes years of training to accent traffic noise so subtley with long and short horn burst. I probably should have paid closer attention. He may well have been trying to send me a message in morse code (although, I fear the message would likely have been something to the effect of "move your ass, slowpoke").
The rain poured down on me as I searched around for a spot. This parking lot was ruled by the same sort of anarchy that reigns on the Boston roads. The lot was a tricky combination of potholes and cars parked in spots that aren't spots. And each time I entertained the possibility of squeezing myself into an unspot, someone would swoop in and take it. After a lifetime of circling, I found a spot surrounded by a moat and parked. Jumping from the rental van to the other side of the ravine, I exhaled a breath of relief that I had lived to tell the tale of the parking lot.
I ran across the road dodging cars adorned with Red Sox memorabilia and giant raindrops. Triumphantly, I swung open the door of the restaurant and entered. The crew had not waited for me to be seated, so I began scouring the restaurant for my family. Having failed to spot them in my first go around, I took two more steps into the room and scanned the booths once again. Halfway across the room I saw the first Hornik -- my wife sat at the head of the table. I smiled and continued to look across the table. My son. My daughter. A moment of realization. And then the sound.
Half gasp. Half choke. The sound was loud enough to catch my wife's attention a hundred feet across the restaurant. She gave me a curious look as if to say "what in the world are you up to" and then . . . .
I have no idea what my wife did next because I was too busy running as fast as I possibly could to retrieve my sleeping child from the parked minivan. I pulled a couple of those OJ-Simpson-running-through-the-airport moves to bound through traffic and back across the roadway. I careened over the moat, simultaneously unlocking the minivan door with my key fob. I frantically thrust open the door and prepared myself to fend off the kidnapper who had undoubtedly discovered my son in the many many tens of seconds I had been gone. And there he was . . . my four year old sleeping soundly. Next time we're skipping the redeye.