"Dude, I have an extra Smashing Pumpkins ticket. Wanna go?"
The young man before me with the deep voice and a dirtstache had seemingly moments before been my little cousin Anthony. The guy is 10 years younger than me and while I had never disliked him, we really hadn't had much in common until our mutual love for music brought us closer. By 1994, Anthony was toast and Tony was entering the scene as a gifted teenage musician. What the hell, I'll give this kid my extra ticket.
Our evening's entertainment was to be Smashing Pumpkins performing it's Siamese Dream Tour at the Breslin Center of Michigan State. The hottest ticket in town, I had offered it to my younger cousin and assured his mother that I was no longer a raging madman, but a responsible and sedate 24 year old. She laughed and gave her blessing. She also conveyed to me with a look the untold horrors that awaited me were I to bring her baby home in anything but pristine condition.
Breslin Center is the basketball arena for MSU and I believe it seats around 10,000 people. I had seen smaller bands play the arena where they had pulled a curtain at the proximal free throw line and had a few bleacher seats and a curved section comprised of the upper and lower bowls. On this particular evening, someone had decided to place the curtain at the distal baseline of the basketball court, sell all of the bowl seats and enough general admission seats to fill no more than one third of the available floor space. Couple this with the fact that uninterrupted staircases divide each seating section from floor to ceiling, and it was apparent to a veteran concert goer like me that this was a disaster in the making.
Suddenly, the house lights go down, the young crowd screams and the main event takes to the stage amid shrieking guitars, vocals and flashing lights. A number of kids try to run down the stairs onto the main floor. A few are successful while others are chased and tackled by members of the largest security detail I had ever seen at an MSU concert. Occasionally a kid would evade the guards and sprint across the floor and disappear into the back of the writhing crowd to the screaming delight of the poor souls trapped in the upper and lower bowls.
After the Pumpkin's second song I looked at my cousin, who was watching the developing situation like a cat about to pounce on it's first mouse. "Sorry dude, not tonight." I told him. Then I turned to my friend and showed him the look on Tony's face. Johnnie laughed and asked if I was going to let him go play. When I replied to the negative my friend asked,"Would YOU be up here at his age?"
Under the weight of Johnnie's unimpeachable logic I screamed into Tony's ear, "Remember which door we came in? If you get kicked out, meet me there after the show. Be careful, have fun and remember if you get hurt, your mother will f*****g kill me!"
Tony scooted with alacrity across the row to my left until he reached the aisle. It was at this precise moment that my first attempt at responsible mentoring took a critical downward swing.
In my haste to be cool, I had forgotten all of the red flags going off in my head regarding the mismanaged seating arrangements.. As my cousin shuffled sideways toward the aisle, I perceived a vibration which quickly changed to a rumble only to become so loud as to drown out the noise of a rock concert. A quick scan of the venue revealed that the entire upper level of the arena was sprinting en masse down to the main floor. The last I saw of my little cousin was his thigh catching the armrest of the final seat he had to negotiate before heading down the stairs. He stumbled and was immediately swallowed up by the human avalanche.
I watched the wave of adolescents gallop down what seemed like a hundred or more stairs and run head on into security guards who's hands were outstretched like a drunk woman singing Diana Ross on karaoke night. They didn't even have time to bend down and kiss their own rears goodbye. The kids went through those poor workers as if they were made of vapor.
Moments later, numerous flashlights indicated that someone at the base of Tony's staircase had been seriously injured. 18 years later, I feel the guilt which eluded me that fateful evening as I noticed the lemon yellow shirt of a security guard was being hefted away strapped to a backboard. My cousin must have survived the melee.
I remember little of the concert after that point. The Pumpkins played their set, requisite encore and left the stage. Through it all my eyes constantly swept the crowd, looking for my charge in a sea of manic humanity. Upon walking out of the exit doors, my heart lifted when I saw Tony standing there dutifully. I listened in numb relief as he gleefully recanted the adventure of sprinting onto the floor and crowd surfing.
A recent post on Twitter in regards to the Smashing Pumpkins led me to this trip down memory lane. Given the title of this post, I'll briefly segue my time as a pretend parent to one terrible moment as the giver of someones life.
In the winter of 2003, my wife and I finally decided that our kids at the age of 4 were old enough to go sledding at a local hill. She stayed down at the bottom of while I walked up with the children. When we had risen a sufficient distance about two thirds of the way up, I turned around, loaded my son and pushed him head first down the hill. Once again, time stopped playing as a motion picture in my mind and became a series of vivid snapshots each with it's own searing caption.
Just as with my cousin in 1994, a complete lack of situational awareness underscored by my desire to make someone happy had led me to make a critical lapse in judgement. As my little dude slid away squealing, "Whee daddy wheeeeee", I noticed a few things. First, the snow was actually very icy and slick. Second, my boy was gaining speed at an alarming rate. Lastly, he was heading straight for a tree at the bottom of the hill.
As the thought, "I just killed my son" raced through my mind, I felt the same hopeless, impotent feeling from the concert amplified tenfold. The sound of my words, "No No No No No" barely audible in my ears, I braced for the moment of impact. The sum total of my parenting, nurturing and protecting of that child now lay in the hands of The Almighty. I was through having a bit of influence over whether my boy lived or died. May no other parent experience such a feeling.
Little dude caught just enough of a lip at the last possible moment to veer him to the right where he rocketed past the tree. He then hit a patch of sun thawed, drenched leaves that immediately stopped his sled, causing him to launch face first into a mud puddle. My laughter must have seemed inappropriate in contrast to the oohs and ahhs of the other parents on the hill. I scooped up my little princess and met my equally panicked wife at the scene of a most narrowly averted tragedy. As much as happy endings preceded by suspenseful tales rub me the wrong way, I am glad to report that on this day in 2012, I just tucked my 12 year old children into bed for the evening.
I recently tweeted that wisdom is the net difference of subtracting reality from idealism. The point being that we have experienced enough in this world by the time our children are born that spotting danger and the corresponding path of evasion should be instinctual. Parents owe it to their brood to consider all possible scenarios before granting permission for the sake of being well liked.