Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Of Fire Alarms and Stolen Bags

Remember a few months ago when I thought I broke my brain? Can it happen twice? All these stories about being stressed out makes me think maybe I'm just no good at handling stress. No, no - really, don't all object at once... ;).

This weekend was a genealogy conference at our church, which I was in charge of organizing. The term "organized" is open to interpretation and as far as being in charge of anything, let's just say the people around me learned a great deal of patience this weekend! On Friday evening, Noah and I met several others at the church building in order to set up for Saturday's conference.

By this point in the week, I was basically running on fumes. Work this week was all at once invigorating (my FIRST article in the New York Times!!), exhausting (last-minute show-us-what-you-can-do project from a major national client) and terrifying (a new client prospect who asked me point blank if I was qualified at all), and I would have been thrilled to spend the weekend in pjs reading a book on the couch. But duty calls - and by approx. 9:30 Friday evening and a full-on sprint to Staples to get my photocopies before they closed, the church was nearly ready for go-time. As a last-minute detail I hauled the vacuum down to the lobby wanting to make the foyer as presentable as possible for the next day's guests. Ah, famous "one last {insert};" isn't that always when the fun starts... or someone breaks an arm?

The lobby opens by two separate sets of doors to a busy street corner, so I asked Noah to stand in the foyer with me just in case anyone knocked or approached. At times, it's been a bumpy road for our church in the community, and the church building has been vandalized/robbed in the past.

Well, I really set myself up for this one, and in a brief moment of Noah being distracted by a phone call, a woman knocked on the door. I opened it just a crack and asked if I could help her. She seemed a little annoyed and said she was meeting Sister Brown (in our church, we refer to one another as "brother" and "sister"). Split-second decisions are not my forte, because as I weighed the options - "not sure I feel entirely comfortable letting her in..." versus "yeah, but I don't really know the members of the other ward, and there are a few people up there, what if I seem really harsh and judgmental by not believing her?" - she brushed by me and headed through the foyer to a second foyer and the elevator. Just then, a gentleman from the other ward came into the foyer and asked if I knew the woman I'd just let in. Immediately I felt a pit in my stomach and foolish for not being more careful or cautious. He headed up to the second floor to see if he could ask her more questions while Noah and I waited by the stairs in case she came back down.

She came back down a few minutes later, at which point I told her I was pretty sure everyone had left for the evening and requested that she leave. She headed back toward the elevator, this time seeming very threatened and unstable - yelling at me not to follow her and rambling incoherently about a number of topics. The elevator door shut and my anxiety began to boil.

Moments later, the fire alarm began to shriek. Each ear-piercing tone threatening to set me over the edge. I did what anyone would do when an alarm goes off - I started wrapping up the cord to the vacuum - needing to channel my stress into accomplishing something, anything. The men helping set up the tech needs on the second floor rushed down, demanding to know what triggered the alarm – smoke? Fire? And then of course, there’s the little kid with a bouquet of 9-10 balloons who came hustling past. The whole scene was a bit of a blur – too many stimuli for my little head to soak in.

In the madness, the woman descended the stairs a second time and shoved past me in the narrow hallway leading to the front foyer. I’d lost my patience and finally told her, “ma’am – I really need you to leave.” She yelled something back as she pushed open the door just as I realized she was carrying my bag! No big deal, just the bag with my laptop, credit cards (both), checkbook (when do I ever carry this much stuff?), cell phone, keys. I panicked realizing if I recognized the bag she was carrying, what else might she have in her pockets that belonged to someone else? I begged Noah to help me confront her about it, which set off a blue streak I haven’t heard in a long time (from the woman, not Noah…). The words you hate to overhear on a subway platform or street corner, let alone when they’re being hurled at you intentionally. Her coat fell open enough for Noah to determine she didn’t have much else in her possession, so he corralled her toward the door until she was finally on the opposite side of the double paned glass.
I needed to escape the scene, so I gathered the vacuum and hauled it back upstairs to the custodial closet. As I came back and rounded the hallway, I came upon the second story foyer (whole lotta foyers in this story…) and couch where my things had been. My running shoes were dumped from the bag they’d been in, my makeup bag was apart from the crowd, a general feeling of gone through-ness hung above my stuff. It was then that I glanced out the second story window and saw the fire engines responding to the alarm.

And that’s when I started to bawl.

You have a very limited window to make an impression around new crowds. And now I'm afraid I might have earned the "crazy emotional lady" title around church. :)

11 comments:

Drae said...

Oh, Allison!! I'm so sorry it was such a difficult time. I'm sure you'll recover from the crazy emotional title in no time. I'm sure no one even thinks that anyway. This is definitely one of those "Only in New Yory City" moments. Who wouldn't think their bag would be safe in the church? Anyway, I want to know what happened with Noah and that lady. Did you get all of your stuff back? Did Noah have to round house kick the lady to the ground? I hope your week is going better!!

Jed said...

Sorry to hear about your episode! I hope you were able to get them back. Also... I believe your post is missing a link to your New York Times article! :)

Hilarye said...

Oh. My. Gosh. Are you kidding me???? Please tell me this is an elaborate April Fools Day joke!!!! Did you get your bag back?????

Melissa said...

What a story!! Freaky, terrifying, and yet somehow funny at the same time. I too am dying to know the verdict...how did it end? Did you get your bag? Did the fire department sack the lady? And why did the fire alarm go off anyway? Welcome to NYC I guess...only you could come off on top from something like this! :)

Mike and Sarah said...

Oh my goodness! This is like an incredible scence from a movie! New York Times articles AND fires AND robbery. Wow!!

allegra said...

Ugh! I'm so sorry. If this is in fact a real story I want to know the ending. You're leaving me hanging and I'm not happy about it. I'm so sorry!! That sounds stressful. If it's an april fool's joke, than that is the most eloquently written and thought-out joke ever.

Either way, I just had to say props to you. Props for the well written story, and/or props for all you're doing/putting up with in the big city! Just think of all the cool stories you'll be able to look back on in your adventures there...

Ashley said...

Maybe you should move somewhere safe. Somewhere like...Michigan. My stomach still tied up in knots when I read this, even though I know it ended well. I hate to think what that crazed lady could have done. Love you. Miss you. Sorry for playing an April Fools joke on you! You know you still love me.

BRYGER said...

Wow, what an experience!!! SO crazy. I hope your weekend went better, and your week is even better after an event like that.

Kasey

Missy said...

Ooh, that would freak me out! It's sad that there are people out there like that, but I'm glad that everything turned out ok.

The Anderson's said...

ha ha ha.. best story ever! I felt like I was reading a Vince Flynn book. Seriously, I can only imagine the look on your faces.

Nice work in the recovery of the bag. Hope all is well and thanks for sharing such a wonderful experience. You two rule.

Kate said...

Oh man, I'm so so so sorry! However, is it bad that hearing this made me laugh? The vacumm cord, the balloons, old crazy bag lady...still laughing. Sorry!!