They say that the early bird gets the worm, but nobody ever mentions what follows from that statement: The early worm gets eaten. If I were a worm, I suppose I would be pretty intelligent, because I am never early. And so it happened that I was up very late last night.
Of course, one of the most important parts of staying up late is snacking. Traditional meals were not designed with night owls in mind—three o'clock in the morning can be eight hours after dinner. The trouble is, if you live with other people you can't use the microwave at three o'clock. Doing so leads to some pretty grumpy housemates (if your family's normal), or to almost getting shot by a paranoid gun freak (if your family's from Texas). The oven has the same limitations as the microwave. That leaves you with only two options: 1) Eat cold, packaged junk food, or 2) eat ice cream. I always choose the latter.
At three o'clock last night I was creeping up the stairs, trying to remember which one creaked. I decided it was the third, and stepped over it onto the fourth. I was wrong—the fourth one creaked. I stopped cold for a minute, listening to crickets chirping and hoping the gun freak hadn't heard anything. Apparently he hadn't, so I finished my ascent and shuffled toward the freezer. There were twenty feet between me and it and only a few obstacles in the dark, which I could generally remember and avoid. The red chair was to my left, so I sidestepped it. The table had been moved that afternoon, so I spotted it with my hand as I got near. But there were also a few obstacles that I wasn't aware of. A plastic grocery bag—those things were designed to be noisy. And, horror, an audible toy.
If you have ever lived with kids, you know what kind of toy I mean. It could be a a firetruck, a doll, a stuffed animal, or anything. What makes it horrible is it's unpredictability. When you bump the firetruck, step on the doll, or kick the stuffed animal, they all break into a thunderous, ear-splitting jangle of some kind, whether a song, a siren, a roaring noise, or a recorded speech just for kids. And no matter how gingerly you step, how sharply you watch your feet, you will trigger it. When the audible toy begins to speak, it usually goes on for ten or twenty seconds, and there's no earthly way to stop it. If you try to press the button or tweak the limb that will silence the noise, you will invariably invoke another twenty seconds of torture. Once it starts, there is nothing to do but stand deathly still and let the beast have it's way. And hope that it doesn't wake up the gun freak.
I hit one of those toys on my way to the freezer, but it fortunately had a short and muffled sound—a few gruff lines of dialog in a deep male Bronx accent. Thanking my stars, I edged over to the door, opened it, grabbed a spoon, and began to stealthily scoop the leftover ice cream out of a little paper bucket. It was a sticky job, and each bump in the night made me jump in apprehension that I'd be caught red-handed by someone who was saving the ice cream for another time.
In the mean time, unknown to me, a conversation was taking place. It went something like this:
A: Psst. Honey. Do you hear a noise?
B: No, you're hearing things. It's three in the morning. Go back to sleep.
A: There it is again. I think you should go check it out.
B: It's nothing. Maybe someone got up to go to the bathroom.
A: That's not what I heard. It sounded like someone talking.
A: There! Do you hear it?
B: You're right! What could it be? By gosh, if someone's in my house...
A: Just check it out. It might be nothing.
B: I think I'll take the Colt.
This last proposal suited both parties—to A it made things seem safer, and to B it made things seem more adventurous.
After a couple of minutes of industrious scooping, I filled my bowl. I picked it up, closed the fridge, and turned around to wend my way through the obstacle course again. As I turned, I found myself staring into a Colt .45. My hands found my head. The ice cream found my toes. And the gun freak spluttered in embarrassment.
The result, of course, was a shameful wast of ice cream. And on top of that, I had to clean up the mess. After all, I was not the one with the gun.