Little Terrors Everywhere

This afternoon, at around the same time Times Square was being evacuated due to a bomb scare, I was walking on 10th Street when I heard a loud explosion. It was very startling. There was some commotion and when I came to the corner of 4th Avenue, I saw that a crowd had gathered, 50 or so people staring and aiming camera phones into a fenced-in lot outside the school there. There was a man in the lot wearing plastic goggles and I noticed that above him, on the fire escape of the building, a bunch of kids-fifth graders, maybe-were hanging over the rails, looking down, also wearing plastic goggles. There were bits of clear plastic bottle scattered on the ground.

It was obviously a safe, controlled situation. A science experiment. But people were murmuring as the man took two plastic 2-liter bottles out of a cooler, and using a funnel, poured a smoking liquid out of one into the other. He moved quickly and cautiously, avoiding the smoke, and rushing to screw a top on the second bottle when it was full. That guy’s “gonna blow his face off,” a man next to me said to his girlfriend. The bottle turning white with smoke, the guy ran it gingerly over to a plastic trash can near a small soccer net. He put the bottle on the ground, and put the trash can over it upside down. Then we waited. Nothing happened for a minute or so. The kids made jokes from the fire escape (“Hey, Mr. Davecki, can we hire you for our birthday parties?”) We waited some more and people from the crowd got restless. “It’s not working,” someone shouted. Laughs. “You fail,” someone else shouted, this being in New York. I thought to myself, someone’s going to make a Faisal Shahzad joke. But no one did. Too soon, maybe.

But when that thing blew-Wow! No one was joking. What a boom it made! Yes, like a tire blow-out but louder. Everyone whooped and screamed and the trash can blasted into the air, flying three stories high past the fire escape, before falling more slowly down a little like a parachute. The kids slapped each other five. The crowd applauded. Mr. Davecki went over and picked up the can and held it up to his audience, to show off a baseball-sized hole in the bottom. Hooray! Awesome! Science!

Fifteen minutes later, when I got to my kid’s school to pick him up, one of the other parents waiting there told me the news from Times Square. But it was only water bottles, he said.