Are We There Yet?

One man’s treasure is another man’s tear gas

Lori Clinch

While standing in a storage garage and waiting for a locksmith to figure out the combination on an antique safe that my husband had acquired, I couldn’t help wondering about many things.

First of all, was my new moisturizer living up to its promise? Were my flip-flops causing that pain in my left heel? And most of all, why did I have to be the one to wait in a hothouse of a garage while a locksmith figured out a combination?

Is it just me, or does that sound like more of a man thing to you?

The flies were rampant and my kids were busily clobbering each other when suddenly the locksmith appeared from around the corner and summoned me by name.

“Lori,” he said as handed me a small pan that contained two vials of clear liquid, “this here is yours. You’ll want to be careful with it. You’ll not want to make any sudden or sharp movements and whatever you do don’t drop it until I’m safely out of the area.”

“What is it?” I asked as I looked at the fragile vials that had been placed into my shaking hands.

“That there is a tear gas that was installed in your safe,” he said with an eerie calmness, “and now it’s yours.”

Well now, there you have it – tear gas. If that didn’t just beat all. “What do I do with it?” I asked with fear.

“Beats me,” he responded, and walked away.

Now there are many people in the world who are equipped to handle vials that contain tear gas, and you should know that I am not one of them.

I carefully carried the vials to the car fearing that the slightest movement would cause me hours of immense pain and puffy eyes. While I pondered why it was me who was in this predicament, my boys could not have been happier. “What are we going to do with it, Mom?” asked my Huey, as he ran along side me like a happy puppy.

“Will they explode?” asked Lawrence, as if to say, “We can only hope.” One of the kids wanted to call in the bomb squad, another thought we should dig an underground shelter, and still another thought it would be “totally cool” to throw them up in the air and smack them out of the park with a baseball bat.

I walked up to the window in the police station holding the vials, as if they were an atomic bomb. As I explained the situation to the dispatcher, my boys eagerly looked on and anticipated the hysteria that they thought would quickly ensue.

They were sure that large iron walls would drop all around us, that panic would fill the air and that the dispatcher would break into a run as she screamed, “Head for the hills!”

Yet, instead of summoning NASA, the CIA, the FBI or the Federal Bureau of Tear Gas Invasions, the dispatcher remained calm.

She took our information, made a phone call and simply went back to work. As I stood there with what I thought to be two vials of mass destruction, she answered a call and calmly dispatched those needing dispatching. She then typed up something that may or may not have been a report to submit the tear gas into the archives of stupid things that people walk in with.

“I have a lady here,” she said into the phone when it finally rang, “who has brought in what she believes to be tear gas. Yes,” she repeated, “tear gas.” Then she said something that I couldn’t hear. Although she may have whispered, “Grab your loved ones and run like the wind!” I think she probably said something more along the lines of, “Yeah, she looks like a nut for sure and her kids are looking at me as if I may split the atom any minute.”

She hung up the phone, returned to the window and then said ever so calmly, “Please have a chair and someone will be with you in a moment.”

Although I sat in the chair like the good girl I am, I couldn’t help wondering why desperate situations entertain my children so much. Finally, an officer appeared and much to the children’s dismay, he did NOT bring the SWAT team. Nor had he summoned the bomb squad nor taken the time to don an astronaut suit and was nothing more than a regular old police officer dressed in blue. And he took the tear gas.

“That was a bummer,” Huey said, as we headed back to the car.

“Yeah,” replied Lawrence, “they didn’t freak out or nothing. I was hoping that at least the cop would arrest Mom.”

“Aw man! That would have been so cool!”

Perhaps I should have kept the tear gas and invited a few burglars over to the house to use it on. That would have given the kids the excitement that they crave.

Lori Clinch is the mother of four sons and the author of the book “Are We There Yet?” You can reach her at