Answer: Because Mick, my chronically sleep-deprived husband, had exploded the microwave with Habanero peppers, filling the apartment with noxious fumes.
Mick loves hot food; craves it and must have it. His idea of heaven is a late-night slice of pizza heaped with Habaneros and slathered with "Harry's Death Sauce of Fire."
He especially loves his peppers dried, so they're crackly, crunchy and paper thin. The better to irritate my nasal passages.
Since the peppers in his latest bag of dried Habs were a little moist, Mick decided to dry them out in our brand-new microwave--which we were forced to buy a few days ago when our not-so-old micro started emitting a strange smell and then gave up the ghost entirely.
Here's how our night of excitement unfolded: The kids were in bed, I was straightening up the living room and Mick was doing his pepper-pizza thing in the kitchen.
My throat started burning a little, but it often does when Mick takes over the kitchen, hotting up one food item or another.
But the throat-burn didn't subside as it usually does. Instead, it intensified.
"Hey!" I called. "What are you doing in there? That's horrendous."
The burning sensation grew hotter; I started coughing.
"Hey! That's really bad, honey. What's going on?" I yelled.
"Nothing," Mick called back. "Just a little fire."
I hurled open the windows and cranked up the a/c. By now, I felt as if someone were poking a lit match down my throat.
I began coughing violently, uncontrollably, my airways feeling like they were about to clamp shut. "Get the kids," I croaked. "I can't breathe. We've got to get out!"
I grabbed Kyle, while Mick shoved open Seth and Jesse's door, and we sort of dragged the kids down the stairs to the front door--me coughing and gagging, the kids staggering and still half-asleep.
Our live-in super, Louie, was at his usual post, hanging out in front of the building with his father, the now-retired Louie Senior. "Is there a fire?" he asked as we emerged from the lobby, gasping.
Since I was coughing so wildly that I couldn't speak, Louie opted for quick action--quite a rare state of affairs for him, I'd like to point out. He raced up the stairs, while the kids and I plopped down outside on the building stoop, trying to compose ourselves.
Actually, the boys were fine; I was the one who was, to put it mildly, a little freaked. Seth leaned his head against my shoulder, trying to get a little shut-eye. Kyle was thrilled that he'd finally have something exciting to write about for his fifth-grade essays. And Jesse? He ran up and down the block, leaping with the sheer joy of being in the middle of a late-night adventure.
Mick came downstairs a few minutes later, sweating and at least reasonably contrite about the fact that he'd nearly sent us all to the emergency room thanks to his peculiar culinary habits.
I wasn't feeling sympathetic.
"Honey," I hissed. "Habaneros in the microwave? What were you thinking?"
"I've done it a bunch of times before," he replied. "But only for 30 seconds. And nothing ever happened. This time I did it for a minute. I wanted to get them really dry."
We agreed that the dried Habanero habit had to be broken immediately. "I'll just sprinkle pepper flakes on from now on--I won't heat them up," Mick said.
Good idea, no?
"Mom," said Jesse, tugging on my arm. "I'm hungry."
"Me too," said Kyle.
I shrugged. The pizza place next door was only a few feet away from our stoop. So at 10:15, there we sat, eating pizza and watching America's Funniest Home Videos.
Then we all went to bed.
And the microwave? Amazingly enough, it survived.