Tag Archives: Coincidence

Junk Drawer

Since my Johnny Angel post, I’m more aware of things that are presaged or connected in some way to other things. Or could it be they’re happening more often?

There’s a drawer in the kitchen that holds various items, like tape, rulers, pens, pins, picture hooks, sticky notes, pliers, tape measures, screw drivers, etc. A couple of days ago I was in it because I needed a paperclip that I was going to straighten and use its tip as a probe to clean some built-up minerals from one of the drip holes in the coffee maker.

As I rummaged, I came across a box of staples, which I picked up and examined. The box was almost full. It’s there to supply the stapler that’s on the small counter above the drawer. I returned the box to the clutter, found a paperclip and went to work on the coffee maker. As it turned out, what I thought was blockage was just the reflection off a water droplet.

I walked upstairs to my office and started doing some work, which involves reading and writing emails. I still print out some of this correspondence, and occasionally staple related items together. I inserted a couple of papers into my Swingline stapler and gave it the light punch that’s necessary to seat a staple.  When I withdrew the paper, however, I didn’t see a staple in the upper left-hand corner. I was not overly surprised, as a staple is a pretty small thing. Maybe my eyesight was at a point where I just wasn’t able to see it.

But that was not the reason. I didn’t see it because it was not there. I had run out of staples — no more than an hour after handling the box from the junk drawer.

This is not the kind of coincidence that elicits cries of, “No way,” or “Hey, Martha, you’re not going to believe this!” For those, the tying together of incidents has to bridge greater degrees of separation.

Still, the events are more than casually connected because they happened in close chronological proximity. To illustrate the value of time to coincidence, imagine I go to the refrigerator and have an apple and a month later I read a report that refrigerated apples are not as good as ones left at room temperature. Chances are, I wouldn’t even make a connection between the two events. If, however, I see the same report while eating that apple, now it’s noteworthy, yes?

Skirting a cairn of cat turd

Yesterday morning I was reading a book review in the New York Times on my Kindle. The book was “Orfeo,” which was written by Richard Powers and reviewed by Jim Holt. In the course of the review, the following quote was called out: “skirting a cairn of cat turd.” The great thing about Kindles is that when you come to a word you don’t know, you can look it up by just highlighting it. I didn’t know what the word “cairn” meant, and went to it’s definition.

carirn

It’s a pile of rocks

The definition is: “n. A mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline.” Okay, so I learned a new word, but I also noted that — uncharacteristically — the Oxford Dictionary of English did not include the pronunciation. I briefly held this thought: “It would be nice to know how to say it.”

I hit the screen to make the definition go away and continued reading from where I left off. The review continued as follows: ” — the full horror of which is apparent only if you realize that cairn is pronounced kern.”

Mmm. Do you think that’s a little stranger? I think it is, but I know a cynic would say that because of the great, untapped powers of the human mind, I had somehow “read” those words without being consciously aware that I had, and that is why I thought about it’s pronunciation. Maybe, but if I saw it on a subliminal level, then I would have known how to say it, so I hereby reject that possibility, especially since it is improvable either way.

What does it mean?

Whenever I think of this question, I’m reminded of the Underground comic by R. Crumb: Mr. Natural. In it, someone asks the bearded wise man what “it” all means, and he says that it doesn’t mean shit. Since this sardonic and cynical observation can be made about almost anything, it’s best not to give it too much weight, lest it drain life of all its joys.

So maybe in isolation these little things don’t mean you-know-what, but when taken together, I see them as evidence that something unseen is at work, and there exists connections and associations between events and people that no one understands.

Maybe that’s another way of saying they don’t mean shit, but I hope not.

Everything Reminds me of something else

When I was growing up on Long Island, occasionally I would take the Long Island Railroad to New York City. The train ride took us through Brooklyn and Queens, which were once huge manufacturing centers.

One of the building we passed was the Swingline Stapler Company, which had a gigantic neon sign with a stapler where the neon was rigged to make the stapler look like it was opening and closing. I was fascinated by this sign, and if you like such things, there’s a cool website called New York Neon, that catalogs it and other such signs.

Swingline NYT ArticleAnyone who traveled between Long Island and New York saw the sign many, many times, but it doesn’t seem like they took a lot of pictures. The only depiction of it that I could find was this old newspaper article from the New York Neon Website. The sign was put up in 1952, the year I was born. I mention this as an example of a low  grade coincidence that I would have remained unaware of hadn’t I started this article. While the two incidents have a small, imprecise measure of chronological proximity, there is nothing more that connects them. While I was fascinated by the sign, so too were millions of other people. If my research uncovered that the sign was formally dedicated on my birthday, or that my uncle helped build it, I’d feel differently (and curious about when it would be decommissioned).

vintage stapler

I remember the color of these

I was familiar with their product because every teacher in our school had one on their desk, which in my easy-to-impress view, were really rather remarkable pieces of equipment. I suppose that if you took care of a stapler, it would probably perform its function forever — as long as you could keep getting the right sized staplers.

For a while, the sign’s superstructure on top of the building was changed to advertise a bank. In 1999, ACCO Brands (the company that owns Swingline) decided to stop making staplers in Long Island City (and move production to Mexico). In preparation for the shutdown, the superstructure was dismantled.

Between 2002 and 2005, the factory housed the Museum of Modern Art, whose normal home in Manhattan was being renovated. After MOMA moved out, it was reported that the building’s new owners were successful in finding new tenants.

Johnny Angel

jacketsOn New Years Day I was watching the annual Twilight Zone Marathon and getting a familiar and increasingly uncomfortable feeling that I had never seen some of the episodes. After watching the show for — God, I hate to say this — nearly fifty years, shouldn’t I by now have seen every one? Well, I haven’t, and am starting to think that maybe this would make for a pretty good Twilight Zone premise. Something like:

Aging guy watches old TV show marathon and tries to convince others that someone’s inserting new, never-before-seen episodes, but can’t because everyone believes he is a doddering old fool who is losing his marbles and is no longer able to remember what he has seen in the past.

One came on that I remember, and it’s called “Black Leather Jackets,” with Shelley Fabares, who falls in love with a guy who turns out to be from outer space. Anyway —  and it’s what happens whenever I am reminded of or see Shelley Fabares — I began singing one of my favorite songs (really), “Johnny Angel.”

For those that don’t know anything about Shelley Fabares, when she was a teenager she was on the Donna Reed television show, playing an all American girl named Mary Stone, who was popular, extremely cute, nice to everyone, and owner of many American teenage boy’s hearts, including mine.

It ran from 1958 — 1966 and was set in a bucolic small town somewhere in America, where her father was a doctor who practiced out of his home, which in those days was pretty common. Donna Reed was her stay-at-home mom before there existed a need for such a term.

She was as perfect as her daughter — perhaps even more so now that I think about it. Involved with the school and community, Donna effortlessly fixed everything that wasn’t quite right. The family was kept running smoothly, all while Mrs. Stone looked very good in poufy party dresses, high heels and pearls. Did I mention she also did her own housework? She did.

William Roberts was the show’s producer and decided it would be good for the show, and Shelley, too, to become a popular singer. Thus, Johnny Angel was born in 1962. The record sold over a million copies and was number one for awhile, which indeed made Shelley Fabares a pop sensation. Here are some lyrics:

Johnny Angel, how I want him, how I tingle when he passes by

Every time he says hello my heart begins to fly

I’m in heaven, I get carried away

I dream of him and me, and how it’s gonna be

Other fellas call me out for a date, but I just sit and wait, I’d rather concentrate, on Johnny Angel…

Okay, there is something a little untoward about a grown man singing these words — in more ways than one I imagine — but exposing one of my harmless eccentricities for ridicule isn’t why I mention it. It’s what happened afterwards.

Minutes after seeing Shelley and launching into a Bill Murrayesque rendition of the song, I went to Walgreens for a few things. When I walked into the store, what do you suppose was playing over the store’s PA? If you guessed Shelley Fabares singing Johnny Angel, you guessed right!

Anyone would have to admit that this is really strange and well beyond the boundaries of normal coincidence — but it gets weirder. I left Walgreens and drove to Burger King and was listening to Cousin Brucie (who in the sixties was a big DJ in NY, and for a time considered to be very cool, something I’m still trying to figure out). Without changing his schtick, he has managed to land a show on satellite radio that centers around music from that time, and it includes interviews with people who were at the top of their game back then.

As I waited in the Drive-thru, he was talking to some guy who reminisced about the people he’d worked with over the years. If you are guessing that this guy said he’d worked with Shelley Fabares and was involved somehow with the recording of Johnny Angel, you are right again!

All of this happened within an hour. What are the odds against that? The connections were made first by cable TV, then me (remembering and singing), then Walgreens’ PA system, and finally Satellite radio. These sounds and images all found their way to one set of eyes and ears within an hour, traversing hundreds of thousands of miles.

When something like this happens, eventually I ask myself: So, what does it mean? I never come up with a good reason, though sometimes I think about buying a lottery ticket. I am pretty sure it means something, and that these odd occurrences stand as evidence for whatever that something is.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Being unable to explain or understand these things is probably what makes them so much fun. These are the real mysteries of our lives, ones where we play a role, ones whose explanations lie somewhere in the cosmos, or heaven, or…who the hell knows.

I have only a few of these (and treasure them), and will blog about them from time to time. In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear of similar instances, so feel free to send them along.

Happy New Year!

Joe

Everything reminds me of something else

Donna Reed and Jimmy StewardDonna Reed was in a movie entitled: It’s a Wonder Life, She plays Mary Hatch and has a scene with Jimmy Stuart (George Baily) that takes place in her mother’s house and is noteworthy for two reasons: First, she is beautifully photographed and is radiant. Second, it’s one of the most excruciatingly sentimental love scenes I’ve seen on film (or anywhere, I guess). It takes place when she is talking on the phone to Sam Wainwright. Pay special attention to how they look at each other, especially when Sam is talking.

 

Happy New Year!