Thursday, May 21, 2015

Coincidence


Every once in a while I go autobiographical here. It is so today.

We all experience coincidence. I don’t know why Gibb’ rule number 39 on NCIS is that there is no such thing as a coincidence, because there surely is.  I only lived my life, and I don't know what other people experience, but it seems to me that coincidences happen to me all the time.  Some seeming coincidences are just mathematical, like meeting someone with your birthday. Let’s face it, there are only 366 possibilities (including Feb. 29th every four years), and  a few billion people in the world, so that might mean some 16 million or so people in the world share a birthday with you and about 900,000 in the U.S. alone, though I doubt there is a really an even distribution across months. But, if you meet someone with the same birthday and your same last name, it is either your long lost twin or it is a coincidence. Those odds are really high against.  I'm not sure what the dividing line is, and maybe it is just subjective, but some things just seem fated, though that is a concept in which I do not believe.

This post is just a recollection of some of the strange coincidences that occurred in my life or that of friends of which I'm aware  – that I think mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!  Nevertheless . . . .

The first coincidence that I can recall happening to me was when I was a very young man, I’m going to guess 8 or younger.  I was playing with a friend in the neighborhood who lived a few doors down. Best I can remember we were just following what we called clues on an imaginary treasure hunt of sorts, making it up as we went along and having fun.  Soon, it became a murder mystery (we played a lot of games with death themes, for some reason). Eventually, we settled on a car down the street as the killer. If that makes no sense to you, try to remember we were stupid kids playing a ridiculous game.  It didn’t have to make sense.  One of us – which one is lost to memory - pointed to the car, which somehow was dictated by the clues as the killer, and said “The Butler did it!”  We raced down the street to the Volkswagen Beetle parked on the roadway, a car which I do not recall ever now having seen before or after that day.  It had been far enough away from us that that even sharp-eyed kids could not read the little things written on the back of the car which identified it in various ways.  But, when we got there, we saw in metallic letters somehow diagonally stuck on the rear was the name of what I now suppose was the dealership name, coincidentally being “Butler,” in raised metallic letters.  Yes, to our amazement and delight, the Butler did do it. We laughed till our sides hurt. Okay, it’s a stupid coincidence, but that’s exactly what this post is about. And even at that young age, we knew a coincidence when we saw it.

When I was in high school, I think 12th grade, I went to a concert at Madison Square Garden to see Elton John. I don’t remember how many of us there were, but a bunch of us. One of our friends had asked a girl to accompany him. She was a nice girl far as I knew, though I doubt I ever said one word to her myself. I think she had gone out with him and another one of our friends a few times, but it wasn’t anything “serious” and she really wasn’t in to him as far as I could tell. Anyway, she said no, she couldn’t go to the concert. I believe she told him that some family obligation had come up. Whatever it was, she couldn’t go.  So he went without her.  Wouldn’t you know it, but that girl and her actual date not only came to the concert but sat so close to us in a stadium that held roughly 14,000 people that if she and our friend had reached out towards one another, they could have touched hands. In fact, if he had sat at one end of our group and she had sat at the same end of her group, they would have been sitting next to each other. This was close enough. How’s that for a coincidence? I give my friend credit. He was a pretty tightly wound guy. But, in a few minutes he got over it and had a great time.  I’m not sure she did.  After all, he wasn’t caught in a lie and she was.

Of course, we run into people we know all the time. That’s not a coincidence. It is the timing and circumstances that make it so.

My friend was not the only one to experience something like that. Jump ahead. I’m in law school. I’m dating one of the few girls I ever met in a bar. We had both come out of uncomfortable break ups and agreed it would remain casual, specifically that if anyone wanted to stop, they just had to say so and there would be no fuss.  We had a few fun dates (although I could not remember her name until she happened to mention it while telling a story about herself – phew). Then her brother humiliated her by calling her a slut or something like that in front of the neighborhood after our last date.  So, she told me one day as the reason she didn’t think we should go out that night. And also, her mother was visiting, and she wanted to spend time with her. That sounds understandable, but I didn’t buy it.  I could tell the thing with her brother had bothered her a lot (I would have been proud if someone called me a slut, but I’m a guy – it’s different).  I went out with two school friends to a movie instead.  But, I told them I felt like I was getting dumped, which could  hurt even if you weren’t crazy about someone and it “violated” our “agreement” to just say so if you were done. There was the usual line outside the theatre – this was before the multiplex days where there is room to stand inside – and as we approached, I saw a blonde on the line standing next to a guy, both about my age. It took me a minute or so as we stood right behind them and the recognition came slowly over me. I motioned to my friends to back away while pointing and mouthing “It’s her.  It’s her.” I felt like a criminal for some reason. We got out of there without being seen. Not surprisingly, that was the end of our dating. I put the two weeks to get over it rule into effect (it's my rule and it works - sort of) and moved on. But, the coincidence was amazing.  I mean – she was right in front of me on line. Right in front. We had to pick the same movie, to the same theatre at the same time on the same day we had that conversation.  What are the odds?  

This post wasn’t supposed to be about girls, but now that I’m writing it, sure seems like it. I’m graduated from law school now and at my first job.  I was dating a woman who was a little younger than me, had graduated college and was working at her first job.  We had dated for about a year, give or take a few short breakups.  Near the end, we had a final apparently not so pleasant break up, which I had realized was inevitable with her. I don’t remember why we were breaking up, but for me a year was a long time to date someone and I think we were both sad and relieved saying good-bye for the last time on the phone.  I still knew her brother, whose wife had introduced us, but, I was pretty sure this was it for us. The next day, I went to the city to do something for work.  I was in mid-town on a very crowded sidewalk in morning rush hour. I did know she worked somewhere in the city but had no idea where.  But, of course, it happened. She was walking down the sidewalk in the opposite direction from me with her brother. Her eyes got big as she saw me.  I couldn’t see what I looked like, but I bet my eyes were doing the same thing. She motioned “shhhh” to me so he wouldn’t see. I wasn’t sure why as we were friends.  Naturally, we spoke later and she said after telling her brother we broke up, she didn’t want him to think we planned to meet there. That didn’t make sense to me, but leaving that aside, how could we plan to pass each other, even if we knew where the other was going to be without meeting at a spot?  It is a big city and millions of people are walking around. There weren't any cell phones. I certainly wasn’t looking for her.  The timing, being on the same side of the road, even looking in the right direction as we ploughed through a mass of pedestrian traffic, just made it so unlikely. And, of course, the thing that made it remarkable was that it was the very next day after we broke up! We’ve never just bumped into each other before or after that.  I think we “got back together” for a short time as a result. After all, it seemed like fate to her and I’m sure I had other motives.

Oh my God. I really didn’t plan it, but this is turning out to be all about women the more I think about it. Now I’m a lawyer a little older.  A paralegal who worked with me was going to law school at night and asked me to accompany her to her school dinner. I even remember that it was around Easter. We sat at a table with one of her friends, who brought his wife. She and I fell instantly in love or at least lust, which was kind of awkward with her husband and my “date” there (not that she would really care - she was usually amused at my adventures), but what are you going to do? These things happen. When we left I was heart sick. You know how it is when you are young.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  But, she was married.  I didn’t know where she worked or lived other than it was on Long Island somewhere.  Even then that was a couple of million people. What was I going to do? Ask my friend to ask her schoolmate if his wife was available? At work the next day, I couldn’t concentrate. Finally, I told my boss I had to go out for a bit to think about a woman (something he understood) and went to a shopping mall for a while just to walk around and wallow in my emotions until I got it out of my system.  I’m walking down the mall thinking about her, thinking about her, thinking about her, thinking - and almost bump into someone.  No.  It would be impossible if . . . but it was. It turned out they not only lived in my county but she worked in an office on the edge of the mall within walking distance of my own office. She just decided to take a walk because she needed to clear her head about something. It wasn’t even lunch time, but mid-morning. What do you think had been on her mind?  Actually, we became close friends for years.  And no, if you are wondering, I never crossed the line (though kind of invited – long story of the sort I don’t go into in this most pious of blogs). But, if not for a strange coincidence, it never would have happened.

Okay, I think that is it for girl stories. Let’s see. Oh, wait, I just thought of another.  Some years later I have a girlfriend who had gone through a bad divorce.  In fact, they did not speak at all, and it had been ugly. We decided to go to D.C. for the weekend with the kids. She knew through the grapevine that her ex was going away somewhere with his girlfriend somewhere too, but I could care less.  We spent the weekend in the capital and Maryland and then headed home Sunday with a million other cars back to Long Island and New York City on I-95, crawling along.  Naturally, my evalovin' gf thinks we are going to bump into her ex because she’s crazy and always thinks things like that are going to happen. So, we are driving along and she looked in the mirror. Yeah. Him. Right behind us. Our cars separate, because there are so many on the road it has to happen unless you are trying hard to stay together and we sure weren’t.  About an hour or so later, we pull into a NJ rest stop to get something to eat, because even though we are an hour or so from home, with traffic it was 3 or more hours. We enter the restaurant. She looks around. Who do you think is already sitting in there? They or we could have stopped at any number of rest stops, but we both picked this one at the same time. It was really uncomfortable, though he was on best behavior because of his girlfriend.  The kids found it amusing though.

All right. Really done with coincidences involving women.  I don’t exactly remember when this next one happened but I was still a young man. I had a brother a few years older than me who is now sleeping forever.  When he moved away from home he got his first apartment in Long Beach, NY. It’s a town on a really, really, really long street that goes on until eternity, or it hits the water – whichever came first. There are really, really, really a lot of houses and apartments on this road. Many people have divided up their homes into apartments to rent out. I went to visit him once or twice. The apartment was so tiny, it kind of tickled me.  He moved out eventually.  A few years later, a friend of mine you may know as Bear also got an apartment. It may have been his first after college too, but I’m not positive. I went to visit him there. I knew it was somewhere near my brother’s old apartment.  It wasn’t. Out of all the little tiny apartments in that gin joint of a town, it was the very same one.

So, again, I don’t think these coincidences mean anything. Some people do, of course. I remember when someone I know who I call Eddie in this evalovin’ blog dropped his daughter off at a small college town upstate.  We met for lunch when he came back. He couldn’t wait to tell me what happened. On his way home, he stopped in a small town for whatever reason – gas, lunch, who knows? He saw a bookstore and went in. He saw an old book there and picked it up. He flipped it open and saw a map of NY. But, it had only two places marked on the map. Somewhere on Long Island, where we lived and the little town upstate in which he had just dropped off his daughter. He was very happy about it.  I asked him why. He said it was because God wanted him to see the map. Naturally, because there is something wrong with me I can’t leave it alone and ask him why would God want to point something like that out to him unless he was going to be a prophet? He said it was because he had just dropped his daughter off there, as if that explained everything. I asked him since God was omniscient and omnipresent, wouldn’t he be aware that Eddie already knew where he dropped his daughter off and in fact, was there himself in all his glory?  Well, he said, it is just to let me know that everything is going to be all right. How do you know, I asked, if it isn’t to warn you that you should jump back in your car and go get her quickly? After all, God didn't send Lot the angels to tell him that it was going to be a lovely Spring.  I don’t remember what Eddie's answer was, but I think you can see why I am so popular with so many people.

But, that story reminds me of one more of my own.  There I was in Virginia a few years back, having just moved there. I was driving around one day to familiarize myself with the area.  I was about a half hour or so away from my little town of Buchanan, driving through a somewhat larger town, Bedford.  Like Eddie, my eye quickly zeroed in on a bookstore. I wasn’t sure if it was open because it didn’t look like the lights were on. It was though and I entered. The only one in there was the owner, who was  a white-haired old man I believe told me he was in his late 80s or early 90s. We chatted a little and finally he said, “Well, with that accent, you obviously aren’t from around here.”
 I said “I guess it is pretty obvious I’m from New York.”

“I thought so,” he said. “Where in New York?”

“Long Island,” I said.

“I thought so,” he said again. “Where on Long Island?”

“I’m sure you never heard of it. Little town,” I said.

“Try me,” he said.

“I’m from Westbury,” I said.

“I'm from Westbury too,” he said.

In fact, he had lived less than a mile from where I grew up on the same street as a number of friends of mine, but he had moved down to Virginia years before we were born.  Still, pretty amazing coincidence.

One more because this good get tedious after a while. I was having lunch in an Indian restaurant with a female friend who happened to be Jewish. She needed something and as the waitress passed by in her sari, my friend asked her for whatever it was she wanted. The woman was indignant because she wasn't the waitress. Now to tell you the truth, I don't know why she was upset because, she was wearing a sari and so were the waitresses, and while yes, once in a while on Long Island you might come across that, not so much. But that's not the coincidence. After lunch, we went to a store called Fortunoff, named after the family that owned it. They happened to be Jewish too and it seemed to me that they hired a lot of Jewish people, which was not so hard to find where I lived. Anyway, we were wending our way through the store when a woman passed by wearing a sari. Different woman than in the restaurant, but we didn't think anything of it until she approached my friend and said, "Do you work here?" Of course, my friend said no, but we found it amazing and hysterical. I mean, the other mistake had happened a half hour or so before and they were both Indian AND BOTH WEARING SARIS!!! Come on.

 

Of course, I hardly invented coincidences. They just seem to happen a lot in my life.  I figured that they happen to everyone more or less the same. But, I’ve asked a few people the last few days and it seems it doesn’t happen to everyone so much. In fact, no one has thought of any they could tell me about. Not that I expect an explosion of responses, but tell me yours if you have one of your own.


Post script: I can't believe I forgot one. When we were teenagers Bear and I liked to play 20 questions. One day we were at his house and I was completely stumped on the name of an actor he had thought of. I had used up my questions and now had one guess. I wouldn't give yet and it went on probably for a half hour while I thought. We were sitting in their den watching tv while this was going on and he got up to go the kitchen for a minute. While I'm thinking and watching, suddenly, the sound goes off for some mysterious reason just as a commercial for The King and I comes on the screen. There, jumping up and down in silence, is Yul Brynner with his hands raised above his head, as if to say - It's me, you idiot, it's me.  "Oh my God," I said, "it's Yul Brynner." Now that one's almost enough to make you into a believer.

2 comments:

  1. I think it's no coincidence that you have girls on the brain!!
    Don

    ReplyDelete
  2. No doubt. You'll notice that any story from me on that line is long, long in the past.

    ReplyDelete

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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .