magical thinking


Random quote of the day: 

“From time immemorial, human beings have been wary of good fortune….In every culture there are ancient recipes for disguising joy, for paying homage to suffering in the midst of celebration, for deflecting the envy of gods and neighbors: rub soot on the face of your beautiful child; spit when you get a compliment; throw salt over your shoulder at a wedding; let cider spill from your glass to offset the bounty of your harvest; say ‘break a leg’ when you really mean ‘good luck.’ ”

—Noelle Oxenhandler, The Wishing Year

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Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

I have a tendency to anthropomorphize objects. Sometimes this is a ludicrous tendency, but other times it works to my advantage. One case in point is an old ’69 Volkswagen Bug I used to have. My first car, acquired used when I was nineteen, I wound up driving it for thirteen years. It started out red, but that summer a friend and I decided to paint the doors and fenders with comic book action words: zot! pow! whoosh! And one door read “Schlep!” The car became marginally famous around the Westside of LA and may even have inspired a Saturday morning children’s show.

I loved that car almost as much as I love my pets—it was so cute and round and creature-like, how could I not fall in love? But I admit that I used it hard, in the way the young and thoughtless will. It never complained, doughty to the end.

One night during my college years, I drove home from my night job, past midnight, and in a long stretch of urban wasteland with sparse lighting. The car just died, rolling to a stop on that dark street blocks from any telephone (this being in the olden days before cell phones). Though I tried and tried, the engine would not turn over. I sat for awhile with the vague hope that a police car might roll by, but when that didn’t happen and it grew later and later, I started talking to the car.

“Please start, little car. Just get me home, that’s all I ask, and I promise to take you into the garage in the morning. Just get me home—please.”

I tried the ignition again. The car started right up. I drove home (about three miles), and the second the wheels hit my driveway—no exaggeration—the car died again. I coasted to a stop, safe at home, and my little Bug had to be towed to the garage the next day. The mechanic said he didn’t know how I’d gotten it started the night before. Apparently, some wire in the engine had worked its way loose and without that particular connection, the car was impossible to start.

Now, I know next to nothing about the insides of cars, and I have to take the mechanic’s word about the wire, but I do know about loyalty. That car was loyal and maybe loved me back a little bit. I prefer to think that rather than that it was a freak coincidence, some hoodoo voodoo, or some other form of miracle or mistake. I like to think that sometimes when we really need them, even inanimate objects have an anima, some vibration on the sub-atomic level that responds to the need in our human souls. Do I care if this is irrational? Not in the slightest.

Many years later there came a time when my poor ancient little Bug couldn’t hack my long work commute any more. It groaned through the Sepulveda Pass on a daily basis, sometimes barely limping home, and required frequent trips to the mechanic. The frequent repairs finally added up to more than car payments and I was forced to make a hard decision: to use the car for a trade in on something new. As I handed the keys over and got into my new car to drive away, I felt I had abandoned not an inanimate thing, but a living creature. I could almost hear it calling to me, “Please don’t leave me!” That was probably a surfeit of imagination, but…

I still feel guilty.

I haven’t kept notebooks all my life, just most of my life. I think I must have gotten the first when I was ten or eleven. Although it was dubbed on the outside “My Diary,” I rarely went more than a week with any prototypical diary entries. In fact, it was neatly divided into three or four modest “day” entries per page andI routinely wrote over several days’ worth for each entry. These little books always tended to be more like journals, sometimes filled with activities, but mostly filled with emotional screeds, commentaries on the world, philosophical ramblings. Later, they tended to fill up with bits and pieces of my writing: character sketches, poems, dialog runs, etc., etc.—mixed in with the emotional screeds, commentaries, philosophy. They have mostly been cheap paper-cover books, but once or twice I’ve bought something really fancy, like this one:

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This one cost far more money than rational me wanted to spend, but the excitable part of me had to have it. Or, actually, it had to have the one made of brown leather. Black leather has always had less appeal to me. I kept circling back to the store and fondling that book for weeks, but fortunately, the rational me got the excitable one to wait until the notebook had been marked down and I had a gift certificate. By that time, sadly, all the brown leather ones had sold out—but that did not deter me. I’d obsessed about the damned thing and so I was going to have it. Let’s not speak of acquisitiveness gone mad, shall we?

That was a few years ago now and I have never written a word in it. I just can’t bring myself to violate those pages with the usual screeds, ramblings, and commentaries. What am I saving it for? I have no idea, but there is sits, beautifully occupying a shelf. Seems a waste, but we’re not talking rational processes here. The rational me and the excitable one walk hand-in-hand, but it’s often an uneasy partnership, each pulling hard in the opposite direction.

When I was about thirteen and walking around the back yard of our old house in Venice in a moony state (not at all uncommon in those days), something kept nudging me to go to the little walk space behind the “garage.” Garage is a euphemistic term for the structure on the back end of our property. Basically it was a couple of strung together rattletrap sheds which hadn’t seen paint since the Trojan War and had a distinct lean to the south. My biodad stored his tools and an inordinate amount of Important Guy Stuff in the larger shed. The smaller shed sometimes held fertilizer and the like for his prodigious garden. Behind this structure was a pathway about five feet wide at the very back end of the property. An enormous wire fence kept the riff raff of the neighborhood (my family) from entering the property on the other side, the Edgemar Dairy.

Dairy is also a euphemistic term, as no actual cows wandered the premises. It was a processing plant and staging area for Edgemar trucks to fill up with ice and cart their loads of milk, cottage cheese, fruit drinks, etc., to stores. An enormous ice-crushing machine sat on the other side of that wire fence and it would start going at about two or three in the morning. (That, and being in the flight path of Santa Monica airport, helped train me to be the talented sleeper that I am to this very day.) The positioning of the ice-crushing machine against the property line was intentional, one in a long series of harassments the dairy management folks concocted in an effort to get us and our neighbor to sell out cheap to them and move. It didn’t work. We were made of sterner (and more spiteful) stuff than they imagined. They never did get our property. But that’s another story…

So anyway, something urged thirteen-year-old me to go behind the garage, telling me I’d find something special. I’d been back there countless times and the rational was skeptical—but the Believer was game. When I walked this familiar path, what did I spy? A little notebook lying just beside the fence on the dairy side: a cheapie, maybe 4×7, black leatherette, spiral bound. I could reach quite easily under where the wire of the fence didn’t quite meet the concrete and pull it to me. It was full of paper, every page blank, and it must not have been there long because it wasn’t damp or dirty. Well! The Believer thought I’d been given a Very Special Gift from the universe. The Skeptic (active even at that tender age) thought some schmuck had dropped it in the wee hours while filling his truck up with ice and disturbing my sleep. But I held onto that notebook for years—and kept it as empty as that expensive model. I just could bring myself to violate the pages.

The Believer always seems to be saving these things for that something special that never quite materializes.

(This post is really about Skepticism and Belief.)

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