What happened isn’t always interesting. Not compared to what didn’t.
For instance, decades ago it was decided that the study of government—the class where we learn words like “caucus” and “bi-cameral”—would be called Civics. Not Principles of Design, or Wisdom Forensics, or What Sort of Citizens Elected This Wizard? No, those names didn’t happen, and it’s too bad. Learning about acoustics instead of political noise, or the rightness and function of an arch compared to the Electoral College might have made our country just a little bit better, made it a place where all kids can go to the dentist and the fish aren’t so full of mercury.
Here’s another for-instance: 24 years ago, I crashed my parents’ car. It was dark, almost midnight, even everyone’s porch lights asleep, and the place my parents had moved was brand new to me. Fox Island, Washington.
Maybe without the fog…
Or if the roads had been straighter…
But they weren’t—more like a grandma’s cursive—and the fog was thick enough to win some kind of award. Now add black ice, the dome light, me reading a list of directions, and a curve into yet another down slope, then a sudden T-intersection. I had a second or two to wonder, “Who put a hill in the middle of the street?” and then bam.
That’s what happened. That’s the actual. But I can’t help thinking about the stories that didn’t, the ones less fogged in by facts and by stopping at my own perspective. Like a next-day story whose setting is a salvage lot across the Narrows Bridge. A story about the tow-truck driver who’d gotten the 1 a.m. call. Maybe he noticed my things—a couple books, a yellow notepad—flung on the floor in front of the passenger seat. So he borrowed some paper, wrote a note, and attached it to the bill—
Good news is, since you’re reading this, you’re alive. Bad news is it’s time to shop for a car. Judging from the windshield, you’re going to want to wait though—perfect impression of your forehead, blood sort of spiderwebbing in the cracks reaching out from the center spot where all it is, is just glass dust and some of your hair, a couple strands of it. Car shopping sucks without a headache thrown in the bargain. Speaking of bargains, these guys here won’t be giving you one. What they’ll offer you, tops, is $2.50. That’s their impound fee, plus my towing, plus $50 more to buy your deed. Got to have the deed signed over before they can part it out. I know a yard that’ll maybe go $400. I’d’ve taken your car there in the first place, but the Sheriff said to tow it to the nearest etc. Anyway, my number’s on the bill if you want to call. It’s up to you. From your books, I see you’re a Lutheran. Pacific Lutheran University Library. I don’t still go to Mass much but keep a rosary hanging from my rear-view mirror. Said an Our Father for you last night and hope that you’re o.k. On a more practical note—believe me, you’re gonna want to do this—get all that broken glass in your head out now. Every single sliver. You’re gonna scab up soon, then scar, and if there’s pieces of glass still in there, well, when they start to work their way to the surface you’ll have to slice the scars open with an X-acto blade and tweezer around in the infection. This is the part where I say “Wear a seatbelt” like I’m some kind of too-late Guardian Angel.
Sincerely, Paul “Mac” McIntyre
P.S.: I hope you don’t think the Lutheran stuff was me being a jackass criticizing. Just thought you might feel a bit better knowing about the prayer.
That’s what I mean about what didn’t happen. What could have is the better, more necessary story.
And here’s a third example, this one straight from The Salt Lake Tribune (A6, 3 March 2016)—
This senator, Todd Weiler, Republican of Woods Cross, got ticked about members of the Navajo Nation seeking to re-name Columbus Day. During debate on their petition—standing on the floor of the Senate—he said, “The native population gave the early explorers syphilis, which they brought back to Europe. Blaming Columbus for the extermination of the native population is as fair as blaming the native population for people who die using tobacco and cocaine, which the natives introduced to the Europeans.”
WHAT DIDN’T HAPPEN:
He wasn’t wearing a Pharaoh outfit. Frogs didn’t rain from the Senate ceiling. No one had to hopscotch over bright green insights to take a seat, vote No, and kill the bill.
Rob Carney’s fourth book, 88 Maps, was published by Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.