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A History of Accidents

September 24, 2013

In an early draft of a novel about a klutzy historian, I used the subtitle “A History of Accidents,” appropriate for the silly coincidences that bedeviled the protagonist. Recently, though, my wife and I witnessed a series of circumstances far weirder than I could have invented. It’s a long story with many dull bits of trivia and a big POW at the end.

In an apartment tower downtown, an air conditioning water line sprang a leak. The water dripped down for ten stories, ruining carpets, furniture and hardwood floors. Weeks of repairs ensued. A friend who lives in the building had to pack up her belongings in order to have her floors refinished. To do so, she stopped at a liquor store for cardboard boxes, and luckily she found eight or ten there.

When the floors were done, she reassembled her living space and prepared to throw out the empty boxes. But my wife was packing up old books and papers in the back room of our office, so the boxes came to us. They went into the garage next to the office until she could get around to using them.

Soon after, in a house our daughter owns, the tenants moved out and a new pair of tenants was set to move in. With only one day to clean the place, there was no way to dispose of half a dozen huge bags of trash the departing tenants had left behind. Being accommodating parents, we said they could be stored in our garage until trash day.

Meanwhile, the little old car that we usually kept in the garage had died, out on the street, where it remains until we can donate it to charity. Thus we decided to park our remaining car, a bit larger, in the garage, but space was now cramped with the empty boxes and the trash bags. So my wife carried the boxes into the office, where she eventually intended to use them.

Where she first dropped them, they got in the way. One day about 2 p.m., therefore, she shoved them into an empty cubicle in the back room, where she could pile them up without interfering with anything. The ceilings there are about 20 feet high.

At about 4 p.m. the same day, the tenant in the apartment over the office went out onto the roof deck to water her plants. She stepped beyond the fence around the deck in order to reach some pots that she’d set on the roof itself. Somehow she lost her balance and fell—POW, CRASH, THUMP—directly through a skylight into our office below.

A 20-foot tumble could easily have killed her. In fact, when we heard the crash and found her unconscious, we thought at first she was dead. But she had landed on those empty boxes, which helped cushion her fall. She’s alive and intact—and very sore.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what this string of coincidences means. Here are some options:

  1. The old saw: Truth is stranger than fiction.
  2. Life consists of many dull bits of trivia with big POWs and THUMPs every now and then.
  3. Leaks may be a message from God, if we could only read the language of dripping water.
  4. Liquor stores serve more important social functions than most people realize.
  5. It is good karma when an old car dies, even if you’re mad because it leaves you stranded.
  6. Never throw out empty boxes. If you keep them around, some use will turn up—or just, you know, drop from the sky.
  7. “It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe. It don’t matter, anyhow.” (Bob Dylan)

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