LONDON, ONTARIO – Let’s start off by acknowledging that some of the most tiresome people in the world are those who insist on being wildly ‘original’ in everything they do. A subspecies of these ‘one-of-a-kind’ bores that is proliferating on the interwebs just now is a dour herd of adolescents (some of whom appear to be in their 30s and 40s) who post gormless videos in which they earnestly explain how they are defining their sexual identity this week and then list their preferred pronouns for you to memorize. I admit my complicity in driving up the viewership numbers for these grebes because I not only find their clueless self-absorption oddly mesmerizing; I also feel this wonderful burst of gratitude that my own youth was never troubled for a second with this kind of paralyzingly ponderous bullshit.
I happily accept the premise that most of the things I do or that happen to me each day have probably been committed or experienced by countless millions of others through the ages. Such knowledge needn’t make one feel particularly banal or predictable. Instead you can construe it as evidence that you are living – not just a common – but a wonderfully universal sort of life. But occasionally one does endure an accident or a calamity, gives into an impulsive action or blurts out a certain sequence of words, and without going all egotistical or neurotic, you pause to wonder if just such a thing has ever happened before . . . anywhere or at any time.
Walking past a nativity scene on display in the window of Ann McColl’s kitchen shop a good many Christmases ago, I inexplicably exclaimed to my wife, “Hey – bitchin’ creche!” We were both startled by this rather unlikely conjunction of words, and fell to wondering if that particular adjective had been applied to that particular noun ever before in the entire history of human speech. ‘What are the odds?’ we wondered. Is such statistical probability the sort of thing that someone like Stephen Hawking could have determined?
Then I took a real interest in a game that was making the rounds on the Internet where people submitted lists of things they’ve done which they suspected might be unique in the entire history of the world. The amount of elaboration can be key to staking such a claim on originality. Arts critic Terry Teachout, for instance, led off his list with being present at the Metropolitan Opera when a star soprano dropped dead on stage, sending him to the nearest payphone to contact his editor with the barked demand: ‘Get me rewrite.’
There were enough details there that I suspected the complete experience was indeed his alone. Later on when he said that he once fell all the way down a spiral staircase, I frankly suspected he had lots of company over the years. But if he’d elaborated that he fell down that staircase while balancing a birthday cake on his head and whistling the overture from Puccini’s La Boheme, he could probably copyright that experience too.
In turn, those lists inspired a cursory examination of my own life and times. And so herewith are five experiences that I’m pretty sure I could patent as solely my own.
BREAKING A LEG WHILE GOING UP THE SKI SLOPE:
At the age of ten I broke my ankle in a skiing accident while ascending the hill by means of a tow rope. I’d never been skiing before and – not too surprisingly – never went skiing afterwards. My borrowed gear wasn’t the kind with a release mechanism and when my wayward right ski got stuck between the slats in a snow fence, I clung onto that rope in panic. I felt and heard the bone snap just before the boot, still locked into the ski’s apparatus, released my foot. And wouldn’t you know it? That’s the leg that’s giving me arthritic grief today.
ACCIDENTALLY PULLING FIRE OUT OF MY POCKET:
In grade 11 theatre arts, it was the goof-off day immediately preceding Christmas break when no serious work gets done and I was asked to perform a quick ad-lib. Making my way to the riser at the front of the room, I was nervously fidgeting with my hand in the pocket of my jacket as I considered what on earth I was going to do. Would I be able to re-construe those sentences where you use the same word ten times in a row and it’s grammatically correct? (“Bob, in the English language usage test, where Bill had had “had”, had had “had had”. “Had had” had been approved.”) Then I suddenly felt a little explosion of heat in my pocket where I had jostled one match book against another just so. Pulling one flaming match book out of my pocket and ostentatiously shaking it and blowing it out, my classmates applauded in amazement and delight. I bowed and returned to my seat, thinking it best not to inform them that I hadn’t planned any of it.
ENCOUNTER WITH A MYSTERIOUS TART SENDS ME TO SLEEP FOR 48 HOURS:
In a state of teenaged over-refreshment one summer Saturday night, I spied a Flamingo butter tart in its little tin foil cup sitting on a white line in the middle of Commissioners Road. Feeling a little peckish (and what wits I had being thoroughly sozzled), I ate it and when I got back to my psychedelic dungeon in the basement of my parents’ house, I fell into a leaden sleep that lasted for the better part of two days. I groggily came to on Monday afternoon to find Bradley Cudmore loading up my record player to spin a little something by The Dave Clark Five. “Your parents don’t think you’re here,” he told me.
GETTING THE STRAP FOR BLOWING OUT THE TIRE ON A FIRE TRUCK:
This was in grade six. A neighbour lady near the school had seen me break a non-returnable pop bottle in the middle of Ridout Street and squealed on me to the firemen ten minutes later when their truck blew a tire and they pulled over to the side of the road. I got hauled out of a special ‘Facts of Life’ auditorium and was given the strap and used this incident later for a short story in which the manufacturers of non-returnable pop bottles get sued for a shocking increase in unwanted teenaged pregnancies.
BEING ACCLAIMED AS A LITERARY CELEBRITY THE SECOND I SET FOOT ON ENGLISH SOIL:
Having just cleared customs on my very first trip to Britain in 1990, a young lady came up to me and said, “Are you Herman Goodden, the writer?” Bless her heart, she’d been on the flight over with us from Toronto but held off saying anything because, “I knew it would mean so much more for you to be recognized over here.”
So those are some of mine. Feel free to share any of yours in the comments section.
If you would like to contribute to the ongoing operations of Hermaneutics, there are now a few options available.
THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :