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Some of Them Want to Be Used by You | 2017 | Picky Aardvark


Death is kind of like sex in high school. If you knew how many times you missed having it, you'd be paralyzed.  

-"George," Dead Like Me

Fabio, the Goose, and Infinite Consequences

Tear any at your doom

The world turns on a dime. History is made on the zig and zag of chance.

There is a meme that the 1970s Buffalo Bills could have stopped there from being The Kardashians. In short, they fumbled a pass, so they were able to get their first pick in the draft: OJ Simpson. In Buffalo, he met Nicole Brown, the woman whom he would marry and later allegedly murder. Robert Kardashian defended him and became a household name, allowing someone to give a damn about his daughter's leaked sex tape years later, sparking her fame. If a pass had been completed in a game in 1970, two people aren't murdered and the current low point of pop culture isn't shouted from every sidebar.

This is not my preferred analogy. Instead, I look to a far smaller and more absurd event whose reverberations went no further than inspiring the monologues of late night host and a former model needing stitches. March 30, 1999, just before April Fools' Day, Busch Gardens premiered a new rollercoaster, Apollo's Chariot. Given the coaster's mythological naming, the park invited a sufficiently godly example of humanity: Fabio, surrounded by women in flowing white dresses. He sat in the front car - why hide that beautiful face, after all? They invited the media to cover this puff piece. When Fabio and vestal crew returned from the two minute ride, blood covered his face, spattered on the white of his companions, and everyone on the coaster seemed horrified.

When the coaster dove for the first time, a goose flew in its way. The coaster hit it, breaking its neck. The avian corpse flipped back, slamming directly into Fabio's nose, necessitating three stitches to patch him up. I have never before or since heard about a bird-related mishap of this magnitude on any coaster. The odds that the first ride on this coaster resulted in this collision - resulting from the coaster being built, the park deciding to hire Fabio and fill the seats with women, the exact amount of time spent readying the ride that day, the media getting into place, and that ill-fated fowl choosing that precise flightpath at that moment - beggars calculation. If any one factor went differently by one direction, nothing unusual happens. In the conspiracy of them all, Fabio gets stitches and Jay Leno gets a punchline. Yet there is one path where a thirty pound goose hits Fabio in the face at seventy miles an hour. I am not sure he survives, though I am confident that people are morbid enough to still joke about it.

The world is ruled by changes so small you could push them back into alignment with your pinky. We never know when they are coming or when they pass, which is all the better for our sanity.

I know a woman who was haunted by one bad hour when she drank too much, sixty minutes altering the trajectory of years. I know a guy who has his script in the hands of his heroes because he ran into them on the street. I nearly met Amber eight months sooner, but I arrived late to a ritual and the doors were locked.

9/11 killed my oldest friend, though it took almost sixteen years to do it. After September 11, 2001, the United States chose for vengeance the Taliban, who were largely in Afghanistan (because the United States trained and funded them in hopes they would drive out the Communist Russians, not understanding that giving a man a gun tends to make him look for new targets). Once American had satisfied itself by driving them out, the farmers there, previously kept under control by an authoritarian regime, planted and harvested literally thousands of tons of poppies. These were never meant to be a decorative accent to your table or seeds on your bagel, instead being refined into opiates, thereby increasing the availability of heroin in America, leading to the opiate crisis that claimed Melissa. In retrospect, the line is clear. Melissa donated all her money to humanitarian causes on September 12th because she didn't die and some many others did and would. She didn't know that she would be one of them, in this indirect fashion.

A year ago, Amber worked at a rich person's house, doing general garden maintenance and decorating. The owner of the home saw fit to cover a deep pit with a tarp. Amber hauled a heavy bag on her shoulder. She stepped on the tarp and so badly sprained her ankle that, despite a year of workman's comp medical visits, she still has to tape her ankle or wear a brace. Owing to this disability, she could no longer do the work. Her farm share plot went fallow. Her source of summer income dried up. She decided that she thus might want to be a vet tech and enrolled at a community college in the fall. Now she talks about spending the next ten years in school to get her doctorate - a concept that is realistic given her drive and scholastic aptitude. A badly sprained ankle has made her a scientist/professor-in-training, which will propel her toward new coincidences that will change her life. Told backward, there seems to be an orderly progression that suggests the hand of the divine. Told forward, it is the ramblings of a child who cannot comprehend that one event should suggest the next. Without falling into a hole, Amber maybe doesn't become a doctor.

I can pick out things that happened or didn't owing to a long string of chances - an ex found the father of her two kids because she decided to get a degree in International Relations (a degree she sought in part because she tore her ACL and could no longer easily drive to her nursing classes at Pace), since her living expenses were taken care of by my teaching at a boarding school; Keilaina suggested I join a dating site for the quizzes, where I later found Daniel; my father suggested I get on the civil service list, which led to my job of six years that has allowed me to support Amber; an argument with Jacki of Facebook that made me submit my first novel to to a publisher who accepted me inside two weeks. I don't know that there is a meaning to any of these, except how close I came to them not happening at all. My life at present, all I believe I have worked for, could have been profoundly different owing to something as small as someone missing a taxi or being sneezed on by a waiter.

Every decision you make obliterates the reality when you decided something else. If you decide to go back to school to become a vet tech, you no longer use that time and energy improving your art and marketing yourself.

It is paralyzing to look back at the might-have-beens, the source of the fatal Fear of Missing Out. Maybe my life would have been better or maybe it would have been far worse. Most of the decisions are not in our hands and we can never know the true import of the ones we do get to make. We only get to react, mostly blind to the ramifications a year from now. It is best if we do not allow the existential terror of the infinity of the interconnections lock us in place.

Soon in Xenology: Abuse.

last watched: IT
reading: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
listening: Regina Spektor

Some of Them Want to Be Used by You | 2017 | Picky Aardvark

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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