Saturday, December 03, 2005

Car wreck Top 5. Number 3: Car vs. Car

As a high school student, I had a few jobs that I really had no business doing. One of these was working as a sales clerk at a jewelry store. The only qualification I had was that I spoke Polish. I had no knowledge of or interest in jewelry, diamonds, or what people are looking for when they're getting married. I never wore jewelry and still don't. The other people working there weren't all that great either, and this resulted in the place going out of business. To this day, I still wonder if the failure of that store had anything to do with the fact that I told all the Polish customers: "This piece is really quite expensive. And the quality is terrible. You can do a lot better across the street."

There were two things I truly appreciated about working there: There was a great fast food joint down the block that sold an incredible, char-grilled Super Dog. And the jewelry store was close enough for me to walk to work, up Milwaukee from Belmont to Six Corners, a good 30, 40-minute walk that gave me plenty of time to think about all the things I didn't know about gold chains.

When the weather was terrible I took the bus home. One time, though, on a particularly cold and snowy night, one of my co-workers offered me a lift. This was probably exactly 17 years ago to this day.

The snow had just begun to come down hard, the wind was blowing hard, and the Streets and Sans men still hadn't been able to clear the roads. If I hadn't been in my polyester pants and crappy tie, I could have skitched all the way home down Milwaukee. (Skitching AKA skeeching: Hanging onto a car's bumper as it drives on a snowy/icy road; popular activity among teen idiots such as myself, many of whom, for some reason, are now dead or disabled.)

I gladly accepted the ride home, though. The only thing I had to do was clear the windows before we left the parking lot. We were just two blocks away from the jewelry store when a car pulled out from side street right in front of us, and we slammed into its side. My co-worker, a middle aged woman whose name I don't remember, and I sat in the car for a few moments, slightly dazed. "Are you OK?' I asked. "I think so, but those guys probably aren't," she said, pointing at the other car, which was crunched pretty bad. There were four guys, my age, sitting in the car, also looking a bit dazed.

Just as I was about to get out of the car to see if they were OK, they sped off. A car with a badly damaged side, fishtailing at a high speed down a side street. Me chasing them on foot, trying to get a glimpse of the license plate. A pretty stupid sight.

At the police station later, filling out the report, I tried explaining what kind of car it was, but couldn't even remember what it looked like, what color it was, anything. My co-worker's car sustained a lot of damage, though I'm not sure how much. She was laid off a few days later, and I never talked to her again.

Naturally, I felt bad. I moped. "If only she hadn't been driving me home, this would never have happened," I kept saying.

"Ah, don't feel so bad," my boss told me, "it wasn't your fault." I don't remember his name either. The only thing I remember is that he'd send me to McDonald's to fetch three cheeseburgers, hold the pickles. This was back in the day when "hold the pickles" was a special order that took a good five extra minutes to prepare. I felt kind of stupid asking them to hold the pickles. Why can't he just take the pickles off like a normal person, I wondered.

"Maybe it's not my fault. But she would never been in that accident if she weren't driving me home," I said.

Then, my boss said something I had never considered before, something that I now consider every single time something bad happens. "You don't know that," he said. "If she hadn't been driving you home, maybe she would have been in a different accident. Maybe she would have been hit by a truck and killed. You never know what might have happened. So think of it this way: Maybe that accident actually saved her life. Maybe it saved your life. You just never know."

Now, whenever I think of my life, the good and the bad, when I wonder, what the fuck am I doing here, sitting in front of my computer at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, why am I single, where did I go wrong, I try to think about that hold-the-pickle man's words. You never know how life would have turned out if you had made one slightly different decision yesterday or many years ago, and you can't sit around worrying about all the wrong moves you've made, and you can't sit around stunned by all the possibilities the next time a decision needs to be made. "Come what come may, / Time and the hour runs through the roughest day," Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth.

And with that, off I go into another day, making mistakes, saying the wrong things. One of these days I'm bound to be in the right place at the right time, make the right choice for once. But you never know.

5 Comments:

Anonymous adp said...

"..Why am I single, where did I go wrong?" Are you implying you're not happily single? After my fiance left me I was a wreck and I have not really dated anyone steadily since then. It has sometimes been a bit rough - but there is alot about you and your workout buddy that I respect and you guys have made me far more content with my singledom just because you guys seem so content. And quick question - was your comment about going on and making mistakes intentional after saying "Shakespeare write in Macbeth?" Heh.

5:10 PM  
Blogger ap said...

Darn you for catching the typo! That will be fixed. As for what I was implying when I made the comment about being single ... When I wrote it (early in the morn when I was good and groggy), only God and I knew what I meant. And I forgot.

5:19 PM  
Anonymous adp said...

Well, whatever you meant, stay strong, my brother. BTW, the other two dragged me back across the street to get me to give my digits to the funny guy. I, of course, am a chicken and couldn't even get within 6 feet of the door.

Seeing as how you are clearly checking your blog frequently, give me a call if you want some spaghetti. I made far more then I should (but could) eat.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous The mom said...

I wish my children kept in contact as much as you two obviously do. Ok, I work with my daughter - that's why I wish my children would keep in contact and keep me out of it!
By the way, Milwaukee Ave. was one of my favorite streets growing up - but I was between Damen and Ashland on Milwaukee, with all the PR's, Warlords, etc. We did have Polish guys hanging around us, but they spoke Spanish and ran the Latin Kings!! (read the book - know which one I mean??)

2:03 PM  
Blogger ap said...

What's the book, My Bloody Pierogi?

6:41 AM  

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