Wednesday, May 14, 2008


In Which It Pays To Plan Ahead...

One of the best things--I'm using "best" pretty loosely here--about living an accident-prone life is that, if you survive it long enough, you actually start to form contingency plans in your mind against all kinds of adversity.

I think my mother sensed this early on, which is why she used to terrorize my Big Brother and me when we were kids. Every morning that she drove us to school, she would drill us in assorted disaster scenarios, so that at the tender age of 6, I already knew how to react in the event of massive catastrophes such as floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires (at home, at school, and in high-rise buildings, which was odd, considering there really weren't any in New Hampshire, but then again, this was the 70s, and that was a peculiar fear of the era), and also very specific situations, such as being trapped in a flooding basement, or under ice; being buried alive; and being stuck in a burning vehicle with my seatbelt jammed (that one always stood out in my mind. We were, after all, usually in the car when Mom spun out these simulated crises).

As we got older, BB and I occasionally played more elaborate scenarios out for each other, and then waited to see if those early years of training and our own native ingenuity would pay off. For example, there was the time my brother taped me into a heavy-duty cardboard packing box and rolled me into the landfill pit near our neighbor's house. I sank like a stone into about 12 feet of dirt, composting leaves, and other organic detritus. I panicked for a moment--being buried alive still ranks up there as one of my greatest fears--then caught my breath and waited for the box to dampen in the loamy earth. Then I busted my way out through the dampest side and literally swam to the top of the pile--just in time to see my brother, shovel in hand, throwing more dirt on the spot where I had sunk. "Just didn't want to make it too easy for you," he said. The big turd.

Another time, I lashed some stout manila rope to BB's ankles, knotted the other end around the chimney, and pushed him off the roof. To his credit, BB actually managed to curl himself up and reach the knot (no mean feat when gravity is working against you, and in the case of my brother, gravity had a lot to work with), and no doubt he would have managed to free himself. But just then, there was a crumbling sound behind me, and I turned just in time to dodge the chimney as the masonry came loose and it went skittering over the side, giving BB a whole new survival scenario to deal with.

Yet another of these dubious exercises occurred when we were in our 20s. I remember the incident well, because we had been sitting around one Saturday morning, watching TV, when on came a program about Hollywood stuntmen and some of the tricks they used to make their stunts look so realistic. In particular, I recall a segment in which the stuntman host showed us how to survive getting hit by a car. The trick, he explained, was to jump up in the air at the last second before impact, and let the hood of the car clip you at the backs of your knees. This would automatically roll you onto the hood of the car and even up onto the roof, without seriously injuring you.

Of course, having a trained stunt driver probably figured in there, too.

Nevertheless, we couldn't wait to try it, and the fact that I'm here to write these words should give you some sense of our success in this particular endeavor. Really, the only casualties were BB's front windshield (I cracked it with my elbow) and BB's foot, which I broke when I accidentally drove over it.

Alas, as is so often the case, the preparations we make in following the dreams of youth are seldom realized. Despite continuing to have a fairly accident-ridden life, I've always managed to find myself in pickles that I never anticipated. I suppose all that early training still paid off in some small way, but I always crazily hoped I might--just once--find myself in a situation that BB or my mother had covered with me.

So you can perhaps imagine the strange mixture of shock and joy that hit me--and it wasn't the only thing--that afternoon in Rochester, Minnesota, when I had a fraction of a second to register the car coming through the intersection and realized that it was going to run me down. And by God, I did just what the stuntman did, and jumped up.

Just a little too late.

The hood of the car caught me above the knees. Any higher and it would have simply slammed me face-down on the pavement and then run me over. But I was already pitching myself towards the car and so my momentum carried the day--and my body. I hit the hood with a loud BA-BONK and rolled partway up the windshield before the driver braked to a halt and sent me flopping back onto the road.

I got shakily to my feet and stumbled backwards away from the car, catching my heel on the curb, and landing on the sidewalk--on my rump--so hard that my teeth clicked.

Aside from the purpling horizontal line I would later discover on the backs of my thighs, I was completely unhurt. In fact, as tends to happen to me in crisis situations, I felt great. Adrenalin is a fantastic mood-booster, let me tell you, and I had just had about a gallon of it slopped into my bloodstream. It also has a wonderfully focusing effect. A miraculous drape of clarity dropped over my head and I became intensely aware of everything going on.

I could feel the damp of the dish towel in the hand of the waitress who had emerged from the restaurant behind me and had put her hand to my back to see if I was okay. I could smell the lingering aroma of the shampoo she'd used that morning as I assured her that, weirdly, I was just fine (I almost wanted to tell her I'd been planning for this moment for years, but that would have sounded just crazy). I could see the little green walking figure in the pedestrian traffic light across the street, only now turning to the red stopping hand, confirming that I had had the right of way and that the car had run the red light, or at least turned blindly from the cross-street (which was probably what happened. If the car had run straight through the light at speed, I have no doubt I'd be in a lot worse shape).

And I could hear the arguing from the car that had hit me, now fully stopped on the street in front of me.

The car was an old but small hatchback (thank heaven for small favors) and inside were a woman and a man. The man was driving and he looked like he was trying to put the car in gear and drive off. He looked like a man who had no idea where he was or what had just happened--I could see his eyes, big and white and panicked, even through the windshield. The woman was turned away from me, and had her hand on his arm. I was instantly aware that she was trying to prevent him from leaving the scene of the accident. A second later, the motor roared, the car hitched forward and I really thought he would take off. But then the driver seemed to gather himself, and braked. The car lurched to a stop and the man jumped out.

He started speaking to me in a voice so high and so rapid that I couldn't make out what he was saying. Thankfully, I didn't have to ask him to repeat himself, because just then the woman rolled down her window and said, in a strained and husky voice, "Oh my God! I'm so sorry! Are you all right?" She grimaced as she looked at me, and it was that grimace--coupled with my magical moment of near-death clarity--that clicked everything into place for me. Suddenly, I knew exactly what had happened and why. But just to be sure, I stepped towards the car, on legs that were still a little shaky, and got a good look at the woman.

More specifically, at her very pregnant belly.

While part of me marveled at how often my life descends into cliché, the other part of me--the part that has had to drive his pregnant wife to the hospital three times--almost smiled in fellow-feeling.

At such times, and despite my mental clarity, I tend to say the most inappropriate things. It's some kind of weird, trauma-induced Tourette's, I think. I have no real control over this, and learned long ago to just deal with it.

So when I opened my mouth, instead of berating them for hitting me; or announcing that my unconscious wife was somewhere over at Mayo, and had narrowly escaped waking up without knowing where the hell I was or what had happened to me; or even just assuring them I was, luckily for all of us, pretty good, thanks; I looked down at the woman and asked, "How far apart are the contractions?" Like I really cared. And yet, I kind of did. God had put me in their path--in an unnecessarily showy and dramatic way, if you ask me, but He never does, so never mind--and I seemed now to have some link to them.

In response, the woman let out a gurgly groan and snapped both hands--fingers spread wide--to the sides of her stomach. She began panting extravagantly and the man--the guy who'd hit me--just seemed to lose it. He dropped his keys in the street and began pulling at himself--one hand tugging at his hair, the other yanking on his top lip.

"Are you going to Mayo, or the regular hospital?" I asked, meaning Rochester Methodist, which was literally across the street (and which I later found out is actually a part of the Mayo Clinic, but hey, my near-death clarity only extended so far).

This seemed to reach the guy. "Rochametha!Rochametha!" he shrieked.

I knew just from my own walking around that the main entrance and parking area was around the block, but I didn't think it was a good idea for these people to be driving any more. I looked up across the park where Her Lovely Self and I had spent an idyllic afternoon the day before, and saw what looked like a side entrance. And just beyond the tinted glass of that entrance, I spied a wheelchair.

I pointed at the dad. "The hospital's right there, across the park. You run over and get that wheelchair just inside the door. Bring it back. We'll wait right here." Clearly the guy was in full fight-or-flight mode and was glad to have someone confirm an option for him, because he was off in flash. I couldn't help but notice he was in his socks as he ran, and wondered if he'd left the house that way or if I'd find his shoes there on the street when I stepped around to the side of the car.

Just then, I was interrupted by the pregnant woman, who was panting rather less, and finally got around to answering my question. "Less than two minutes apart," she gasped.

"Don't worry," I said, hunching down by her window, my back and knees popping like bubble paper as I did. "There's still plenty of time, especially if it's your first." I turned back to the waitress who had come out to see if I was okay, assured her again that everything was fine, and so she went back inside. There may have been other bystanders, but I just don't remember. My moment of clarity seemed directed in just one way.

I kept the laboring mom company--she never told me her name and I never asked--and we were there about five minutes. As we waited, I found myself doing a mental check of everything, finally confirming that I really was pretty much unhurt, not just numb from shock. And once that fact sunk in, I realized that I was, in the most insane sort of way, grateful to these people.

When times are tough, I am only too capable of descending into a well of self-pity that is so deeply satisfying (in the darkest possible way) that it takes me forever to climb back out. But one thing that usually works for me is crossing paths with someone who's in a fix, whose needs are more urgent than mine. I'd like to think these people fit the bill. Granted, my wife had a serious medical condition and I really wanted--needed--to be with her. But she was not in any immediate peril, In fact, we were, I realized, in better shape right now than we had been in years, and soon enough, we'd have a course of action to follow and finally get a handle on this thing. Meanwhile, here were two people in extremis. They seemed to need my intervention. God knows I wouldn't have trusted the man to drive me 10 more feet, not in his condition.

And as I was thinking this, up across the park came himself, lugging the folded wheelchair under his arm. Why it never occurred to him to open the thing and simply push it to us, I'll never know. But as soon as he got to the car, I grabbed the wheelchair and snapped it open while he got his groaning partner out of the car. Together, we jockeyed her into the seat and without another word to me, the couple wheeled off across the street, through the park, and into the hospital.

Leaving me to stand guard over their car, both doors wide open, keys still lying on the tarmac.

Just then, a cop came ambling around the corner--they really are never around when you need one--and took in the scene. I thought maybe he had been called to respond to the accident, and perhaps he had. But now all he saw was the car and me, standing upright. "You gonna move that out of the street?" he finally asked.

I waited one beat, then shrugged. What the hell? "Yes sir!" I said. Then I stooped on legs that were already starting to ache, scooped up the keys, got in the car, started it up, and piloted it towards the hospital garage...


It could only happen to you! Dear Lord, what a strange and amazing life you lead. Glad you are OK.
MM, if I didn't know better, I'd say you made this up! Is this REALLY your life? It's like a scene out of Get Smart or something. What happened next?
Wow, amazing story. I'm glad you made it out safely AND were able to show unadulterated kindness in such a situation. I just started reading your blog yesterday, and I'm pretty sure you're in my bookmarks to stay. =)
Perhaps you unknowingly inherited extra lives from all your Mothers cats. Either that, or you have a guardian angel that gets hazard pay.
Awesome tale so far. :-) Seems like you may still be payin' the price for it though, in soreness, bruising, and who knows what!

Here's to hoping your increased frequency of writing means you're generally recovered.
That's amazing, MM. I'm going to file away that jump up approach just in case... 'cuz y'know, I don't trust my brother enough for a practice run.

So how's the new vehicle working out for you? ;)
Dang - just dang... I'm glad you're okay.
You obviously need these shoes:

Best to plan ahead for the next time. :-)
Ah my, wild times in Rochestaa. Glad you aren't hurt and that the wife made it to the hospital in time!
What an amazing story, and so glad you are okay. you parked the car and THEN what happened? (you aren't going to tell us they named the baby after you are you?)
Wow, a four(five?)-parter! I KNEW you would be "miraculously uninjured". But this story just keeps getting better and better anyway.

Thanks for the story.
Okay, so it doesn't have to be a novel.

Clearly an autobiograpgy would be just as entertaining, if not more so ;-)
Wow, I've done that! Made up disaster plans, crisis plans, "what I would do if" plans,and "what I would say if" plans...but I always thought that maybe my habit kept it from actually I wonder? I'm glad you reacted how you did. Good suspense.
And on your way to the garage, you hit somebody? ;)
I absolutely agree with felicity! I love reading this stuff, it makes me laugh out loud every time. You are an amazing writer!
Amazing, you have a great story teller! I agree with RD, sounds like you made it up, but judging by all of your other stories, I'd say not!
Just started reading your blog a few days ago. Fact or fiction, either way you are one fantastic writer. I doubt I will ever get through a day without checking back to read you last entry.
So. Umm. Yeah. OK. Let me make sure I've got this correct. So YOU get hit by a car, and wind up directing the driver who hit you over to the hospital to get a wheelchair for his pregnant wife, comforting said pregnant wife in the meanwhile, and then driving the vehicle that hit you over to the hospital to drop it off for the aforementioned driver who hit you. I got nothing. I'm sure BB is reading this and laughing maniacally. Interesting that the beat down you took from the car seems less injurious than the beat down you got from WW, the asshat who stole Blaze. I guess you forgot one rule that I'm sure your parents taught you as a youngster...look both ways before crossing the street! Be careful and good luck with HLS' treatment.
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