Life can be strange in a beautiful way


August 05, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

Some days, as you all know, life is strange, and I mean that in a beautiful sense. I like surprises, strange surprises. Give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

I've been hiking in northern Baltimore County, but now it's midday and I'm standing on a bridge in Monkton, looking at the river below, wondering why I'm not fishing in it. Along comes a big man in a beat-up and rusting Toyota Cressida. The man stops the car, cranks back the parking brake and rolls down the window.

"You," he says. "You're Sicilian, aren't you?"

He thinks I'm Sicilian. But I'm American, of course. The people on my mother's side were from Italy, which should never be confused with Sicily, especially in the presence of a Sicilian.

In the space of the next 3 1/2 minutes, the big man in the Cressida tells me the following: He's Sicilian, the car he's driving has 240,000 miles on it, he used to be a truck driver, his son is getting married tomorrow and all his future in-laws are coming from New Jersey for dinner. Plus, this big, jolly man in the Cressida teaches singing. He loves opera. He has quite a set of pipes himself. Want to hear them?

And before I can say, "Figaro," the big man is out of the car, standing on the bridge, singing an aria in a baritone that could knock down Michelangelo's David. Strange. But beautiful.

Next, I get invited into the home of a congenial couple who live at the end of a long lane in the woods. The house is full of windows and sunlight and aromas. The lady of the house is sitting at a table. She invites me to look over her shoulder at the hand-written notes she's reviewing.

The notes consist of a list of places -- gas station, stop sign, highway interchange, convenience store -- and the exact mileage and travel time between each. The woman says she actually writes this down as she's driving. "Someday, I'm going to get in an accident," she says. I ask why she seems so obsessed and determined to keep track of the fine details of travel, and in the process of answering she blurts out the words, "I'm a quilter," as if that explains everything. The lady of the house then asks if I want to stay for lunch. She's making spaghetti.

Next, I'm cutting grass under a low-hanging wild cherry tree. Something clips the baseball cap off my head. I figure I must have brushed a branch. I pick up the cap and keep cutting. Over the burp and growl of the mower, I hear a bird. A disturbed bird. An angry bird. An angry robin. It -- he or she, I can't tell -- is behaving like a dive-bomber, dropping off high branches and buzzing my head, squawking all the time. I notice a nest on one of the branches, which explains the robin's kamikaze attacks, but makes them no less strange.

OK, fine. It's another day. I'm on the job. I'm reading over the impressive array of nominations for the annual Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. I get to one, the story of a man in the apparel business in Western Maryland, and the nomination includes the boast that the man fired several members of his own family to make the company successful. Strange.

A man walks up to me on Lexington Street. "Read the Bible," he says. "It'll scare the hell out of you."

I stop to speak to a woman on cigarette break. "Saw a bumper sticker the other day," she tells me. "It said, 'My other car is up my nose.'"

A woman named Lynn calls to tell me about something she saw at Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road. That's a busy intersection with traffic lights that change at relatively long intervals -- long enough for a young guy to put his car into park, run to a gas station, buy a pack of cigarettes and make it back in time for the green light. Lynn finds that strange.

A guy tells me he just went to a funeral where they piped Sinatra singing "My Way" over the church sound system.

A colleague at The Sun calls William Donald Schaefer at home, and the former governor answers the phone by saying, "Schaefer the Spectacular speaking."

My kid's Nerf toy breaks. I call the Nerf company, which is Hasbro, and explain the situation to a pleasant customer representative. I don't have a receipt for the toy. In fact, I have no proof of purchase. I want to mail it back to Hasbro with the hope the company will repair it. "We don't repair the toys, sir," the woman says. "Merely discard it and we'll mail you a new one." I give her my address. In two weeks, the replacement Nerf toy arrives. Strange. And miraculous, in my book.

I buy a Westclox alarm clock and promptly lose the receipt. It promptly stops working. So what do I do? I mail the cheapie clock to the company, with a cranky letter. What happens? A replacement clock arrives -- at no charge. In that I no longer expect such generosity and no-questions-asked responsiveness from any company, I find it strange.

And you know what else is strange? I have many, many friends telling me how bad 104.3-FM (The Colt) is because it airs the "best music of the 70s," when there wasn't any such thing. They all hate the music of The Colt -- too much Queen, too much Steely Dan, too much Peter Frampton. And you know what's really strange? I can't stop listening to it. Somebody help me!

Seen or heard something strange? Contact Dan Rodricks at 332-6166, or write to him at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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