Saturday, June 26, 2004

Where’s Waldo?

The Gods have smiled on me by staging a series of really stupid miracles as if they were determined to teach me an important lesson about synchronicity. Back in the 60’s, for example, I had a night of truly obsessive dreams, all of which involved the unlikely theme of tuna spaghetti sauce. Like golf dreams in which you never actually get to tee off, like sex dreams in which you actually never get to get off, the tuna spaghetti sauce dream was intensely frustrating. Though I courteously informed everybody I didn’t know the recipe for the dish, indeed, had never actually heard of such a thing, people of all kinds kept insisting that I cook it for them. One and after another and then in choruses, women, men, children, talking animals, cartoon characters on television shows, midgets with Munchkin voices, even rows and rows of newborn babies in the hospital all chanted: “Tuna spaghetti sauce! Tuna spaghetti sauce!” And I tried to make what they wanted but either I couldn’t get the stove to light or there wasn’t any pasta or there wasn’t any tuna, always something. I think I must have spent half a sweaty Connecticut summer night tossing and turning as I moaned to myself “Tuna spaghetti sauce! Tuna spaghetti sauce!” I woke up several times during the night, but it didn’t help. No sooner had I got back in bed and fallen asleep than a new variation of the Tuna spaghetti sauce dream would begin. As you’d imagine, when morning finally came, I was relieved to hear the clock radio come on. Relieved that is, until I heard the unmistakable nasal tones of Myra Waldo, New York radio personality and food expert, announcing “Today’s recipe: tuna spaghetti sauce!”

Now I suppose that someone with a more spiritual turn of mind than my own would find some meaning in this episode as I might have myself had the subject matter been less trivial. I’ve never had a similar experience involving the death of a loved one or some other event emotionally significant enough to turn a quirky coincidence into a portent. I do continue to experience equally screwy conjunctures, however. The other day when I was trying to think of an especially odd incident in the Bible to exemplify all the things in scripture that nobody remembers, I considered the story in First Samuel of how God inflicted the Philistines with a plague of hemorrhoids for capturing the Ark of the Covenant. In order to appease Yahweh, the Philistines not only returned the Ark but also sent with it an offering of five golden hemorrhoids and five golden mice. I didn’t use this bit, settling instead on the tale of Ehud and Eglon King of Moab as my example, but I certainly had in mind a day later when I more or less accidentally caught a few minutes from a television interview of Ashley Judd. She was talking to Conan O’Brien about her role in the new movie about Cole Porter. They were talking about somebody’s jewelry and I was suddenly struck with a premonition that she had actually encountered a copy of one of the golden hemorrhoids. Of course that’s exactly what happened. I guess there really is a God.

The well understood arithmetic of coincidence guarantees that this sort of thing will not be especially rare, especially for someone like me who, as I am fond of saying, lives as a kind of intellectual oyster or barnacle that filters an immense stream of information through my brain every day. If I got it into my head to be superstitious, I could be very superstitious indeed. Besides, no doubt as a further consequence of an off-brand nervous system that’s been out of warrantee a very long time, I’ve had a host of uncanny experiences that a more enterprising type could have made into a career as a retail mystic. I used to sleep walk and on one memorable occasion woke up with muddy feet and dressed only in the jacket of a tuxedo. I’ve had repeated and memorable hypnagogic visions and even a couple of ecstasies and long ago learned how to throw myself into a passable imitation of a shamanic trance, though I’ve never been moved to send back a post card from the Land of the Dead. The net effect of all these interior adventures, like the prophetic dream of tuna spaghetti sauce, has been to make me highly skeptical of the value of mysticism itself. Extreme psychological states and uncanny coincidences are like exclamation marks. No matter how much they impress you, they owe whatever meaning they have to the words that precede them.

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