October 15, 2012

An Encounter With The Trickster

Yesterday's post talked about those moments when we alone are witness to an event. All of us have them every day, but we rarely take note of them because most of the things we see are, in fact, not all that remarkable. Some events transcend the ordinary, though. They take us to a place where randomness and routine collide to produce a momentary dislocation in our everyday existence, a moment when we feel as though we have just glimpsed the hidden wheels of ... well, I don't know what. This is the story of one of those moments.

In the mid-1990s, I was working in downtown D.C. in a small office building located at 14th and L Streets. One block south was K Street, a main artery that was constantly filled with cars and people rushing to any one of dozens of restaurants and business and hotels that lined the street. I would join them for a 15-minute walk during lunch, an idler dawdling along amidst a small army of purpose-driven lives.

On one such walk, I passed one of those newspaper stands you see everywhere,  a metal box on a stand, emblazoned with the logo of the newspaper, a copy of the day's paper on display behind a clear plastic front. You put a quarter (in those days) into a slot, lift the front cover, and remove a single paper from a stack inside the box. For some reason, this one caught my eye, probably because of the huge headline that took up most of the area above the fold:  


Upon closer examination, I saw that it was a copy of The Evening Star--a daily newspaper that had gone out of business many years before--dated November 22, 1963. Judging by its condition, the copy I was looking at appeared to be genuine. How it got into a newspaper stand maintained by The Washington Post over 30 years later was a puzzle that baffles me to this day.

All around me people were walking in both directions on the sidewalk. Even in a short period of time, hundreds of people would have walked past the display. Some may have stopped to look, but no one had thought about taking the paper. Nor did I, at least at first. Instead, I continued along on my walk, my mind trying to find explanations for the mysterious appearance of the newspaper ... and not just any newspaper, but one reporting the single most momentous event in modern times.

After about 5 minutes of walking, I realized that something very strange was happening here. Could it be that I was the only person who had noticed? Was this somehow meant for me? I decided to test the hypothesis. If it was still there when I got back—and in that 10 minutes another several dozen people would have walked by—then I would take it. And that's what I did, as you can see from the picture below.

I have no idea who put that newspaper in that kiosk on that particular day, which if I recall correctly, was on a day that had no apparent connection to the assassination. I have no idea why they did it. It reminded me of the mysterious clue tiles that dotted the streets of Washington, D.C., and other major cities ... their author unknown; their purpose unclear, one of them just a block away. I just felt that this newspaper was somehow meant for me, a rather preposterous assumption when one looks back on things, but at the time I felt sure of it.

In those days, I was more attuned to the ... possibilities ... the discontinuities that part the curtains for just a brief moment to reveal a hidden purpose ... those isolated moments of observation meant just for us. You could say I saw the newspaper because a part of me was looking for it and, indeed, expected to find it or something like it. Fate put it in my path and left it up to me to be the first to seize the moment. As the saying goes, fortuna favorat audax ... fortune favors the bold.

Today, I might not be so sure about my role in events. I might wonder if I was instead a random event that upset an unwinding fate meant for someone else. More likely, I was the unwitting foil in a cosmic jest engineered by some merry prankster just for the hell of it. The Navajos called one of their gods coyote ... the trickster. I think he plays with us all the time. You just have to watching for it.

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