Posts Tagged 'Magnolia'

Never Go Home

Student hit by a car; killed.
Not an original headline, but keep reading. There is something about the death of young people that is incongruously fascinating.  In sophomore or junior year, a kid from my high school got in a car accident on a narrow road just outside town. He and I got in a fight in 7th grade, during a PE football game. He was a pretty cool guy, though. Philip was his name. Anytime someone dies – be it celebrity or a person I knew or just someone I heard about – I have the same silly thought: what movies were they looking forward to that they’ll never get to see? It’s a projection of my own interests, sure, but the larger question is the same. People have hopes and dreams and goals. Even if they didn’t have anything so grand, what tiny things were they looking forward to? Maybe looking forward to seeing a friend who was coming into town, maybe a baseball game they were going to get tickets to.  What if that very day, they’d decided to eat at their favorite restaurant that night? And then they’re dead.

Falling From the Sky

Falling From the Sky

This is a macabre entry, but it’s going somewhere. After 19 months in an apartment, I’ve moved home for a short time. Solitude is a precious commodity, so simply having to engage in continual conversations is a chore for me. Worse: my father is testing new phones at our house, so all week he’s been calling from his cell phone to see which phones are working. They aren’t all ringing at the same time, so he swaps them out, hoping a new outlet will solve the problems. The ringing comes in waves, along with his commentary and ever-changing hypothesis for success. It’s annoying.

In summer, the basement’s the coolest part of the house, so Dad and I camp out there, usually a baseball game on, and both of us on opposite sides clacking away on our computers. Mom punctuates with intermittent questions from upstairs. She yells something down, he yells something back. Stifled muffles all around, which they infer as a signal to yell louder. Dad is doing freelance investigations for insurance companies right now, and here is where the teenage death comes in. Since I was a kid, we’ve had these ethical, insurance claims dilemmas. He’d draw out diagrams for my brother and I, and we would discuss who is at fault.
We’ve been discussing the following incident: Two early-20’s college students and their professor are on their way back from some band-related school event. Driving back, they get a flat tire. They change the tire and keep going. A little while later, they get another flat tire. With no second spare tire, they spend a while patching the second flat and proceed. Two miles down the road, the patch gives way. They get off the highway and find a tire center. But it’s Sunday, and the tire place is closed. They call the local police and ask for help, but the police say there’s nothing they can do, and if the group hasn’t found a solution by morning to give them another call. They call a few tire companies, all of whom are closed on Sunday. They even speak to one guy, but he won’t come help them. It’s 6pm Sunday evening. They’ve got cell phones, so they’re calling people trying to figure something out. At 7pm, a car stops and offers to take them to Wal-Mart, 30 minutes back the way they came, to get a tire. The professor goes and the students stay, since there are valuables in the vehicle. So off he goes. Two hours go by and the professor isn’t back yet. The students are milling about on the roadside, and one of them, a foreign exchange student with no family in the country, gets out his trumpet and starts playing. He’s walking up and down the road, just passing the time. It’s 9pm and he’s wearing a black shirt, walking on the narrow side road playing his trumpet. In his statement, the other student noted that sometimes our trumpet player closes his eyes while he plays because he gets nervous. The sound of the trumpet probably blocked out everything else, including voices and approaching cars.
And it was in this way that a 23 yr. old foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic was hit and killed by an unassuming 20 yr old who was driving home from work.
Consider also the following pieces of information.
–The professor said that the closed tire center had some tires laying out. He counted four which would have fit his van. He thought about taking one and leaving his information so he could pay the owner later, but he thought it would be a bad example to set.
–The student said that the two of them got annoyed and hungry, and it was out of that frustration that the Czech student got out his trumpet in the first place. In photos of the exact location of the accident, a McDonalds can be seen in the background. It was less than a mile away.
–The 20 yr old driver said that he saw one person on the side of the road in a white shirt. Since the road was narrow, he moved away from that person, effectively accidentally swerving into the other student.

There are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows? And we generally say, “Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it.”

Talking with Dad he said, “The whole thing is a series of unfortunate events.” True, though this seems far too dark for Lemony Snicket. It seems more like something out of “Final Destination.” That such events should unfold as they did, each seeming in a way to produce the next, building slowly to a crescendo, and then tragedy. And so many questions bubble to the surface. If the students were hungry, why not walk to the McDonald’s, or the gas station, the sign for which can also be seen in the pictures. They were two hours from home, but they waited in the same spot for three hours. They had cell phones, why weren’t they calling the teacher asking him where he was? What was the teacher doing that took him so long? Why did the students walk on the narrow road when the tire station had a large driveway right there?
This is a situation that seems built purely of variables. If just one thing had been different, the outcome could have been avoided. If the group had taken a different vehicle or made sure the van was in good condition, or not gone to the event at all. If they had decided to come back any day but Sunday. If they had stopped at the Wal-mart after the first flat tire to pick up a new tire. If they had all gone to Wal-Mart together after the second flat. If they had stopped the van someplace other than a narrow side road. If the students had gone to get something to eat. If the white shirted student had suggested that the trumpet player not walk in the middle of the road. If the trumpet player hadn’t closed his eyes. If the 20 yr old had taken a different road home from work. But of course, if any of these circumstances were altered, wouldn’t it just create a new series of potential accidents and mishaps?
magnolia7They say that everything happens for a reason. I’ve never really liked that sentiment. It seems providentially saccharine and utterly simplistic. And anyway, how does that work here? Does tragedy have a purpose in mind when it occurs? Or does the purpose come out of the process of dealing with the tragedy? I guess the answer depends on whether you believe that God is malicious or loving. Be aware, as with most things of import, there is a right answer and a wrong one.
And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just “Something That Happened.” This cannot be “One of Those Things… ” This, please, cannot be that. And for what I would like to say, I can’t. This Was Not Just A Matter Of Chance. Ohhhh… These strange things happen all the time.

Timing is Everything

And now two stories from the last 24 hours:

1 – Westbound I-70

On the way home from STL, and my car is getting low on gas. I’ve decided to push on past Columbia, MO and forge ahead into the night. I’m just into an episode of the radio show “This American Life,” and it’s good. It’s 11:30 or so. The car tells me I have 50 miles til empty. No problem. 25 miles til empty. Keep going. With about 18 miles left, I ask GPS where the nearest gas station is. 8 miles. Perfect. I pull off the highway and there’s the BP station, except…closed. 

10 miles til empty.

Get back on the highway, ask GPS for another. 5 miles up… I can do that.

I loop around and under Hwy 70 and make a left turn into black. Should be a gas station 1/4 mile on the right. I drive 1/2 a mile…NOTHING.

Turn around. 5 miles til empty.

It is at this time that I turn off my iPod and realize that I’m in trouble. Now it’s midnight, and my phone is almost dead and of course I left my charger at home. 

I see the lights of a gas station just up the road, back on the other side of the highway. Salvation! 

No. What I saw was the sign of the Gas Station (closed for the evening) and the outside lights of an Adult Video Store – on the trip from KC to STL, these shops outnumber flies.

3 miles til empty. 

I turn around, furious at these bumpkin gas stations that close early, mad at myself for not stopping sooner. I get back on 70, headed West, and I think, What will I do if I run out of gas? How long will it take someone to stop? Should I call someone I know? No, it’ll take them probably an hour and a half to find me, another 45 minutes to get me gas. Plus, my phone’s battery is deep down to the red area. Not good.

2 miles til empty.

1 miles til empty (bit of an oversight, there, by the car manufacturer, eh? Maybe it was some sad technician’s lonely joke, since most people will never let their tank get that low. But I did).

0 miles til empty.

The car is still running and moving, and it seems almost as surprised about this little marvel as I am grateful for it. I see a sign. Shell! I’ve driven this road at least 10 times, never noticed that little Shell station. I limp off the highway, foot off the gas, trying to coast. 

I make it.

It reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Kramer refuses to fill up the car with gas because he doesn’t believe that cars ever run out of gas, that it’s just a scam from the auto companies. Kramer would not be so cocky if he drove through the midwest at night.


2 – Partly Cloudy, With a Chance of Doom

This story is much shorter. It is one fell swooping message from life to me about my own fragility.

I was on my way to inspect a roof today, a 1.5 story Laminate shingled-house. I had to cancel my first inspection, because I’d forgotten my camera like an idiot (first day back from vacation, these things will happen), so I’d gone back to my apartment, grabbed the camera and was going to get to this claim a bit early. The sky was a bit dark, but nothing was falling. It was preparing for rain, but wasn’t ready yet, and it only takes 30 minutes or so to inspect. 

Literally, the moment my right hand began steering the vehicle into a 20 mph left turn onto the woman’s street, an ocean of water fell out of the sky. Not a few drops. Not some light drizzle. It went from dry to soaked in an instant. And while it did mess up my schedule a bit, it was kindof amazing to see. It made me want to come home and watch “Magnolia” and have some soup. Plus, I imagined an even more frustrating scene… me, having just gotten onto the roof, pulling out my tape measure when the downpour arrives. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a steep roof in the pouring rain. Unless you have spike-souled shoes, the idea is a bad one. I envision myself moving carefully to get back to my ladder, it shaking in the wind. I imagine the turning around to descend the ladder, placing a foot on the first slippery step. And then whoops and the ladder slips. And then yikes and I fall backwards, an ungraceful, headlong dive onto the concrete, where I lay lifeless. Since no one was to be home during the inspection, I would expire shortly thereafter, just a block or two down the street from my parents’ house, they only finding out much later.

So a collective sigh of relief from me at my avoided fate, although I do not hold it against those who read these words and feel like God, Himself, has just missed a most premium opportunity.

Roger Ebert Writes for Me!

Here is the 2nd post about Mr. Ebert and in no way the final one. You’ll hear about him again in a month or so when I make my list of Top 10 movies from 2008. It will be shared with all, even though it will be written mostly for me. 

Back to Ebert. He has a bi-weekly column called “Great Movies,” in which he… reviews a Great Movie. It can be popular, obscure, old, new, black & white, color, silent, talkie, or any mixture of them. It is a great way to learn about movies. And it is not an absolute science. For instance, he recently reviewed 2002’s “Adaptation,” which was not his #1 movie of that year, “Minority Report” was, but “Adaptation” has been bumped up to Great status first. This is neither here nor there.

It is not unkind or untrue to say that Ebert is getting older. He has health problems. He has been unable to speak for at least 18 months, and worse, he was unable to write for a long, empty spell. It seems to me like he is choosing movies as his way to say good-bye. He is making amends with some movies, like “The Godfather, Part II.” He is choosing movies about God – recently “Through a Glass Darkly” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” – and now “Magnolia,” (my favorite film) which is also quite a lot about death, as are “Adaptation” and “A Prairie Home Companion,” which was the final film of one of Ebert’s favorite filmmakers, Robert Altman. As it happens, Paul Thomas Anderson, who wrote and directed “Magnolia” helped out on that film, since Altman was sick. He acted as insurance for the film’s completion. If “Magnolia” is interested with the interconnectivity of life, then its appearance at this very moment in Ebert’s cannot be overlooked.

Ebert discusses the film’s obsession with coincidences, or rather, how coincidence may not be coincidence at all, it just seems that way from down here. So what does it mean that the review was posted on Thanksgiving? And what does it mean that I was in Ebert’s home city of Chicago this Thanksgiving, on the VERY DAY he published this review? Did he write this review for me and neither of us knew it? 

I have not talked about “Magnolia” yet, really, and I’m not going to. Too early in the blog’s life to go on and on about it… and I will. For now, be contented that Ebert is the world’s best film critic, and even though “Magnolia” is not his favorite movie of all time, I betcha he writes about it better than I will. Read it.

It Has Come to This

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