January 28th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Even Less Explicable: My Procrastinating God

Yesterday's journal entry was perfectly easily explicable. You can choose to believe that reality shifts in acausal ways, or you can suspect that I'm very powerfully prone to confabulated memory at least that one time, but either way, it's not that hard to come up with an explanation for how roughly 150 feet of frontage road and the business that was located there could move several miles and two exits away, in my memory. The other truly weird event in my life, the one that most tempts me to disbelieve in causality, is this one.

Quite some years ago, I got up one Saturday before the unholy butt-crack of dawn to go on a float trip. (For those of you not from the region, the Missouri side of the Ozark mountain range has some of the best canoe-navigable streams in the western hemisphere, everything from lazy easy beer-drinking inner tube trips up to Colorado River level whitewater. The collective name for this form of recreation is a "float trip." If memory serves, this one was scheduled to be canoes on a stretch of river that varies from level 2 to level 3.) I hit the highway to drive a third of the way around the city to the usual rendezvous point for carpooling down to that part of the Ozarks, and by sunrise I was moving along at a reasonable clip, not much more than a couple of miles per hour over the speed limit, in the left-hand lane of a mostly empty interstate highway.

When I crested one hill, there was a washing machine carton in my lane. By the time it was even visible, it can't have been much more than 20 or 30 feet from my bumper. Even with my reflexes, I barely managed to reach the brake, and wasn't even close to steering around it in time. I barely had time to be angry at whoever had let an entire washing machine fall off the back of their truck without doing anything about it. I was probably still doing 40 miles per hour when I slammed into the box, and the box and I skidded along for a couple of car-lengths before I got the two of us stopped. The impact seemed surprisingly light. So I got out of the car to look at the damage, and neither my car nor the carton seemed damaged anywhere near as badly as they should have been from a 40 to 50 MPH collision between an automobile and a washing machine. In fact, the car wasn't perceptibly damaged at all, and the box was only barely bent in enough to have dented the styrofoam packing. But the box couldn't have been empty, or the car would just have driven over it.

So I cut the packing tape on top with my pocket knife, noticing that it was, in fact, obviously the original packing tape, the first time that cardboard box had been taped, and opened it, and to this day I still can not make any sense out of what I saw. The box was completely filled by a pale blue transparent plastic bag, tied off at the top, full of some kind of viscous white liquid. My first thought at the time was that it was "liquid styrofoam?" But I didn't have time to study it for long because I was stopped in a traffic lane, and not knowing what it was, I was unwilling to open the bag to study it further, so I just pushed the box off onto the shoulder, got back in my car, and drove off, scratching my head. And to this day, I haven't come up with any plausible explanation for what that white liquid was, why they were shipping it in a major-label-brand washing machine box, how that box fell off of a truck, and what it was still doing sitting there in a traffic lane just past the crest of a hill.

And part of my brain will not let go of the idea that I have a mildly retarded or at least severely procrastinating guardian angel or personal god who didn't notice until scant milliseconds beforehand that I was about to ram a washing machine at 40-plus miles per hour, and couldn't come up with any more plausible way to save me than to instantly replace the washing machine with a bag of some unknown shock-absorbing liquid.