Incredible, unbelievable, phenomenal

By

Phenomena do not overawe me, as a rule.

Unusual recorded events I take in stride: the parting of the Red Sea, Horatius alone defending the bridge, King Arthur's sword handed up from the water, or even a coin in a fish's mouth. I'm not one of the doubters. I'm a believer. Perhaps this is because similar, though lesser, phenomena happen to me all the time.

At one point in my experience I went into a restaurant and ordered fresh brook trout and found a dime in the mashed potatoes. This is not much of a parallel, I admit, and I do not maintain the trout had the dime. It was just an unusual place to find financial aid in paying my bill.

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I also recognize ten cents is not a significant amount of money, at least not enough to make any hard-nosed cynic shout hallelujah. But it's a straw in the wind.

Perhaps a better case in point was when I was given a tennis racket by a friend who had just received a new one. It was the first tennis racket I ever owned and the desire to start using it was not unlike the Sirens singing to the sailors of Ulysses. I stood on the front lawn, whooshing the racket through the air, wishing I had somewhere to play, when the phone rang. It was a girl in the next block inviting me over to play tennis on their private courts.

Well, things like this happen! She also said, ''Bring along a can of tennis balls. I can't find any.''

A can of tennis balls? Who had tennis balls?

I lost no time in starting out, even with only the racket, with my dog trotting at my heels. In wondering where I was to get a can of tennis balls and how much they would cost, I kept walking faster and faster until after a while I noticed Pat, my dog, was sounding awfully breathy.

He had a tennis ball in his mouth. I took the ball, thanked him with a pat on the head; he went on home and I went to play my first game of tennis.

Now, I don't want any know-it-all readers writing in and explaining this to me. I like it just as it is. My dog had a tennis ball in his mouth and I don't want to know how it got there. The story is hard enough to tell with just the bare facts.

Not all of the things that happen to me go unexplained forever. But even after the answer becomes evident, I still retain a pleasant sense of wonder.

When I was in college I went walking one afternoon with a girlfriend. This is the part of the story people now find hard to believe, but people used to do things like that; just go for a walk around the city.

Everything was wonderful until we passed a soda shop and the girl made a sly remark of how nice an ice cream soda would taste on a hot day. That's another part that's hard to believe. Boys bought ice cream sodas for girls, and both parties seemed to like the idea.

In this case, though, I was flat broke -- which was almost a constant condition -- but it seemed better to keep up the pretense of affluence. So I patted about my person, saying, ''Oh, dash it all, I don't believe I brought my wallet with me. . . .'' During this Oscar-winning performance I put my hand into my back pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill! The sodas were delicious.

Later on, of course, I discovered I was wearing my roommate's pants. Often I don't tell this part of the story because it seems to detract from the remarkable quality of the event -- for others -- not for me. It was just as unusual to get five dollars out of my roommate.

Recently things have taken a turn and I am not so blase.

I had an experience with a crow.

It was an ordinary fish crow, and there may be readers who know this variety better than I do and will say that every fish crow is as goofy as the next one. Maybe so. But this particular fish crow is a black caricature of a bird, which looks sideways at you and says, ''Oh-oh'' as if you had just spilled something on the carpet; which, in my case, is always a good possibility.

I left the house one morning as usual to walk to my office, which is in town about two miles away. No sooner was I outside the door than I saw this fish crow flying toward me from the direction of the street. It was carrying a full-size sheet of typing paper in its bill.

It flew into the yard and perched atop the car parked in the driveway. Looking at this bird, with the sheet of paper in its mouth, called up images of things that might have happened in biblical times.

Before I could get any closer, the bird flew off toward whence it came, changed its mind, made a semicircle in flight, and returned to alight in the hibiscus tree near the yard of our next-door neighbor.

It made such a point of waving this sheet of typing paper at me that curiosity made me go over and take a closer look. As I approached, the crow fluttered out from the tree a bit, dropped the sheet of paper almost on top of my head, and went back to the hibiscus tree. I picked up the paper. Naturally, there was a message on it. Typewritten neatly at the top was: What is Reverence?

I don't think I was too impressed with the message. I mean, I didn't consider this a significant omen, or a Mene mene tekel upharsin sort of thing. Besides, I consider myself, in my way, as reverent as the next fellow. But I did think it was worth taking in and showing to my wife, even just for the sake of cleaning up the yard.

I left the crow, who immediately said, ''Oh-oh,'' and went back to the house.

''Sweetie,'' I said, when I entered the kitchen waving the paper. ''What do you make of this?''

She stared for a moment at the written words. ''Where did you get it?''

''A crow gave it to me,'' I said.

Friend wife assumed the lifted-eyebrow look. ''I wrote this,'' she said emphatically, as if I were about to claim the crow wrote it. ''This is an idea I started to work on but I threw it out. It was in the trash bag! What do you mean , a crow gave it to you?''

''The one out there in the tree. I brought it in, because -- well, suppose he gave it to the neighbors or something.''

''I'm sure I put it in the trash bag!''

Well, it wasn't important. I started off for work again. The trash bag referred to sat innocently and neatly tied at the corner of the house. Maybe Lieutenant Columbo, or some other television sleuth, could come up with a nifty answer. I couldn't.

That silly crow is still around, saying ''Oh-oh.''

I see it every morning, and every morning we eye each other. But I feel I get the worst of it. He looks as if he knows something I don't.

Edgar Allan Poe had his Raven. I have my fish crow.

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