These Things Happen

by Peter Wallace, © 2007

You may have seen a humor magazine/newspaper called “The Onion.” It was started by some young folks in Madison 20 some years ago whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. The content of their publication is a mix of very clever and highly offensive material, so it isn’t something I’d recommend to everyone. You can’t be someone who is easily offended if you pick up The Onion.

I mention that publication because they run many “news” stories that are made up, and are patently absurd, and would never really happen. That’s what makes them funny. You can see some examples at www.theonion.com. Sometimes, though, things happen in real life that make The Onion seem unnecessary.

Last week, a man in Madison, wearing a kilt, had an argument with another man, and shot him dead. There’s nothing funny about it, and yet the image of someone in a kilt (remember that we don’t live in Scotland) shooting someone while a crowd of people watched… well, it’s just strange.

Also last week, a sixty year-old woman gave birth to twins. Sixty year-old men father children all the time, but somehow this seems a little different — but maybe that’s just the last vestiges of sexism that haven’t yet been driven out of me.

Perhaps the oddest thing that happened last week is the one you didn’t read about. I stopped at a Shell station Monday night to pick up a gallon of milk, which cost less than a gallon of gas, but not by much. As I approached the station, I saw through the window what appeared to be the clerk behind the counter playing the saxophone. Sure enough, as I entered the store, he was playing a beautiful, yet unfamiliar piece while customers shopped for beer, a newspaper, or snacks.

He wasn’t a young man… maybe 40 years old, but that’s just a guess. He had the standard crew neck shirt with the Shell logo on the chest. He didn’t seem very cheerful, and frankly, he didn’t seem like someone who would play the saxophone as well as he did.

As people came up to pay, he put down the instrument, and played the cash register until everyone was taken care of. Then he picked up the sax – an alto sax – from its old and worn case, and played some more.

As I approached the counter, I commented that it wasn’t every day that you hear someone playing he saxophone in a Shell station. He agreed, and qualified my statement by saying, “especially not a saxophone concerto.” I nodded my approval of his qualifying remark.

Sadly, people are shot every day. People have babies every day. People play the saxophone every day. And yet, these three incidents struck me as adding significant interest to the week just passed. Other odd news of the week, like Paris Hilton being seen carrying a Bible, seemed not nearly as fascinating.

I think that we humans depend on things to be mostly normal every day, or we’d lose our minds. A predictable life is comforting in a lot of ways. But, maybe it does our minds good to be shaken up a little bit now and then, too.

Maybe if we just pay attention to the news, and what’s going on around us, we won’t need humor magazines or the Enquirer to entertain us. After all, these things happen.

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