Once upon a time, the world-famous author Neil Gaiman invited me to dinner. He treated me to one of those sushi places where diners sit at a bar facing a miniature river. The rolls and sashimi sail by in teensy boats. You snatch what you want as it bobs past. The boats just keep coming.
Mr. Gaiman was seated to my right. We maintained light conversation. He was sincere in his attention, engaged in his response, and it was a pleasure to share his company. But his gaze conveyed a certain preoccupation. It took me a few minutes, then I pinpointed it: conversation with me was consuming a fraction of his brainpower expressible to the far right of the decimal point, while the rest of his head was fleshing out the plot of the next international blockbuster. Some people hum with intelligence.
We were chatting easily when a woman seated to my left leaned in and hailed Gaiman. She was a tad pushy and I took her for a risible fanatic but it became immediately evident they were familiar, and based on their conversation I deduced they had worked together in Hollywood. Soon I was leaning backward to eat my sushi so they could converse across me. I thanked Neil, excused myself, and returned to my hotel room across the street, where I discovered I had left my television on and tuned to CNBC. “The Suze Orman Show” was airing, and there, inset on the screen and confessing to Suze she was up to her earlobes in credit card debt with no prospects, was the woman I just left with Neil Gaiman at the sushi bar.
Then there was the time I was hitchhiking near the Guatemalan border while in pursuit of firefighting stories. I was supplementing my itinerant writer income at the time by writing advertising copy with my friend Al, who as a matter of his own side project landed an infomercial gig, the one in which Al was the guy who encouraged you to order the TIME-LIFE series of “Home Repair and Improvement” books. The commercials were professionally shot with Al standing in a homey kitchen suffused with fake sunlight, and intoning the tagline, “Call now to examine Decks, Porches and Patios free for 15 days!” His voice was reverberant velvet.
I was lonely in Central America. Dusty, hungry, and infected with self-pity over a failing relationship, I had been living in hostels and $12 flop rooms and hitching rides with sugarcane haulers, and so on this day treated myself to a $20 room in the first hotel I found. Trudged upstairs, sat at the end of the bed, and turned on the TV. It glowed slowly to life and then there was my pal Al: “Use your credit card and get this Stanley tape measure absolutely free!” I sat there in gap-toothed wonder.
There is no resolution to these anecdotes, other than life is a series of interlinked non sequiturs and possibly time travel. Sometimes events conspire to conspire. Sometimes when you turn on the TV, you better be sitting down.