Mar 11, 2009

the anecdote thief

A true story.

Another "snow load day" meant we were done at ten in the morning. I graded papers and worked on planning for a few hours. When hunger struck, I stowed my gear and headed out to the car, figuring I'd sit down for lunch before leaving for the afternoon's debate tournament.

Briefcase on the back seat. Key in the ignition. Cold hands. Gloves? Where were my gloves? Must've left 'em in the classroom. As I headed back, I thought, Might as well see who's still around. M.'s still here. He'll want to grab a bite, too.

He was sitting at his computer, finishing a sack lunch and chatting with a colleague. "If you'd been here five minutes ago," he said when I asked. "Good idea, though." Just then the intercom squawked, Free pizza is available in the staff lounge in five minutes. The three of us looked at each other, and there was immediate tacit agreement. We stood up together.

Along the way, I mentioned to M. the accidental nature of my visit, how this whole thing hinged on forgotten gloves. "That's funny," he said. "It reminds me of a story Z. told me about this one time when he found a bottle cap by the school, and through a long chain of delays caused by stopping to pick it up, he eventually was in a car accident."

"M," I said, "You mean, a story I told you. That's my story."

"You're joking, right?" he said. "Z. told me that. I remember it perfectly. I'm absolutely certain."

"But it's my story," I said, and commenced to run down every last detail: the yellow "Lucky 20" Pepsi cap on the ground, the moment of indecision where I saw the cap but wondered if it was worth it to stoop and examine it, after all, who would leave a winning cap on the ground?, the second it took me to cave to curiosity, the surprise and elation at the triumph, the drive across town, the concatenation of events that would precipitate the accident, the crash, the frantic ex-con driving his parole officer's Taurus, and my successful attempt to talk him down from a hit-and-run. Contingency.

"Wow," M. said. "But Z's been telling it like it belongs to..." He trailed off.

I made the inference. "Stealing my anecdote. An anecdotal plagiarist."

We stopped outside the copy room, the back way to the staff lounge. "I don't know what to say," M. said.

"I can't believe that about Z.," I said. "It must be your memory. You've conflated Z.'s story with my story. That happens all the time. Z.'s not like that. He's a good guy. I refuse to believe that Z. would do that."

M., a reasonable man, granted it was indeed possible, but said he was still sure Z. had hijacked my anecdote. Our mutual colleague noted that the pizza was going to be cold by the time we finally got there, so we dropped the subject and continued on our mission. Cold, it turns out, was an optimistic assessment. We arrived to see the box opening and the pizza disappearing within seconds.

Once again, contingency ruled. At least this time I didn't have a totaled car.

Disappointed, we split up, and my hunger nagged louder and louder. Disregarding it for a moment, on the way back to my car, I stopped by my classroom to find the wayward gloves that started my trek to the precipice of misanthropy. Nowhere to be found. Had they been.... Students were milling around after class.... But again I refused to consider the worst case. I gave up looking and went to lunch, marveling at the thought that someone could possibly steal an anecdote, or, worse, believe that someone had actually done so.

Oh, and the gloves? They were in my briefcase the whole time.

No comments: