Saturday, November 29, 2008


This, from the final sentence of today's lead story on, commenting on the death of the world's oldest lady, Shelbyville, Indiana resident Edna Parker:

"Coincidentally, Parker lived in the same nursing home as 7-foot-7 Sandy Allen, whom Guiness recognized as the world's tallest woman until her death in August."

Those final few words are extraordinary.

Think about it.

The world's oldest woman, and the world's tallest woman, lived in the very same place, in the very same small town, together. What are the odds of that, that two people with such distinct records, such odd records, would share the same roof, the same shower, the same toilet?

This unusual fact should have been the first sentence of the article, not the last. It's proof of how absurdly aligned life is with our own bizarre sense of what's outrageous and compatible.

Earlier today I was watching on youtube Oprah's interviews with Cormac McCarthy, the author of No Country For Old Men and The Road and All the Pretty Horses and all those other books that are so good that you just sigh and shake your head and wonder why all those other words by other people are floating around when all we need are these ones by this one. McCarthy was talking about how in his life he had been fortunate enough to receive an abundant amount of good luck. Whenever he was in a jam, he had somehow always been able to get out of it. He was housesitting for some folks, and not only did he have little money, he had no money, nothing, nada, until the doorbell rang and some deliveryperson was kind enough to hand over a cheque for $20, 000 for some literary grant he had won. Oprah said something about how strange such luck was, or words to that effect, and McCarthy said, in essence, sure, but if you had a chart of all the people in the world, and their luck, there would be somebody with all the luck at the top and somebody who had the worst luck in the world at the bottom and everybody else would be somewhere in between. In other words, everybody's got their fair share of luck, and it's all doled out in random, irrational portions, but what can you do? You work with what you're given and you go from there.

Luck, and random, blind chance is common in life and yet so often overlooked, or diminished. How phenomenal it is that the world's oldest woman and the world's tallest woman lived in the same home in Shelbyville, Indiana. What are the odds of that? How strange. How simply odd. Proof that life has its own, uneven system of distribution. All of the cities in the world! All of the shithole hovels and gleaming penthouse suites. So many crevices and canyons and tenements and mansions that that old lady and this tall woman could have inhabited. And yet they were there, together, if not at the same time, at least in the same place. Putting ketchup on the same dishes to dip their frozen supermarket fries into.

We are all somewhere aligned upon that scale, that luck scale, and perhaps there is another scale that measures and gathers incidents of shortest and tallest, oldest and youngest, and sometimes those scales interact and intersect and find themselves stranded together in Shelbyville, Indiana, and whoever designs those scales -- God or fate or Blind Luck himself, ruler in one hand and pencil poised over crisp white cosmic paper in the other -- sometimes says, after a long hard day of hemming and hawing and sketching and erasing all of our cruel little destinies, in a moment of bored desperation, looking for a little levity before calling it a day: "Ah, fuck it. Why not let the tallest lady and the oldest lady alive share the same damn showerhead. That ought to be fun."

But fun only if we can actually notice the immensity of shit like this, the galactic ridiculousness of it all, and not let dry facts and computer-screen blather roll over us like high school math class did on warm June mornings, when summer waited for us only days away and felt so close that we could sometimes smell the swimming-pool chlorine drift through the room and mingle with the chalk-stuffed equations lying dormant on the whiteboard. Close enough to grasp.