Monday, March 2, 2009

Hartenstein Luck

My first thought today when the car hit me was, “Yep. I just broke my arm. I wonder how I’m supposed to say that in Chinese?” I was about two miles from the apartment, jogging on my usual route past the Fine Arts Museum and the Indian restaurant with the geckos that remind me of Singapore, when I turned a corner, darted between two parked cars, and was sideswiped by an oncoming vehicle.
It was a good run. I’d had one of those great days where everything was rolling my way. I’d finished yet another chapter in my book, had a great conversation with a friend from home, and had been to the post office where I’d mailed off two letters. SungJoo had the girls, they were checking out a new ballet studio, and so I thought I’d get my run in early. It was a perfect plan to end a perfect day. Funny random detail, at the moment of impact I had the Beastie Boys in my iPod and the line, “I got a girl in the castle and one in the pagoda, I got more rhymes than Abe Vigoda.” Then BAM! Swept off my feet, I was slammed forearm first into the windshield and bounced back onto the asphalt into a barrel roll which scraped my legs up into hamburger.
Don’t worry. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Just threw the fear of God into me a little.
The driver was in worse shape than me. Panting and sweating and clutching his chest, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. I imagine it’s one thing to hit a Taiwanese national, but another entirely to plow into a half naked American tourist who seemed to fall out of the sky. He was very apologetic, dusting me off and offering me a cigarette to calm us both down.
I declined, but lit his as he was shaking too violently to hold the lighter straight.
It was then I wished there was some ancient customary law, like if someone almost killed you but failed, they had to be your slave for a year (or at least your Taiwanese butler). Oh the things I would have made that guy do. Watch my kids on a Sunday afternoon so I could catch a matinee, hang out in the kitchen at night and heat up one-year-old Lauren’s nightly 3 a.m. bottle of milk, drive the minivan into all parking garages from now on while I stand on the curb drinking coffee and directing traffic. But alas, no such luck. I rubbed some dirt on my shins and pumped my fist a couple of times to see if my arm needed amputation. Nope. Perfect health. Lucky once again. The driver and I shook hands and parted, him to smoke another cigarette and me continuing to jog on down the sidewalk. When I got back to the apartment my Korean in-laws were livid. Why didn’t you get the license number? You could call the police? Collect a big payment? But that’s not really American style is it? But then, what is?
My American style can be summed up in two words: Hartenstein Luck.
Anybody who knows me knows there is this cosmic force in control of all Hartensteins at all times. It’s a term coined by my brother Grant, a guy no stranger to monumental triumphs and subsequent disasters. Nothing normal ever really seems to happen to us. It’s always one end of the spectrum or another, either incredibly good or extremely bad. Examples? Sure: An Official track lane screw up costs me a Medal my junior year, but I come back and win State the next. Travel by train through Russia, I get stranded in Siberia. The birth of my first child resulted with an emergency caesarian that saves Xi’an’s life. Even the best teaching day of my life, the night my sophomores performed our Shakespeare One Acts, ended with me being rushed to the Emergency Room with Labyrinthitis of the inner ear.
I guess it’s just something I’ve come to expect. My friends call it “un-luck,” you know, “The opposite of good fortune.” But I’ll never admit to this. (Psst… I don’t want to piss off the cosmic forces)
Later that night, when the day was over and the girls were in bed and the lights in the apartment were off and I finally laid down to rest, I started thinking about all the plans I have left for my life, how I’ve only begun to see the world, only begun to live my life. How I made it yet again by the skin of my teeth, and that thought fills me over and over with joy. Then the real truth hits me, harder than any screeching car slamming my body against the windshield. I made it to live another day. Yet again I made it. Who needs good luck or bad luck or crazy cosmic forces? I have something better. Tomorrow. That’s all I need. Tomorrow, I'll take my chances with that.

1 comment:

  1. Hartenstein! I love reading all this, its great to know you're well (beside the arm incident). You should post some photos up here though! :)

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