Serendipity: it’s gotta be one of my top 10 favourite words. It happens, sometimes. And I’d be very interested to hear examples from people reading this of it happening to them. For me, and I guess everyone, it’s when a strange and seemingly coincidental confluence of events conspires to a certain result or series of results. In the dictionary it’s defined as a fortunate thing, and obviously its antonym is simply “misfortune” – which is self-explanatory. Why am I blithering on about this pleasantly effecting and sounding word? Well, the other day I was just about to pull into my street after driving to check the waves and have a beer at the surf club, when a song called Freaking Out The Neighbourhood by Mac DeMarco came on the radio. So, not really having a lot better to do, I dis-engaged the indicator and kept on driving in order to “freak out the neighbourhood”. I wasn’t actually going to try and freak anyone out, you understand. It’s not true to my character. I did think about screaming something out the car window at some guys playing cricket, but I consider people who do that (screaming out car windows) to be wankers. If any other song with similarly accessible inspirations had come on the radio – such as a song about driving or exploring – I would have done exactly the same thing. I do have “my family stickers are stupid” stuck in multi-coloured letters to the top of my car’s rear hatch, but that’s designed more to convince people that the stickers themselves are for various reasons stupid, not that I necessarily think anyone who buys them is. And I doubt anyone would describe it exactly as “freaky”. If you can’t tell, I try to be a diplomatic, as opposed to definitively aggressive or submissive, yet not always quiet person; which in my mind works better for the playing out of serendipitous, as opposed to unfortunate, events. I did graze my face and almost break my neck on a sand bank while surfing a couple of days earlier, but that was merely a result of a slight misjudgement on my part. Plus I hadn’t surfed in a while, and was clearly out of practise.
So anyway, I’ve kept driving past my street and through not terribly less familiar roads. I didn’t plan on making this the start of some kind of four-wheeled Forrest Gump-style rambling around the country deal, however. Instead I was just going to drive around the area until the song finished. Call me crazy, but I felt at the time like something interesting was going to happen. It was almost like a premonition. So I kept intuitively going along for the ride I’d found myself on and, after passing the cricketers, came to a road that I’d only driven down once, when I was much younger. A mate, my brother and I were hitting golf balls during the night at the nearby sports field. A couple of the balls landed heavily on the roof of the netball clubhouse during this particular act of misspent youth, and inevitably we heard a siren sound somewhere in the distance. Without being quite sure what type of siren it was, nor exactly how close, we jumped in the car and hid for a while down the street in question. Equally strange, if not serendipitous times. This time, I chose to drive down the street for political reasons. All things considered, about who I am, what I value and how I perceive the world and my humble place in it, I would consider myself a politically centre-left-aligned person. So I decided to turn left into this street because of that factor. Kind of silly, but there it is. Obviously I turned 90 degrees to the left instead of the 135 that would have accurately symbolised the centre-left, but had I done that I would have crashed into the house on the corner; which was well more than any even incidental freaking out of anyone else that I intended on doing. So instead I’m cruising down the street with the intention of then returning home via whatever route after the song which inspired the whole journey had ended, when I spot a bunch of stuff out the front of someone’s house accompanied by a sheet of white ply-wood with “free” written on it in black lettering. As far as four letter words go, at least when used in a positive context, that would have to be my favourite. The song ended and passed quite seamlessly from my mind, as I did a u-turn and drove back to investigate.
There was a whole range of stuff like tools, clothes and kitchenware there of various degrees of use to certain people. The only thing I regret not grabbing was a jigsaw puzzle or two. As far as I know, besides helping out with them, I’ve never completed one on my own before and was at the time keen to give it a go. But just like the song which started all this, it slipped from my mind. This was possibly because of some the books on display: a quite impressive collection of classics such as Homer’s Odyssey and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (both of which I already own and have read gleefully). I had in fact read the about four or five or a couple more classics arrayed before me, so my eyes turned to the others. You can tell a lot about a person or indeed a family by what they read, and had I bothered I could have gleaned a fair bit from really scrutinising each one of them. But I was keen to go surfing that afternoon, so wished not to tarry long. I ended up settling on five books, which was perhaps excessive considering I was at the time going through a phase of not reading as much as usual: When in Rome by Penelope Green, Blind Date by R L Stine, Dad and Me by Sarah Bryden-Brown, Song of Songs by Beverley Hughesdon and Christine Marion Fraser’s King’s Croft – the latter of which is unfortunately the first of a series, so I think I’ll be looking to move it on. Two things troubled me, as I finished a cigarette and put it in my car’s ashtray: even in our burgeoning age of digital media is it ethical to take five perfectly good books from someone’s possession despite the fact they’d advertised them as free; and is it insulting to ask someone who had advertised something as free if they’re sure they wouldn’t like money in return for its transfer of ownership. I decided on the latter course of action; figuring it was instead considerate rather than insulting, and said to the teenage boy who came to the door: “Just making sure you you don’t want any money for these books?”
“No,” he said. “It’s fine; they’re free.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said, and left. Then I went surfing with a mate. It wasn’t very good, and a lifesaver on a jet ski came over to us at one point and told us a tiger shark had been spotted in the area. So we got the hell out of there straight away and as quickly as possible, without appearing to be panicking. As my friend said: “I’m not going to risk losing a leg for those waves.” And obviously at the highly unfortunate possibility of being maimed or killed by a shark, the serendipity ended.