* (And expect anyone to believe it)
A true story:
This past Valentine’s Day, the wife and I were on our way to a restaurant to have a nice, romantic lunch together when her Honda CR-V broke down. (Yeah, you read that right — it’s a Honda!) No sooner had I pulled off the freeway than the damn thing died, dash panel aglow with seemingly every warning light in the manual.
I managed to re-start the car and pull it around a corner just to get it out of traffic, but that was it. The beast was dead. Time to call the tow truck.
Later that day, the service tech at our local Honda dealer called me with a question: What unlicensed hack had worked on the wife’s car before this? Because whoever it was, they’d left the radiator so misaligned with its mounting bracket that the associated fan had, over time, sliced through a hose, draining the radiator of all its coolent.
Nobody, I said. The only service that had ever been done on the car had been of the minor, regularly scheduled variety, and that had been done at the very same dealership from which the tech was calling.
Well, the tech said somewhat uncomfortably, that was rather hard to believe, considering the mangled mess of an automotive undercarriage he was looking at. Did I want to come down to the dealership to see for myself?
And then I remembered . . .
Around six months earlier, the family and I had just piled into the CR-V on our way to a birthday party. I was tooling up the hill on Glendale Boulevard when a flash of white ran directly across my path: a bulldog the size of a baby grand piano. He’d run across the street to go after some poor guy getting into his parked car and chosen to sprint back just in time to acquaint himself with my moving vehicle. I never even had a chance to hit the brakes.
We ran over the dog.
WHUMP THUMP BLAM KABAMM BOOM!
I pulled the car over to the curb and killed the engine. My hands were frozen to the wheel. My two kids were crying hysterically and the wife was white as a sheet. “Oh, my God,” Tessa kept saying. “Oh, my God . . .”
I got out of the car and started back toward the point of impact, wondering what the hell I was going to say to the animal’s owner when I presented him or her with the poor thing’s pulverized remains. Remains that were, when I reached the spot in the middle of the street where they should have been waiting for me, nowhere to be found.
I looked over at the guy the dog had been chasing, who was safely inside his car now and was about to drive off as if nothing unusual had happened. “Where’d he go?” I asked, openly bewildered.
He rolled his window down and pointed to a corner house across the street. “He ran home,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“He ran home?” How the hell did he run home?!
“He ran home,” the guy said again.
After he explained his non-existent relationship to the bulldog in question, I left him to go find the animal and apologize profusely to its heartbroken owner for having reduced a beloved pet to the wretched, broken creature I was certain it had to be.
When I peered through the gate surrounding the house to which the man in the car had directed me, I saw the dog sitting straight up on the porch, tongue out and wagging this way and that, a young Hispanic man in a wifebeater T-shirt stroking his ears affectionately.
I couldn’t believe it.
“Is he all right?” I called through the gate, incredulous.
The owner just stared at me, the way you might stare at me were I to punch your favorite grandmother in the face and then post video of the assault on YouTube.
I asked my question again and received the same response. Deciding to quit while I was ahead, I went back to the CR-V and gave my still-hysterical family the good news: The dog was alive and well. Daddy wasn’t a puppy-killer after all.
The CR-V? Well, it looked okay, as near as I could tell. Aside from a huge dent in the plastic belly shield beneath and behind the front bumper, the car had suffered no apparent damage. We went on to our birthday party that day and have been driving all over creation in the wife’s Honda, without incident, ever since.
Or until six months — six months! — brought us to last Valentine’s Day, when the bulldog got his revenge.
But that’s not the kicker to this story.
The Honda dealership eventually decided a body shop was better suited to make the repairs to our car, so off to the body shop it went. We got ourselves a nice little rental car and proceeded with our lives. Two days later, I was driving the kids to school in the rental when the unbelievable happened.
I hit a dog.
A big, hairy lab mix had just crossed a busy intersection, happy and slow as you please, as I was passing through it. And wouldn’t you know, the big hirsute galoot was being chased by a little dachshund-terrier hybrid running at full tilt — much like that bulldog had chased a stranger getting into his car six months earlier.
WHAM BAM CRUNCH!
Two very small consolations immediately occurred to me: 1) I hadn’t completely run over the animal this time; and 2) the two kids in the car’s back seat weren’t mine. They were members of our carpool for whom I was responsible that day, and unlike my own children, this pair didn’t view such accidents as cause for a catatonic seizure. They were stunned, but not horrified.
I gingerly backed the car up to get it out of traffic and braced myself for the terrible sight I knew awaited us.
Sure enough, there the little dachshund-terrier mashup lay, on its side, its back turned to us. A pedestrian who’d been crossing the street when the collision occurred crouched down to, I could only assume, deliver the Last Rites . . .
. . . and the little dog got up and ran away. No limp, no whimper of pain, nothing.
Can you say, “Déjà vu?”
So let’s review, shall we? I run over a dog in my car. It gets up and runs away, seemingly unharmed. Six months later, the damage caused by the collision kills my car. I get a rental while the car’s in the shop. I’m driving that rental when I hit another dog, which like the first, gets up and runs away, seemingly unharmed.
What’s wrong with this picture? As fact, absolutely nothing. But as fiction, NO READER IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD BUY IT FOR A SECOND!
Did it all happen exactly as I’ve described it? Sure did. Is this not a sterling example of how wildly improbable life can sometimes be? Sure is. But here, finally, is the writing-related point of this blog post today:
Just because something really happened doesn’t mean it will make a great story, because a great story has to be more than just fascinating.
It has to be somewhat credible, too.
Questions for the Class: Do you have any true-to-life stories that no one would believe if you tried to pass them off as fiction?