"...and I know it actually happened, because the person it actually happened to was me."

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/06/16 07:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2011/06/16/10175121.aspx

This is gonna be a weird one. Not a tehnical one. But a technically weird one, in some sense....

I'm going to introduce my story I am going to tell with someone else's story. A story from So long, and Thanks For All The Fish.

I won't claim that my story will be as funny, or as fun. But it may put you in the right frame of mind to read the story I will tell you....

"I'll tell you a story," said Arthur.


They found a patch of grass which was relatively free of couples actually lying on top of each other and sat and watched the stunning ducks and the low sunlight rippling on the water which ran beneath the stunning ducks.

"A story," said Fenchurch, cuddling his arm to her.

"Which will tell you something of the sort of things that happen to me. It's absolutely true."

"True Story."

"You know sometimes people tell you stories that are supposed to be something that happened to their wife's cousin's best friend, but actually probably got made up somewhere along the line.

"Well, it's like one of those stories, except that it actually happened, and I know it actually happened, because the person it actually happened to was me."

"Like the raffle ticket.", said Fenchurch.

Arthur laughed. "Yes. I had a train to catch," he went on. "I arrived at the station…"

"Did I ever tell you," interrupted Fenchurch, "what happened to my parents in a station?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "you did."

"Just checking."

Arthur glanced at his watch. "I suppose we could think of getting back," he said.

"Tell me the story," said Fenchurch firmly. "You arrived at the station."

"I was about twenty minutes early. I'd got the time of the train wrong. I suppose it is at least equally possible," he added after a moment's reflection, "that British Rail had got the time of the train wrong. Hadn't occurred to me before."

"Get on with it." Fenchurch laughed.

"So I bought a newspaper, to do the crossword, and went to the buffet to get a cup of coffee."

"You do the crossword?"


"Which one?"

"The Guardian usually."

"I think it tries to be too cute. I prefer The Times. Did you solve it?"


"The crossword in The Guardian."

"I haven't had a chance to look at it yet," said Arthur, "I'm still trying to buy the coffee."

"All right then. Buy the coffee."

"I'm buying it. I am also," said Arthur, "buying some biscuits."

"What sort?"

"Rich Tea."

"Good choice."

"I like them. Laden with all these new possessions, I go and sit at a table. And don't ask me what the table was like because this was some time ago and I can't remember. It was probably round."

"All right."

"So, let me give you the layout. Me sitting at the table. On my left, the newspaper. On my right, the cup of coffee. In the middle of the table, the packet of biscuits."

"I see it perfectly."

"What you don't see," said Arthur, "because I haven't mentioned him yet, is the guy sitting at the table already. He is sitting there opposite me."

"What's he like?"

"Oh, perfectly ordinary. Briefcase. Business suit. He didn't look," said Arthur, "as if he was about to do anything weird."

"Ah, I know the type. What did he do?"

"He did this. He leaned across the table, picked up the packet of biscuits, tore it open, took one out, and…"


"Ate it."


"He ate it."

Fenchurch looked at him in astonishment. "What on Earth did you do?"

"Well, in the circumstances I did what any red-blooded Englishman would do. I was compelled," said Arthur, "to ignore it."

"What? Why?"

"Well, it's not the sort of thing you're trained for is it? I searched my soul, and discovered that there was nothing anywhere in my upbringing, experience or even primal instincts to tell me how to react to someone who has quite simply, calmly, sitting right there in front of me, stolen one of my biscuits."

"Well, you could…" Fenchurch thought about it. "I must say I'm not sure what I would have done either. So what happened?"

"I stared furiously at the crossword," said Arthur. "Couldn't do a single clue, took a sip of coffee, it was too hot to drink, so there was nothing for it. I braced myself. I took a biscuit, trying very hard not to notice," he added, "that the packet was already mysteriously open…"

"But you're fighting back, taking a tough line."

"After my fashion, yes. I ate the biscuit. I ate it very deliberately and visibly, so that he would have no doubt as to what it was I was doing. When I eat a biscuit," Arthur said, "it stays eaten."

"So what did he do?"

"Took another one. Honestly," insisted Arthur, "this is exactly what happened. He took another biscuit, he ate it. Clear as daylight. Certain as we are sitting on the ground."

Fenchurch stirred uncomfortably.

"And the problem was," said Arthur, "that having not said anything the first time, it was somehow even more difficult to broach the subject the second time around. What do you say? ‘Excuse me… I couldn't help noticing, er…' Doesn't work. No, I ignored it with, if anything, even more vigour than previously."

"My man…"

"Stared at the crossword, again, still couldn't budge a bit of it, so showing some of the spirit that Henry V did on St Crispin's Day…"


"I went into the breach again. I took," said Arthur, "another biscuit. And for an instant our eyes met."

"Like this?"

"Yes, well, no, not quite like that. But they met. Just for an instant. And we both looked away. But I am here to tell you," said Arthur, "that there was a little electricity in the air. There was a little tension building up over the table. At about this time."

"I can imagine."

"We went through the whole packet like this. Him, me, him, me…"

"The whole packet?"

"Well it was only eight biscuits but it seemed like a lifetime of biscuits we were getting through at this point. Gladiators could hardly have had a tougher time."

"Gladiators," said Fenchurch, "would have had to do it in the sun. More physically grueling."

"There is that. So. When the empty packet was lying dead between us the man at last got up, having done his worst, and left. I heaved a sigh of relief, of course. As it happened, my train was announced a moment or two later, so I finished my coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper…"


"Were my biscuits."

"What?" said Fenchurch. "What?"


"No!" She gasped and tossed herself back on the grass laughing.

She sat up again.

"You completely nitwit," she hooted, "you almost completely and utterly foolish person."

She pushed him backwards, rolled over him, kissed him and rolled off again. He was surprised at how light she was.

Okay. So now I will tell you my story. It won't be as interesting, I promise you.

Though it is indeed a story about the sort of things that happen to me, and it is completely true. And I know this, because the person it actually happened to was me.

I have a mailslot at work.

Now I get hundreds of emails every day (not including spam), but very little physical snail mail is sent to me at work.

In fact, the occasional times I go to clean out the stuff that builds up over time, it is just a little bit of junk mail. I dump it right into the recycle bin that is conveniently located in the same room.

You can likely see why my visits to clean out the mailslot are so rare.

The other day is when it was not going to turn out to be an ordinary trip to the mailslot.

Buried with the announcements about conferences I would never go to, products I would never use, and other such junk mail, there was a wedding invitation.

A Wedding Invitation.

A Wedding Invitation.

It was for the daughter of a former colleague of mine.

He and I did do some work together, though we were never terribly close.

He recommended I may not be a good fit when I was thinking about joining a team he was on a few years prior. That kind of thing is easy enough for me to look past in work situations, but it doesn't tend to encourage social interactions outside of work, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, the wedding was out of state.

I don't ever recall meeting the daughter, and I know I had never met the son-in-law to be.

I had never been to the former colleague's house, and he had never been to mine, which I guess explains why the invitation was sent to me at work.

He didn't know my address!

On the other hand, it explain nothing -- as it all kind of indicates the reasoning for not sending an invitation (when one doesn't know someone).

Probably would have been worth a call at least, so I'd know it was coming.

I had a not entirely comfortable moment where I did a mental back and forth and forth about what to do -- whether to go, whether to decline, whether to send a gift, etc. -- I have definitely been known to show up in unexpected situations before, so a wedding I was invited to would hardly be too weird. Though the chance I might decide to randomly make the trip might be an argument against the invitation, if you ask me -- I can be pretty unconventional. So my mind was working through all the possibilities, in that moment.

Before I noticed that the wedding had already happened, months earlier.

You may recall I told you I didn't check my mailslot very often!

I did go down the hall and ask another colleague who used to be on that same team, but it turns out they hadn't been invited. We speculated on the topic for a few moments and, and they suggested some theories about the whole matter.

"So you don't think it's weird?" I asked.

"Oh no, it's weird," they responded.

But what to do next?

Miss Manners has probably covered the subject of the strange invitation before, right? Someone has to know what he right response would have been.

Or what it should be now, if anything....

In the end, I couldn't think of a way to respond after not responding in a timely manner.

So I figured I do the next best thing -- I'd write a blog about it!

I'll see what I can do about ending on the same note as the Arthur Dent story. You know, finding a girl to push me backwards, roll over me, kiss me, and roll off again. It'll probably have to wait until the weekend, at least....

John Cowan on 16 Jun 2011 9:59 AM:

You can't have been much missed.  Some people seem to send out 1000 invitations so they can get 400 guests.

Me, I don't get it.  Gale and I invited 32 people, making it clear that the invitations were *not* extensible.  One showed up with his partner anyway.  Two didn't show up at all, and we never found out why.  One showed up with her four-year-old -- but we hadn't expected her to make it at all, and when we found out she had actually hitched a ride on a private plane, we were fine with it.  Even if the kid did ram his whole hand into the as-yet-uncut birthday cake.

Michael S. Kaplan on 16 Jun 2011 11:19 AM:

True enough. But at some point my absence and my non-response would perhaps be noticed, even if only in afterthought....

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