It’s not every day a plane crashes on your street.
I first heard about the freak accident (well, let’s hope it was an accident) when I was at work, about 5 miles from where it happened. It was just a few minutes after the crash was reported on the news, as details were still trickling in. I have no access to television or radio at work, so the information came in the form of an IM from Drew:
“Oh my God, a plane just crashed into an apartment building in the Fairfax district.”
I live in the Fairfax district.
A few seconds later came another IM:
“On Spaulding Ave.”
I live on Spaulding Ave.
And then, immediately:
“I’m not kidding!!!!!”
As if this were anybody’s idea of a joke. Not these days. Not in this part of the planet. Not in the middle of a Friday afternoon.
I started mentally calculating the odds. Millions of people live in Los Angeles. Apartment buildings in this city probably number in the tens or even hundreds of thousands. There are probably over a hundred buildings on my street, which only runs for a mile or so. Now, one in a hundred still makes for slim odds, but when you started with one in a hundred thousand, the chances seem a little more real. It’s like I had matched five numbers on my lottery ticket and was waiting to hear what the Mega Bonus Number was. Could this really be my apartment?
People would worry about me. Everyone knows I work at that time, so I wouldn’t have been near my apartment when it happened, but you know how people get. They’d freak out. “Maybe he took a sick day.” “Maybe he got fired recently and was too ashamed to tell us.” “Maybe he went home for lunch at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”
I’d have to change the outgoing message on my answering machine to tell callers I was okay. “Yes, the plane hit my apartment building, but I was at work at the time,” I’d say, probably choking back tears. “So although I’ve lost everything I own, I still have the most precious possession of all: my life.” I’d never say such sappy things before, but now that I had cheated death, I’d probably go all corny like sitcom characters do when they cheat death. “Thanks for your concern, but let’s pray for the rescue workers and for a swift cleanup of the area.”
Wait a second, that didn’t make any sense. If my apartment was gone, my answering machine would be, too.
This was serious.
I started thinking about losing everything I owned. My TV, my computer… my Gamecube! No, wait, maybe the Gamecube would survive. I mean, if a plane hits your apartment, it’s bound to cause some damage, but something’s gotta survive, right? I’ve seen photos of disaster scenes in the newspaper. There’s always one thing that sits there undamaged and totally recognizable, usually a child’s toy — a teddy bear or a Spongebob calculator or something, a morbid irony among a sea of charred, smoke-damaged debris soup. The Gamecube could easily survive. It’s just a small black box. Black boxes are made to survive plane crashes. Maybe, just maybe, there was hope of the Gamecube surviving.
But not the games. The games would never make it. Shit.
I thought about how stupid I was never to have bought renter’s insurance. I wondered if insurance people even covered you if a plane crashed through your living room — those bastards, they probably didn’t. A plane crash is probably an “act of God” or something. Well, I don’t believe in God. I do believe that the standards for pilot licenses should be stricter so that pampered billionaires can’t turn themselves into amateur pilots and go plowing their private jets into residential neighborhoods because they’re not sure which lever to press to make it go up. But the insurance companies wouldn’t care. They’d stamp “Act of God” across claim form in bright red ink, and I’d go away empty-handed. I was really glad I didn’t give those lousy rat insurance companies my money.
But now I was broke for sure. I don’t have much money in my bank account, and my only worldly possessions that aren’t in my apartment are my car and the clothes that I’m wearing right now. I wish I’d worn something nicer today. I’m going to be wearing it for at least the next week. Then I remembered I still had my tennis racket, which is in my car. It’s been in there since my tennis league ended last month, and I’ve been meaning to bring it inside, but I’m just such a lazy bastard I’ve never bothered. Lucky thing, too. It’s worth about $100, and that’s going to be a lot of money to me now that I’m destitute.
Then I tried to cheer myself up. It won’t be so bad. I have too many people who care about me to ever go hungry. I pictured my friends and coworkers taking up a fund to help me start over. It would be totally heart-warming. It’d make me realize how loved I am and make me think about what’s truly important in life. I imagined my George Bailey moment, where my friend Dave — I just know they’d put him in charge of it — would dump a huge basket full of cash out on my cot at the YMCA, and I’d start bawling my eyes out. “Thank you, everybody!” I’d exclaim. “I love you all!”
They’d probably do a story about me on the Channel 9 News. I’d cry on TV as I told the entire metropolitan area that possessions didn’t matter as long as you had love. And all throughout the Southland, thousands of people would be inspired by my story. I figured I was pretty well-loved and would fetch at least $120,000 from well-wishers, including anonymous donors who saw the Channel 9 News. That would be more than enough to get back on my feet. In fact, I could even use the leftover dough to pay off my student loans.
No, that wouldn’t be right. That’s not why those people gave me all that money. I’d have to give the extra money to a deserving charity. That’s what my benefactors would want. But which charity? There’s no charity specifically for people who’ve had planes crash into their living spaces, so I’d have to choose the next closest thing, to make sure the money was spent as it was intended by the kind, kind Samaritans who’d given to my cause. Maybe the Red Cross. Or maybe not — I had a crappy part-time job there nine years ago, and even though they’re good and all, I’d begrudge them the donation just to get revenge on my mean old boss. I’d probably interview charities instead, let them make their case and tell me how they’d spend the money, then go with the most deserving one. Maybe I’d split it up over a few different causes. I’d have to see how convincing the charities were.
Interviewing charities would take a lot of time, so I’d have to take a leave of absence from my job. Man, that’d be sweet. I’d also use that time to search for a new place to live, and to shop for furniture. My new apartment would have drapes or curtains, not those cheap-ass vertical blinds my old one had. Man, I always hated those things. I hope the plane totally vaporized them. Cheap pieces of crap. And my next TV would have picture-in-picture. TV prices have come down since I bought my $650 set. I could get a much better one now for the same amount I paid when I bought that outdated piece of junk last year. I figure there’s nothing wrong with upgrading on other people’s money as long as I’m not spending more. Maybe I could even find one on sale for $600 and then kick the extra $50 over to my charity of choice. Look at that — I found a way to give even more money to charity. My misfortune and frugal shopping combined would make the world a slightly better place.
It was going to be tough, rebuilding my life after a devastating freak accident so suddenly shattered my world. But I could do it. It would make me a stronger person in the end, and for the rest of my life, I’d tell the story of how I once lost everything I had and, as a result, realized how much my life was worth.
Then, my phone rang. Drew told me the crash was on Spaulding and Clinton, three blocks away from my building. Still remarkably close and really creepy and disturbing, but my apartment and all my stuff was fine.
Then I started thinking about the people inside the plane and the people who lived in the building it hit. I started thinking about all the things that they and their relatives had lost. I thought about how hard the weeks ahead would be for the survivors.
And then I thought about how much I hate those damn blinds.