Last night, I noticed that although Rube Goldberg’s descendants never claimed me as a relative, maybe I should claim them. This insight came to me after I accidentally smeared a bunch of goat milk body lotion on my favorite chair from my heels, which were in bad need of lotion because of a sinus infection that led me to take a lot of decongestant, which tends to dry out the whole body. Luckily, because my yoga pant leg was soaked — thanks to dropping and breaking a 5-gallon hard plastic bottle of water in the parking lot of Checkers — I had quick access to all the tools I needed to clean up the chair pronto.
This led me to realize much of my life moves this way: the dog gets his leash tangled in the parked lawnmower while I’m talking on the phone and walking barefoot in the web grass, trying not to get chiggers and keep the dog from jumping on me. But the criss-crossing tangles of that moment spark my mind to land on something I’ve been trying to remember for days to tell the person on the phone. Voila! The little ball drops down the shoot and fresh toast springs out of the toaster within reach of the man sitting up in bed.
Rube Goldberg unfoldings are especially true when it comes to the writing life (as in, “Oh, I had to go 100 pages out of my way over two months of writing time to realize how something unexpected fits together to illuminate the whole book!”), raising kids (the unspooled toilet paper is connected to the missing peanut butter, which is linked to the cat’s tail being dipped in fruit punch), and especially in marriage (we think we’re thinking the same thing, but actually, one of us is thinking about whether to have fries with dinner while the other is pondering a distant relative’s insight into the cosmos, yet the two things we’re thinking actually come together in an entertaining miniature circus of conversation).
So it turns out you can’t get there from here, there’s no direct route to anything except when you least expect it, and the flashes of connection throw the switch so that the most intricate and surprising paths spring into action. What seems like a failure or accident can give you just the tools you need most to clean the goat milk body lotion off the favorite chair. Maybe Rube Goldberg is actually one of the founders of the universe as we know it and not just my great-great-great-uncle twice removed.