Like most folks, I’d never heard of “Finagle’s Law” before I learned the hard way that it’s basically “Murphy’s Law” on steroids: “If anything bad can happen, it will – and at the worst possible time.”
There could be no “worse possible time” for mishap to manhandle me than between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s my sweet spot, as a private tennis instructor and it’s also when I need to be at the top of both my tennis game and my road-game as I drive all day in my tennis-whites to clients’ houses and estates throughout the East End. Because it’s the first thing clients see when I arrive, I try to keep my car running good – and looking even better.
And I did – until Finagle’s Law hit me like a truck. An elephantine Ford F-150 truck, to be precise. It rear-ended me so hard that it wedged my hood like a doorstop beneath the Nissan truck in front of me. Luckily there were no injuries – and neither truck had a scratch – but my car wasn’t as lucky. The hood twisted into a snarl of metal vaguely resembling the face of a feral dog with a pronounced hair lip.
Totaled but still drivable and without the money to get it fixed, my concern was concealing the embarrassing damage from my well-heeled clients. Camouflage was the only option. I began strategically easing the eyesore as stealthily as possible through the gates, across the manicured landscapes, past the guesthouses, roving nannies and toddlers and, with great delicacy, parking the nose of my car into the privet, whenever possible.
To my surprise and relief, weeks passed with no client comments. I felt rather clever until I noticed the gaping stares and horrified looks on the innocent faces when I drove in town. I also noticed many village folk giving me wide berth; they backed away as if I were driving a large parade float filled with lepers.
Another afternoon when a young mother walking with her toddler on the sidewalk saw me coming and yanked her child to safety behind a fire hydrant faster than if I were riding on the back of a hungry-looking sabre toothed tiger.
It was touching however, the way friendly construction workers and landscapers occasionally signaled from their trucks: “Hey buddy! Hoods open!” I smiled idiotically and gave an appreciative thumbs up that likely confirmed that either a) I thought I was too cool for school or b) living in a profound state of abject stupidity and quite possibly c) all of the above.
I was less concerned about my status as the village idiot than my clients’ opinions of me. And after my experiences driving in town, I had a newfound appreciation for their tactfulness and decorum.
What little commentary I heard on the subject from my adult clients was easily made up for by their children during their tennis lessons:
“Coach, did something try to eat your car?” – Claire aged 6.
“Your car has a mouth now and it looks hungry. Let’s feed rocks and grass into the hole like a dinosaur!” – Gaspard aged 4.
“It [your car] hurts my feelings, coach.” – Abby aged 14.
“Fix your car, coach. Can I have some candy?” – Nicholas aged 12.
By Labor Day weekend I was eager to wrap up the tennis season if only to junk the beloved heap and buy a new set of wheels with my summer windfall. The last day I found myself running late for another lesson down the street from Marguerite’s house.
I played tennis with Marguerite and her family twice a week and when I saw them loading their car for the beach I quickly pulled into a neighbor’s driveway and backed out to face the other way, parking beside a set of mailboxes. It was four o’clock – I was already late for my next lesson – but I waited because their departure appeared imminent…until Marguerite disappeared into the house.
Groaning, I considered blasting past them but remembered that my tardiness does not have life and death hanging in the balance – I’m a tennis pro, not a vascular heart surgeon. Still, my eyeballs nervously ponged back and forth between my rearview mirror and the dashboard clock; by 4:04pm I had no choice but to crawl past their driveway in my crippled chariot.
My cheeks flushed with anticipated humiliation when, as luck would have it, Marguerite burst from the house in a flurry of maternal magnificence. As they roared out of the driveway, I slipped low in my seat like a spineless toady, which I was fine with.
I was surprised to see the family smiling and waving at me with genuine bonhomie, while careening past me. I waved to them over the mongrelized hood of my car where Finagle’s wry, mad-dog smile watched them melt into the late afternoon, their brave friendliness sweetening that summer in my memory, forever – a sweet spot that has no expiration date.