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Chances Are? Questioning coincidence at Edinburgh Castle 

Wednesday, Apr 15 2009

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe in coincidence, and those who don't. I'm not sure which category I fall into yet.

The folks who don't believe in fate claim we're much more likely to remember things that seem coincidental than those that don't, so we then ascribe the former situation greater meaning. For example, the other morning I was on the bus, thinking about how much I miss the Smothers Brothers, and how we were probably due for an earthquake because we haven't had one for a while. Well, sure enough, there was that little jolt centered in San Jose later that morning. "Whoa," I thought. "I'm psychic." Now, at the same time, I didn't run into Tommy Smothers on the street. Of all the thousands of things that went through my head that day, only one of them actually happened. So was that really as freaky as it seemed?

I think our brain makes connections because doing so is pleasurable on some biological level. We tend to migrate toward people who seem familiar, and we do the same thing with thoughts and ideas. How else could I have bonded with the rather red-faced, possibly debauched ex-high-school-soccer-coach–lookin' guy at the other side of the bar at the Edinburgh Castle?

Basically, the guy had been slowly blowing my mind with his jukebox picks, something that always makes me feel instant kinship with total strangers. He began with some very early Who, went into some obscure Buzzcocks, and then played Blondie's "Dreaming." Most of my surprise came from the fact that he didn't look the part, so to speak, to be choosing these selections, but also because he picked the same sort of stuff I would've chosen. "You are killing me softly with your songs," I said to him as he passed by after another round at the jukebox.

As often as I go out, there are precious few times I feel like I could stay at a bar all night, but the Edinburgh Castle makes me want to linger. I like the whole hi-diddly-ho Scottish thing, but the clientele is also genuinely mixed enough to hold my interest indefinitely. The place is composed of weathered wood and big support beams, with a long bar decorated with old English pennies under glass. The sound system astonishes me, and you really get what you pay for when you load up the jukebox. I had a hankerin' for George Jones, and picked "He Stopped Loving Her Today" because I knew the sweeping violins would sound pretty transcendent coming through the pub's speakers.

The bartender was busy refilling the straw containers, cutting fruit, and generally performing tasks usually delegated to the closing crew. I brought this up. She laughed. "Well ..." she said, with a shrug that denoted "You know how it is when you work at a bar." She had dyed blue hair that matched her plaid shirt. She was down-to-earth and friendly, like pretty much all the bartenders at the Castle.

"Why did he stop loving her?" she asked, referring to George Jones. An excellent question, and one I had asked my mom when I was a kid and first heard the song. I liked this woman.

"He died," I replied, explaining that in the song Jones describes loving a woman until the day he keels over, which he had apparently done, and wasn't that deep? She concurred. I thought about expounding further on the lyrics, getting into the idea that it was sort of lame that he stopped loving her, and wouldn't it have been more romantic if he'd expressed eternal love. I'm sure she would have agreed if she hadn't suddenly been inundated with customers.

I also thought the bartender would appreciate a segue into a discussion of songs that take place at funerals, like "Teen Angel" and possibly "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. I just know she would have been agreeable to that topic, because when I walked in, she was playing a Celtic-inspired Buffy Sainte-Marie record. People who listen to Celtic-inspired Buffy Sainte-Marie records are either 70-year-old hippies who never left the ashram, or young and interesting bartenders whom I want to be my friend, and would appreciate a discussion on funeral soundtracks.

I made a point to bring up Buffy Sainte-Marie when the bartender wasn't busy, because when else would I have a chance to discuss the singer? I knew that Sainte-Marie had named her son Dakota Starblanket Wolfsomething, and that she breastfed her infant son on Sesame Street, which I remember watching and being sort of grossed out by. But instead all I could say about her was, "She wore feathers in her hair."

"She was a Native American, right?" the bartender asked. "Yeah," I said.

"So I guess she had a good excuse."

We laughed. (As it turns out, Sainte-Marie is a Native Canadian.) I added that if the bartender liked the whole Celtic thing, she should check out Sandy Denny, whom I love, and who died by falling down the stairs. I had to work death into the conversation somehow. The bartender unfortunately had to keep working.

I was waiting for two other friends to show up. I must've gotten our meeting time wrong, because I was able to get pretty tipsy — on two beers and one whiskey — when they hadn't arrived after an hour and a half. I decided to order some food, even though I knew my friends might be miffed that I ate already. All of the menu items at the Edinburgh Castle are fried and are mainly of the fish variety, so I ordered the Chelsea Combo — scallops and oysters with chips. The meal is presented in a cute little octagonal package, folded up in newspaper and steaming hot.

Sure enough, right after I asked for the Chelsea, my friends walked in, and I had to apologize for already ordering. Now, is Murphy's Law somehow related to coincidence? I know for a fact, for example, that if I want a traffic light to change, I simply have to start applying eye makeup. I also know that if I call in sick to work with a fake ailment, I will invariably be struck with the same affliction within a week.

So what do you make of the end of my evening, gentle reader? On the BART ride home, a pair of record nerds were discussing old country music in the seats across from me. No less a person than George Jones came up, as well as the fact that people always play "He Stopped Loving Her Today" on jukeboxes when really his coolest stuff was recorded earlier than that. I didn't know whether to feel offended or freaked out at the, yes, coincidence.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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