Bee, my best friend from high school, and her husband, Brian, recently went away for a weekend. While they were away, their cat Juniper somehow escaped their apartment and wandered the halls of their building until a neighbor scooped her up and called Bee and Brian at 2 am to apprise them of the situation. How Juniper escaped the apartment, which was locked, remains a mystery. No landlord or maintenance worker had opened the door.
I’m beginning to entertain the possibility that Junie has superpowers and is able to teleport, like Nightcrawler of the Uncanny X-Men. (Danny tells me that, coincidentally, Kitty Pryde of the X-Men can walk through walls, so perhaps this is a uniquely feline power.)
Perhaps someday the Great Junie Caper will be solved. I’m hoping that Bee discovers a trace of foreign soil, some suspect cat prints on a window ledge — a scrap of evidence that will led her to discover, Sherlock Holmes-style, the true nature of Junie’s escape.
Because solving small, quotidian mysteries like this one is just so satisfying.
For example: When I was an undergraduate, I took a fiction writing workshop. One of the stories a fellow student circulated was riddled with typos. It wasn’t a rogue letter here or there, or a case of the computer’s over-zealous and often-mistaken auto-correct function. These were aggressive, multi-letter typos. I began to circle them, trying to identify a pattern. Was this intentional? A strange, modernist experiment — a meta-commentary on standardized spelling?
This student — we’ll call him Tim — had apparently named the hero of his tale after himself. When he had finished drafting the story, he had renamed the character Brad. Instead of reading through the story and manually changing the name each time it appeared, Tim had used the “Find and Replace” tool in Word. Unfortunately, he had not checked that small, crucial box telling his computer to “Find whole words only.” The computer therefore replaced the series of letters T-I-M, wherever it occurred, with B-R-A-D. The result: His story didn’t take place “once upon a time.” It took place “once upon a Brade.” The dragon did not “intimidate” the hero of our tale. It “inBradinated” him.
The entire debacle was made only more ridiculous by the fact that this story was an over-the-top humorous adventure tale. Tim had cast himself as a machismo, stallion-riding, bad-ass, ladies man. And then he’d realized that this might seem ridiculous in the cold, fluorescent lights of a college classroom and made the embarrassing, botched switch.
No one mentioned the situation during the workshop, although I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Our silence was a kind silence, an unspoken consensus to overlook and ignore, to save the dignity of a classmate. Still, I was so psyched that I had figured it out. Jazz hands!
It’s comforting, this sense that, amid the chaos, we can restore order. We can go Encyclopedia Brown and make all of the evidence settle, suddenly and unexpectedly, into a cohesive narrative. Nothing cures the unsettling unpredictability of adult life like a small, satisfying AHA! moment. Every once in a while we need that feeling of complete mastery, a small triumph to make us — at least internally — exclaim, BOO-YEAH!
I suspect that this is one of the reasons Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were — and are — so popular. And why so many people are addicted to those acronym shows like CSI and NCIS, where a sesame seed lodged underneath a victim’s thumbnail can lead to the one deli in town that sells bagels sprinkled with that precise species of sesame which leads, perhaps, to a sandwich-maker with a grudge and a violent streak.
It also explains the popularity of the movie Amelie. Sure, the quirky cinematography, the indie cuteness of Audrey Tautou, the fantastic quip about artichoke hearts — all of these were selling points. But most delightful was, perhaps, the series of small inconsistencies and mundane whodunits. The photo booth bandit. The box of boyhood trinkets hidden behind bathroom tile. The glass-boned man painting the same scene over and over again. The garden gnome with travel lust.
Who wouldn’t treasure that moment when the wanderings of your lawn ornament finally, beautifully, become clear?