The other morning, conversation over coffee turned to recent events out in Enumclaw. Rather than share a house in a divorce settlement, a disgruntled husband got a demolition permit and bulldozed the dwelling into splinters.
“I heard of something real similar,” Vern said, as he put his coffee cup down. “A few years ago, down in Tacoma, there was this guy who drove a cement truck. Well, his girlfriend was goin’ out on him, so one night, he drove up to her house and just filled up her new boyfriend’s Cadillac with cement.”
Well, Vern, I hate to burst your balloon, but the Enumclaw story is a verifiable fact. Your story about the Cadillac — well, it’s just one of those stories that always happened to “a-friend-of-a-friend” and can never be proven.
The cement story is an urban legend. We’ve probably all heard some of them.
Professor Jan Harold Brunvard, of the University of Utah English Department, has filled two books with urban legends (“The Vanishing Hitchhiker” and “The Choking Doberman”) and is working on a third. Some of the stories that we’ve heard and retold as truths turn out to be simply examples of modern folklore.
Years ago, my father came home from work with one. He had heard of a new Chrysler Imperial for sale for only a few hundred dollars. “It’s only got 300 miles on the odometer, and other than the smell, the car’s perfect.”
“What smell?” I asked.
“Well, seems the former owner took it up in the hills and committed suicide in the car. They didn’t find him for a number of weeks,” Dad said, as he finished the story.
Another car-related story I’ve heard is about a new car that had a disturbing rattle. After many trips back to the new-car dealership, the noise was finally traced to an inaccessible area inside one of the rear fenders. In desperation, the dealer cut open the fender, only to find a Coke bottle hanging from a coat hanger. It contained a note with the hopes that it will “rattle like hell.”
Not all of the stories have to do with cars, though.
We all might know of the famous tale that went around just as microwave ovens, for home use, made their first appearance. You remember, the one about the woman who gave her poodle a bath? Because she was in a hurry to go out, she thought she’d just put the dog in the oven for a second to dry his coat.
The end of the story can easily be imagined, but the key point to remember is that it never happened.
‘Mini morality plays’
Some urban legends do exist for a meaningful reason. The story is usually a mini morality play in which the consequences are so horrible that the listener never considers that course of action again — sort of like the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.”
An example is the tale about the child who wanders off from her mother at a large shopping mall. The mother discovers the child is missing, and a frantic search of the nearby area doesn’t turn up the kid. Mom goes out into the parking lot to check if she’s gone back to the car, but there’s still no sign of her.
The mall’s security office is notified, and the entire mall is searched.
Finally, the little girl is found in one of the restrooms. Her hair has been cut like a boy’s, and she is clothed in little boy’s clothes in preparation for an abduction.
Not many kids wander off after hearing that story.
There are equally scary stories about hitchhiking and picking up riders, Halloween and almost anything else that needs warning about.
Me? I prefer to think that somewhere there really is a warehouse full of crated, surplus Army Jeeps, in pieces, for only $100.
GARY McDANIEL is a longtime Magnolia resident. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.