I carry around a lone 3/8-inch socket — without its wrench — in my car. I don’t think I’ll need it, nor do I believe it has any apparent match with anything mechanical in my Prius. But since it appeared all by itself, I figured it would be tempting fate to get rid of it. Maybe not fate, actually, but whatever phenomenal power left it on my driver’s seat in the mystical hills near Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Okay, so that last sentence was a rip-off of Richard Bach’s classic tale, Illusions. I figured he wouldn’t mind, though, since the main character in his book also had a breakthrough experience with a socket wrench near Fort Wayne. I don’t know if my experience was a breakthrough or a break-in, but nevertheless, I’ve carried around the socket since it showed up.

To give you some background, I was down in Indianapolis helping judge a photo contest and giving a presentation. I spent days creating a tongue-in-cheek movie about how people in Michigan and Indiana viewed each other. It was short, funny, and well-received by the huge crowd that turned up to listen to my talk — all of seven or eight people, including myself, the coordinators of the event and the other two presenters.

I drove home laughing at how much time I spent putting together the movie which almost no one saw, but also thinking how cool it was that I could hole up in a hotel room for days and do nothing but play with iMovie on someone else’s dime. You have to look at the positive side of things.

I stopped in for a Wildfire chicken salad at Bob Evans outside of Fort Wayne and, when I got back to my car, I noticed the 3/8-inch socket sitting on my driver’s seat. The windows were up, the doors were all locked and my computer was still undisturbed in the trunk.

I did what any seasoned journalist would do; I freaked. But it was with a smile. The rest of the way home I held the socket in my hand, wondering about its validity, why it came to see me, who could’ve broken into my car and left it there or what was about to go wrong with my car.

That was more than 15 years ago and I still have not discovered an occasion that requires a 3/8-inch socket without its ratchet handle. I carry it with me, though, to remind myself about the oddity of the time/space continuum and the humor by which those who live outside of it taunt us.

Whenever I drive my daughters’ friends or cousins around, I ask them to take a look at the socket and let me know if it’s real or not; partly to verify that I’m not cracking up, but also to share the weird story of its arrival. So far, no one has cracked this code.

Well, almost no one. The fine folks over at Wikipedia call it an apport: “In parapsychology and spiritualism, an apport is the alleged paranormal transference of an article from one place to another, or an appearance of an article from an unknown source that is often associated with poltergeist activity or séances. Apports reported during séances have been found to be the result of deliberate fraud. No medium or psychic has demonstrated the manifestation of an apport under scientifically controlled conditions.”

Does my Prius have a poltergeist? And if so, does it affect my mileage?

I try and apply Occam’s Razor, the scientific theory saying the simplest solution tends to be the right one. That’s why I blame this socket on extra-dimensional stand-up comics — or stand-up cosmics.

I was driving along fine with that theory until a few years ago, when I was preparing to shoot a video, this time with me in front of the camera. My publisher wanted to produce a quick “author video” and I was supposed to come up with something captivating and informative. There’s nothing like pressure to make the well run dry. Then, I realized that I had a screw loose — in my bedroom.

I woke up early that day and, for some reason, had been dreaming about sand boarding — you know, like surfboarding, but on sand dunes instead of waves. Here in sand dune-rich Michigan, we used to make these things that looked like skateboards without wheels and ride them down the dunes at summer camp. In wood shop, one of the favorite camp activities was to make the boards with wild paint jobs, smooth waxed surfaces and leather straps that kept your foot attached. I’m sure seasoned woodworkers will laugh at this next part, but near the end of the sand board project, I cluelessly hammered in several nails – and took off for the nearest dune.

The strap lasted only a couple of runs before the nails popped free and the board was useless. Wood screws were the secret to that particular project, but I never got around to repairing my creation.

Years later, as I awoke on the morning of the video shoot, I must have been having one very fitful dream about the board, because my pillows and blankets were strewn all over the place, leaving my wife and me pretty much coverless by dawn. I began to wonder why I never used the proper tools. Was that a metaphor for my life?

As I climbed out of bed, I lifted my bedding back into place and there — right there, underneath my pillow, which had tumbled to the floor — I found a black wood screw. Just sitting there.

Before I even touched it, I made Marci come over and take a look. Yes, it really was a wood screw and no, she hadn’t been doing any construction projects in the bedroom recently. We asked the kids, and neither of them had been screwing around either. So we called up ol’ Occam again and he pretty much agreed that it was a joke being played on me by higher beings whose day jobs are at the local hardware store.

So now, along with the socket I carry in my car, I leave an incongruous little wood screw on my bedside stand. If I’m lucky, by the time I exit this life, I’ll be able to leave my heirs a fully outfitted workbench. Anyone know where I can find an Occam’s Awl, an Occam’s Orbital Sander?