“You’re him, aren’t you?” asked the owner of a tiny gas station turned greasy spoon diner in southern Oregon. His brow was so furrowed I thought it might disappear between his suspicious eyes. I hadn’t been within 300 miles of the south Oregon coast since I was 12 and en route to Disneyland with my family—there was no way this guy knew me. “Who?” I responded.
“You’re that guy. From that show,” he said. “Breaking Bad!”
“Oh,” I replied. “No, not me.”
His eyes somehow narrowed even further. “You sure?”
“Pretty sure,” I replied again, before ordering the beef dip and fries.
I sat across from my amused wife, eating the bone-dry beef dip faster than I’d eaten anything before, while the waiter stared intensely at me from behind the counter, clearly still convinced I was Aaron Paul. I left the diner a little confused, but with a good story. Somewhere on the Oregon coast, I’m sure that guy’s still telling his buddies about the time Jesse Pinkman came to his diner.
— So, in early January, I asked my Twitter followers a question:
Tell me a story about yourself the sounds like a lie but is absolutely true.
— Aidan Moher (@adribbleofink) January 4, 2020
And the world answered.
From inspirational stories from US Senators to repeated run-ins with fridge doors, Halloween stories from literal rock stars to tales of alleged kidnappings, I received thousands of responses from people all over. Nothing prepared me for the hilarity, tears, goosebumps, and outright insanity that followed.
I had to know more about these truly unbelievable stories, so I reached out to the people behind some of my favorites to get the inside scoop. Because as the cliché goes: Truth can be so much stranger than fiction.
The One Where Broken Bones and a Bunk Bed Made a Date Extra Memorable
In college I fell out of my bunk bed and broke both of my legs and one arm. Years later on a date, I made a joke about being clumsy and the dude told me I couldn’t compare to this woman his EMT brother helped once … who fell out of her bunk and broke all the bones. It was me. https://t.co/TQSEwXK4rw
— Amanda Nell Edgar (@amandanelledgar) January 7, 2020
As an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Memphis, Dr. Amanda Nell Edgar guides students through university with as little pain as possible. Unfortunately, her own university experience wasn’t quite so smooth.
So was this, like, a quadruple-decker bunk bed?
Nope, just a regular bunk bed. The silliest part is that I didn’t even have a roommate, so there was literally no reason for me to be sleeping on the top bunk. When I fell, my body landed across a chair I kept beside the bed, which is what did the damage.
How’d your date take the news? Did you ever re-meet the brother?
It was actually a really fun moment! It’s a fun coincidence—as evidenced by the popularity of the story on Twitter—and it made for a really lively conversation, which is the most important part of a good date, right? We laughed about it and I remember him saying, “That was you?!” and thinking it was really neat.
It really wasn’t much more than a fun coincidence, so neither of us was really motivated to set up a reunion or anything like that.
What advice do you have for people using the top bunk?
Before this Twitter thread, I probably would have said bunk beds are mostly safe, and unless you are extremely clumsy or a sleepwalker, you’re not likely to get hurt. But after reading the replies, I don’t know how bunk beds are still legal. I had no idea that people have died falling off bunk beds, but there are several accounts like that in the replies to my tweet. My advice about bunk beds at this point would just be… don’t!
The One That’ll Make You Ask, “Why Can’t We All Just Get Oolong?”
My family and I were held hostage in our home by a gang of robbers and my dad made one of them take him to the kitchen so he could make himself a cup of tea https://t.co/bec2OmMw5t
— Saira Khan (@sairakh) January 8, 2020
Having written for The Wall Street Journal Magazine and The New Yorker, Saira Khan is familiar with a good story, but few can match her own childhood experience of being held hostage.
You told your story with an amused tone but, damn, that sounds like a harrowing situation. How’d it happen and how was it resolved?
Most houses in Pakistan have boundary walls and one night some robbers—a group of eight men—scaled ours and waited by a side door for my dad to leave to get the newspaper, which he read every morning at 6 a.m. over a cup of tea. Once inside, they asked my mom to bring us to their bedroom, where three armed men stayed with us. The entire ordeal lasted about six hours.
Truthfully, it wasn’t a harrowing experience at all. Home invasions are common in Pakistan. Growing up I’d heard countless stories of horrific robberies with violent outcomes—my family was lucky. The people who robbed our house were total amateurs. Their bandanas kept falling off and they told my mother they felt guilty about robbing us. In fact, one of our captors even returned the jewelry my mother had been wearing, which ironically happened to be the only real jewelry in the house. Although the three men I saw were armed with AK-47s, they didn’t tie us up, use any force, or even threaten us in any way. Eventually they left and my father went to the neighbor’s house to call the police—they’d cut our phone lines.
Can you tell me a bit about your dad? He sounds cool under pressure.
My dad was a very calm and collected person. He simply told our captors that he was diabetic and unless they wanted him to go into diabetic shock, they’d have to take him to the kitchen to make tea and eat something.
This story encapsulates him perfectly. He was a thoughtful and reasonable man who, as far as I know, never overreacted. He supported my sisters and I in everything we did, in every way he could. He died in September after a long battle with lung cancer. We miss him dearly.
You followed your original tweet by saying your parents still made you go to school later that morning. Did your teacher buy the excuse for being late?
I had a biology exam that day and my parents didn’t think a home invasion was an excuse for me to miss it, especially since the robbers left a few hours before it was scheduled to take place. As I said, home invasions are common in Pakistan so no one was surprised it happened. They were all, of course, glad that we were unharmed.
The One Where a 2 a.m. Taco Habit Was Not Only Rewarded, but Eternalized
Owners of a local Mexican restaurant in my hometown of Waco, Texas were impressed by how much spice I could tolerate so they named these tacos after me. pic.twitter.com/becE2DH4Gn
— Tawny Lara (@TawnyMLara) January 7, 2020
Tawny Lara is a sex and sobriety writer living in New York City, but you have to head further south to Waco, Texas for her spiciest story.
So, how spicy are we talking?
Very spicy. Al Pastor cooked with jalapeño, serrano, and habanero peppers. The restaurant also came up with a food challenge. In the same spirit of La Chica Diabla, we called it The 666 Challenge. If you can eat six of these tacos in six minutes without drinking water for six minutes, you get them for free!
Were you a regular at this joint? Or was this just a one-time display of gastronomic prowess?
My friends and I went there at least once a week for 2 a.m. post-bar tacos. They loved us because we kept bringing them more and more business. We showed up and took over the restaurant and their jukebox. We’d always make it a party!
How’d you come by your fireproof taste buds?
I guess it has something to do with being a Mexican girl raised in Texas: Mom often included jalapeños in her home-cooked meals and Mexican food is everywhere. If the back of my neck isn’t breaking out in a sweat from some sort of spice, my tastebuds tend to get bored.
If someone’s travelling through Waco and seeking self-flagellation, where can they find your face-melting tacos?
The restaurant is aptly named Mexican Taco. Bring Rolaids.
The One Where Wine Lead to a Breakup and a Wedding
Boyfriend didn’t want to come to my wine tasting because he wasn’t into wine. I fell in love with another man at party, dumped beau, married, moved. Recently moved back to hometown where I discover I live 5-minutes from a wine store. Ex-boyfriends wine store. He's into wine now!
— Helene Taylor ✍🏼 (@procrastnwriter) January 7, 2020
North Vancouver’s Helene Taylor might be a screenplay writer, but even she couldn’t have predicted the twist ending when her boyfriend bowed out of her wine tasting.
Red or white?
Neither! I somehow went from hosting annual wine tastings to being incapable of finishing a glass. Too much of a good thing, I guess.
Have you gone into your ex’s store to buy any wine? How awkward was that?
I’ve gone twice on killer hair days, and once unshowered on laundry day when I forgot to pick up a bottle for my book club. He’s never been there. Either that or he’s excellent at hiding behind the counter. I actually haven’t seen him since we broke up. And after this story, I can guarantee it will be awkward if I do.
So, I gotta ask, you think he’s got sour grapes about how this went down?
I bet he was corked! But I’ve been married for 21 years now and I’m sure he’s living his best life tasting a whole variety of wines—or maybe he’s found one perfect vintage reserve with great body.
The One Where Sting Got Lost for Words
I taught Sting the lyrics to a song.
— Mary Robinette Kowal (@MaryRobinette) January 8, 2020
She’s a science fiction author, but it was Mary Robinette Kowal‘s career as a performer that helped her out when she met a superstar.
Just to clarify, we’re talking about the Sting?
Alright. You’re going to have to walk me through this one.
When he was on his The Soul Cages tour, I went to see the show in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A drummer, Vinx, opened for him and after his set was watching from one of the balconies. He and I struck up a conversation, comparing notes about the fatigue of touring (I did puppet tours) and he invited me to come backstage after the show. During the encore, Sting came out and sang the first line of “Carolina in the Morning” and said, “Next time, I’ll know the rest of the words.”
Everyone laughed—it was a good way to get out of singing the whole song.
While I was backstage, waiting for Vinx to get his stuff, I saw Sting standing right there. He was leaning against a table, staring at the floor and kind of singing under his breath. “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the mo-orning. Nothing could be… da da da da…. Nothing could be da da… Nothing….”
So I looked at him and said, “Nothing could be sweeter than my sweetie when I meet her, in the morning.”
He sang it back to me and said thank you.
And what has Sting taught you?
That I can have a pleasant exchange with a celebrity without a) talking about their work or b) expecting them to remember me later. And that he has excellent taste in opening acts.
Literally everybody has a story to tell. So, what’s yours? Hop into the comments below and share your most unbelievable (yet true) stories.
Interviews have been edited for length/clarity.
Aidan Moher is a Hugo Award-winning writer from Vancouver Island.
Graphic by Lorenza Centi.