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For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Steven ODell on 7 July 2007 - 11:34pm.

The Journey Begins

Well, since I mentioned ‘home ground’ a moment ago, that is as good a place to start as any. From there we will proceed into the more dangerous territories of the human mind. Well, at least the dangerous territory of my human mind. Okay—of my mind. Satisfied?

I took things apart as a child, just to see how they worked. Once satisfied, I sometimes put them back together. I have always been an inquisitive person and therefore seem to ask the questions that others never think to ask. Or maybe they think to, but are afraid to ask. Maybe they are just too wise. Never mind. Those questions earn me accolades at times. At other times they gets me nothing but railings and abuse. I prefer the accolades, personally. They hurt less.

Have you ever just wondered why we do what we do and what ‘human nature’ is all about? I do. A lot. Life is full to the brim with funny things when you pay close attention. Let me give you a few examples.

As a child, we had a TV in our house that had the funny habit every once in a while of suddenly getting very loud when no one was touching it. We never knew why. Bad connection in the circuitry, dust in the knob, I guess. The volume would just suddenly jump—and so would we. One time there was a commercial for…whatever it was…and there was a woman entering a room, speaking a few words to the mother of a sleeping child, who responds in a voice barely above a whisper, “Quiet. You’ll wake the baby!” She says this just before she leads the other woman into the next room where they can talk without disturbing the child. Well, that day our TV went into one of its self-tuning fits and it came out something like this:

“Quiet. You’ll wake the baby!” (The first sentence was whispered and the last came out in a roar.)

I was laughing out loud even as I jumped up to turn the sound down to a reasonable level. The humor in that was unmistakable to anyone. I think even Helen Keller would have laughed at that one. Speaking of which—do you know what her mother used to tell her constantly as a child? “Don’t speak with your hands full!” Yes, you’re right. That was terrible. But it was also funny. Go on, admit it.

My younger sister, Cathy, would at times add to the humor of television, as well. As a child, she had every commercial in the world memorized and would recite them verbatim as they played out on the air. She and I even got hold of a tape recorder and made our own commercials and stories. But what I remember fondly was the special dance that she made up to go with a certain show—The Everglades. (If that doesn’t date me, nothing will.) Her dance resembled a spastic attempting to elude an alligator while enclosed in bubble wrap from the knees up. (You had to be there—which would make you either very old or dead by now.) Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Unless, of course, she should read this and then I will vehemently deny any knowledge of such a thing and will blame it on the ghostwriter. (“I love you, Cathy.”)

My lovely wife, Linda, has an amazing and entertaining talent, saying the wrong thing at the right time. She reacts to situations by subconsciously incorporating details of that situation itself into her own responses. I’m still trying to find a label for this talent (Malapropisms? PUNctuation? Subliminal Incorporation Syndrome?), but lest I digress…. when one morning I awoke with my equilibrium behaving very badly, I noted aloud that I was ‘bouncing off the walls like a drunk man.’ Her response?

“I’m inclined to agree.”

Inclined! That was very funny to me. She hadn’t even recognized that she had done it. I thought it was marvelous and was surprised I had to point it out to her. It was amazing to me that she hadn’t done it intentionally.

Another time the boys and I were talking about one of those subjects that every real, red-blooded male is bound to discuss at least one time in his life—especially if he has boys—projectile vomiting. Well, Linda comes storming into the room, hands on her hips and indignantly blurts out, “Who brought that up?” She was genuinely perplexed with the corresponding peals of laughter so intense that we were crying for mercy, pounding the floor and gasping for breath. Of course, her perplexity made it all the more hilarious and simply extended our reaction and her perplexity. It also delayed considerably any opportunity to explain to her just why we were laughing so desperately.

I don’t know why it is that boys (of all ages, unfortunately) talk about some of the things that they do, but it is still a fact of life that they will. And often it is subject matter that the fairer sex finds not in the least humorous (or so they tell the men). So, when the boys were one day discussing seriously all the possible labels and terminologies for manure (I don’t recall whether or not I was a guilty party on this occasion but, if I was there, I most likely was), my lovely and proper wife came into the room and pronounced the edict that we were to “Just drop it!” It takes no imagination to determine that the response was identical to the previous one. Trumped again by Mom.

Also, any conversation about passing gas is expected to be met with an appropriate response from her, such as, “Just let it go, will you?” By the way, as a side note, this also leads me to wonder why, when I need to pass gas, that I am invariably in an environment with remarkably well-defined acoustic resonance properties and seated on a metal chair. It defies the odds. Can someone please explain that one to me? My wife says it isn’t so. She claims that I can do this on cue and that a simple glass of water would trigger the process. That’s not funny.

One of our personal family favorites is the time we were out camping and having a late night family discussion on music. We were gathered around the car, leaning on it in the light of the campfire. The subject turned to music and Linda mentioned that she really liked the music of John Denver. The kids rolled their eyes. Well, after she rolled them right back, she declared that he had some really great music, but with his personal problems he had just gone a bit off the ‘deep end.’ (If you don’t understand this one, read it aloud to several people and ask the ones that are laughing what it means). I know we woke everyone in the campground that night. There was no avoiding it. It was inevitable. And all the time she was shushing us, making it highly unlikely that we were going to regain any semblance of control during the next five minutes—a prophecy that was completely fulfilled, I might add.

On another occasion, to humor his younger brother, my eldest son, Adriel, looked into a pot of Chili that my wife was cooking and commented that it looked like something he had just left in the toilet. Now, I agree that this wasn’t a particularly kind statement, nor did it show any degree of tact or diplomacy (what kid does?), but my wife, in spite of being offended, somehow managed to turn it around and make it into an admirable thing of beauty in the field of humor. With justifiable indignance, she responded, “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat the crap!” Now, you don’t say this to a couple of young boys without expecting to get a truly predictable reaction. Angered even more by their laughter, she could only yell, “Get out! Get out!” Which they quickly did. At least they were obedient to their mother, I’ll give them that much. Wise decision, too. Hot Chili (there’s an oxymoron, if ever I heard one) down your back is not as pleasant as it sounds.

In all fairness, she has gotten to the point where she now has begun to recognize when she exercises this rare talent of hers. Recently she was at the bank to carry out a transaction before going to work. When she saw that things were progressing too slowly for her to be on time for her job, she called in to ask for an hour of personal time and to leave the message on the recorder. How did she state it? “I’m going to be a bit late. I’ve been held up at the bank.” The moment the recognition had sunk in, she began to laugh, which also went onto the recording, making it all the funnier to her and to me. I could never do this the way she does—instantaneous and without forethought. I must humbly bow to her superior skills in this arena.

I seldom witness this display of talent in another human being besides my wife and I think they do it on purpose, so it doesn’t count as an innate and subconscious talent. One friend came out of the restroom and said softly, “Man, that took the wind out of my sails.” Wind — funny, yes — but premeditated?

Now, being that genetics may have at least something to do with sense of humor, we hoped for the same talents to be developed in our children, too. Well, at least I did. Our eldest, when he was very small, overheard Linda and me talking about passing gas (don’t tell her I told you—she never, absolutely never, discusses that) and, with perfect childhood perception of the truth, he responded, “That’s ‘gusting!” I had to admit that he was right—in both senses of the word.

Unfortunately, none of the children has permanently inherited their mother’s rare ability, but it is beyond question that they have adequate skills of their own. One son, Quinn, assured me that when he attended the Seattle Wine and Cheese Festival over the weekend he would be sure to ‘cut the cheese’ in honor of the rest of the family. I have no doubt that he did— attending or not. I wonder if he whined for us, too.

Now, our daughter Joy showed this talent involuntarily once. Seems she and her Mom were hearing about an unfortunate situation a man had found himself in. A young fellow had knocked at his door one night to request use of the phone while this fellow was cleaning his gun, so he took it to the door with him when he answered. This sent the visitor running in a hurry and leaving the man very puzzled, but he went back to cleaning his gun. This is where it gets interesting. The fugitive called the police and they show up and start shining flashlights into the windows. Well, the home owner, still cleaning his gun (Which evidently had a flashlight mounted on it) starts shining it out the windows to see who is there and the next thing you know he is arrested for aiming a gun at the police. Poor guy. Darned meddling visitors. So, he goes off to jail and awaits trial. My daughter comments that she understands his actions—she would want to ‘scope it out’, too. (“Now, I don’t care who you are. That's funny, right there.”)

Joy is also talented in the humor category and, having been raised among so many males, she can certainly hold her own in nearly any situation. For example, when out at a special dinner one night with all her well-dressed friends, one of the boys burped and did his best to cover it, politely begging forgiveness. Now, any other female might have forever missed the opportunity that my daughter saw instantly and clearly, like a neon light emblazoned on a hillside. Grasping it quickly and knowing it to be her destined role for the evening, she quickly pointed out that it had been a rather weak attempt and that her grandmother could have done better.

Now, don’t ask me why, but for some reason, the guys seem to like her a lot—because of this type of response, no less. She has a scorchingly quick wit and can shut down any guy in the time it takes him to draw the breath for his next supposedly witty remark. I simply can’t tell you how proud I am of her. (And frankly, I think that she could have easily won, had the guy challenged her to a duel. There are some advantages to being raised among boys.)

On another occasion, she was seemingly acting sad or introverted, in the opinion of a neighbor lady. The woman asked her what was wrong and without hesitation Joy answers, “My pet chicken died.” She has a bizarre sense of humor, but never thought for a moment that the woman would believe it. Nevertheless, so much sympathy was poured upon her that she just didn’t have the heart to admit that she was kidding. Never mind the fact that we lived in the city and it was illegal to own livestock. Joy should have gone into acting, but maybe it’s not too late.

Our youngest son, Alma, overheard his mother and me discussing the plight she had at work with the occasional nasty customer on the phone. He quickly told her what to do about it. “Just tell them you may lose them, because you are going through a tunnel—then hang up.” I thought this solution was absolutely brilliant, if not entirely plausible. Now, whether it would actually end the problems or simply inflame them is another matter for discussion, not to be covered here.

Another time we were on a trip and having lots of fun dropping over the hills in the road at a fast speed, just to get his over-sensitive stomach to fluttering. On one particularly extreme drop he holds his belly and blurts out, “Ah! Hill!” So, from then on the comment, “Ah, hill!” became a part of the conversation at the appropriate times.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When boys get together in groups, they do dumb stuff and talk about dumb stuff. When girls get together, they talk about other girls—and boys—and the dumb stuff that boys talk about and do.

I am not sure even God knows why boys are so fundamentally different from girls (aside from obvious architectural differences, I mean). It is like half of a boys’ brain is shut off or held in reserve for the remote chance that he might need it someday and doesn’t want to risk it being tired when he does. (So, when Rush Limbaugh is talking about having half his brain tied behind his back to make it fair, this may be what he means—imagine if he untied the other half.)) In contrast, girls seem to have both sides of their brains working overtime. Consider a possible scenario:

HIM: “It isn’t you. It’s me.”

HER: “Are you sure?”
(No, it isn’t. It’s me. Maybe I’m ugly. Does he think I’m fat? Oh, no! I’m fat! Why does he think that? Maybe he has another girl. Does he have another girl? Oh, no! He has another girl and she’s not fat! I’ll scratch her eyes out!)

HIM: “Of course. Why would I lie to you?”

HER: (Because I’m fat and ugly! I’ll scratch his eyes out, too.)

HIM: (She’s beautiful when she’s angry! Maybe I should stay with her?)

Here’s one I have yet to figure out. I’m sure you have run into these people a lot, too. I call them the “Excuse-my-French” crowd. They open their mouths and their apparent I.Q. levels hit the floor with an audible thud.

In the first place, they don’t even speak French and it’s obvious that they don’t want to be excused or they wouldn’t have said it. They don’t have the decency to blush or cover their mouths or say ‘sorry’. At least if they had said it in French I wouldn’t be offended, because I wouldn’t understand a word of it. Secondly, an additional benefit is that it would at least sound sexy, because almost anything in French sounds sexy, right?

I guess these people operate on the principle that it is easier to beg forgiveness than to get permission (“pardon me, do you mind if I say something highly offensive that will make me look uneducated, inconsiderate and out of control?”) But here’s how I look at it: I just don’t _______ _______ _____ care to hear ______ ______ any of that ____ ______ _______ _______________ at all, _____ ______. Okay? So, _____ there! (‘Excuse my French.’)

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