Lou and Peter Berryman have a song on their Double Yodel CD called, Come To Mind in which Peter mentions that he’s no good with answers. He says that he gets by with mostly two suggestions: “Put the curtain in the tub, when you take a shower. And learn how to live with your questions.” This is really good advice. I think of it almost every time I take a shower. I’ve known for years that I’m much better at questions than answers. Oh, I have some answers, but they’re hardly ever the right ones.
For instance, someone will ask me where the peanut butter is and I don’t know. I wasn’t the last one to put it back, and my best guess is that it’s in the fridge or maybe the dishwasher or even, possibly, the trash. Those are the three places where things seem to end up in our kitchen, when they’re not where they should be. So, I answer that it might be in one of these places, but in a really wimpy tone of voice. How different my tone and my life would be if, just for once, someone asked me something I know for sure.
For instance, if some fine morning, someone stumbled down the stairs, looked in the fridge for a long, electricity consuming five minutes and then turned to me and with a puzzled look said, “Mom, what was Yip Harburg’s real name?” I’d say, with complete confidence that it was “Isidore Hochburg”. He got the nickname “Yip” from yipsel, which is Yiddish for squirrel, because he was so active as a boy. He wrote all of the lyrics for Over the Rainbow, the Depression anthem Brother, Can You Spare a Dime, April in Paris, It’s Only a Paper Moon and many, many more songs. He also wrote two books of rhymes which were republished in one book that’s available from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He was a Democratic Socialist and was blacklisted in the 50’s. He’s one of my heros. (I got most of this information from Whither Zither Peter Berryman’s well-worth-reading newsletter.)
But no one ever asks about Yip Harburg, although I don’t know why. Neither do they ask about anything else I know about including live bottoms, Blonder Tongues or Frigiscopes. (Sometimes I wonder, Is the art of conversation dead?) So, I waste hours on answering questions about mundane things like missing wallets, strayed shoes, how long to nuke jello and whose cat threw up the mouse on the bathroom rug (which is really important, because it determines who has to clean it up).
It’s no wonder, with all this trivial chatter going on, that we don’t get to the good stuff. “Honey,” I can see the geek saying someday, looking lovingly into my eyes, “Do you think live bottoms are better in a bed or what?” “Why, yes,” I’d say, batting my eyelashes, “I certainly do. Having a conveyor belt on the bottom of a truck bed to move the cargo out under the rear door – which is hinged at the top – is really effective. Dangerous though if the driver forgets to latch the door. That’s why they have those ‘Warning: Live Bottom’ signs on the trucks.”
Or, “Lill,” a friend might say after routine hospital tests, “Did you know that Doctor Martin has a Blonder Tongue?” “As a matter of fact,” I’d answer, “I actually saw it last time I was at his office. Blonder Tongue is the best company for broadband equipment that I know of.”
Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that anyone will ever ask me about Frigiscopes. Not unless, like me, they’ve had to undergo some rather unpleasant tests that only females are subjected to when they flunk their PAP test. (But, Doc, I studied all night! Honest! Can’t I get at least a B?) As I lay flat on my back on a cold metal table, my feet in stirrups and a covering the size of a dishtowel over my “lap”, there was a great rustling and shuffling of feet and my doctor led twenty first-year medical students into the room. Most of them were Asian, and as the doctor spoke, many of them bowed in my direction. I tried to do the same, but it’s very hard to bow when your feet are in stirrups and you’re lying flat on your back. It just looks like you’re sitting up.
I’m pretty unflappable and not terribly modest in medical situations (I’m a DES daughter, which is why I was there in the first place and have had many medical procedures), but I began to wish that I had read the papers I signed a little more closely. Especially the part which gave permission for twenty students to each peer through the lighted scope called a frigiscope (I am NOT making this up) until they had located the suspicious cells the PAP test had found. It took a while.
As a matter of fact, it took so long, that I was sure that the cells would have all mutated into cancer cells before the last student – a young woman with extremely thick glasses and a wall eye – had spotted them. When she finally said the Chinese equivalent of “eureka!”, the other students broke out into cheers and clapped and the doctor patted my foot, which was asleep from being in the stirrup for so long, and said, “I hope you weren’t too bored.” “Not at all,” I said, half delirious with relief that the ordeal was over, “I can’t remember when I’ve had such a good time.” (Of course, at the moment I couldn’t remember much of anything including my middle name, but he didn’t know that.)
I could answer questions all day, only I doubt that they’re answers to questions that anyone but me would ask. I notice things, wonder about them, write them down and then look them up. That’s how I found out all of the above and more. It’s great because later on in life, when there are dull lulls, I can rummage around in my mind, pull out nuggets of information and review them to keep from being bored. (This, rather than pure loopiness, is why I stand there chuckling to myself in checkout lines.) Or I can write about them, when I can’t think of anything else to write.