Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Mis-read, Mis-heard, Mis-interpreted, Mis-tified

I’ve never had myself diagnosed, but all my life I’ve taken the most circuitous routes in processing information. There’s got to be a name for this condition. I’m happy to report that, as I’ve gotten older, my perceptions have perhaps gotten a bit keener and I can cut to the core of things maybe a bit quicker, but I’ve never been the type to grasp something instantly and run with it. At the most critical times, a thick fog seems to form around my head. Following simple directions, for instance, has always been a challenge, especially when, say, I ask store clerks where an item is or inquire of someone how to get to the Interstate from Maple Street. “Down the end of Aisle A on the left” feels like an expedition requiring a map and compass, and “take a left at the third light, shoot through the rotary and watch the signs for 95 South” could easily put me on the road to Nome instead of the next town. I have, as I say, improved, but I think I take in information a bit differently from everyone else.

What brings this up is the following: the noted humorist and blogger, trinamick, mentioned in a comment recently that one of her father’s favorite pick-ups lines is “you don’t sweat much for a fat girl.” Everybody gets that, right? I don’t need to explain it, of course. And it’s funny. But when I read it, I instantly interpreted it this way: “I don’t have to work hard to score with you because you’re fat, so don’t flatter yourself.” Something along those lines and not nearly so funny. Let me break it down: “you” — sort of an editorial “you” — “don’t sweat much” — don’t need to work hard — “for a fat girl” — to score with a fat girl. (And, by the way, I don’t think that’s true — there are many worthy plus-size women out there . . . and I didn't need to watch Shallow Hal to know that either.)

So how did I come up with that? I don’t know. But rather than see the obvious, my brain prefers to do end-arounds like this all the time. It’s like Abbot and Costello are doing the Who’s on First? routine in my head.

When I was in the fourth grade, the movie Mary Poppins came out. All the third and fourth grade classes from the Robert A. Cole Elementary School went on a field trip to see it. In one scene, Mary Poppins, Bert the Chimney Sweep, Jane and Michael go to visit Uncle Albert, the funny old man who laughs so much he becomes lighter than air and floats up to the ceiling. One of the jokes Bert told Uncle Albert was, “I used to know a pegleg named Smith.” “Oh, really?” returned Uncle Albert. “What was the name of his other leg?”

Everybody gets that, right? Naturally everybody does! It took me a year to. My friends tried everything to explain it to me. They told it to me it to me slowly, they told it to me loudly, they used hand puppets, they diagrammed the joke on a blackboard with color-coded chalk. All the while I repeated it to myself over and over like it was the riddle of the universe: a peg leg named Smith. A . . . peg . . . leg . . . named . . . Smith. What was the name of his other leg? What . . . was the name . . . of his other leg? (The key, of course, was that there is a pegleg, the prosthesis, and a pegleg, the person. They could have told me that.)

A little while ago on a sports talk show, a local wit remarked that “an NFL coach needs to be smart enough to draw up a game plan and stupid enough to think it matters.” That’s kind of funny and maybe even a little true. Tolstoy in War and Peace made exactly the same comment about Napoleon and battle plans. But do you know how I took it? Check this out: “an NFL coach needs to be smart enough to draw up a game plan, but, in the grand scheme of things, when we really determine on a universal scale what is important and what is not, something so trivial as a mere football game plan matters not a whit. Indeed, two hundred years from now no one will care in the slightest what defensive approach the Patriots will take against the Jets this Sunday.” What in the name of Vince Lombardi makes me do this? Can someone explain it to me?

Every now and again I catch a break. I’ll hear something and no matter how I might screw it up, it comes out the same. Here’s a perfect example: years ago there was a band in Boston whose name I only heard on the radio, but never saw written out. So I couldn’t tell if the band was called “An Emotional Fish” or “Unemotional Fish.” But I got lucky on that one, see, because you can approach it from those two different angles and it still ends up right. Why can’t it always be that way?

Anyway, I’m thinking of having T-shirts printed up with the following: “Hello. My name is John. I have above-average intelligence but I don’t always hear things correctly. Please speak slowly and clearly in simple sentences using words with no more than two syllables. If I seem confused, please wait 30 seconds and try again.” Hmm, might work, but then again I think my wife and daughters might not like that very much. You know, that public humiliation thing they always worry about.

Oh, well. That was my best idea. Suggestions are appreciated


I just got a digital camera for Father's Day, so now I'm truly dangerous!

Here's the office staff:

John M.

John H. (or g_s)

Joe "E" Bear

and mr. schprock


Blogger Mona said...

I say, stay true to yourself. It keeps things interesting. If we all thought the same way, what would life be like? Aren't you having a grand adventure learning this way? No? Oh. Well, maybe a little Gingko Biloba might do the trick...or meditation :)

You are the spice of life. Enjoy it.

6:26 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Words to live by as always. Thanks, Mona.

7:06 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

You sir have a monkey brain! Welcome to the club!!

8:20 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

BTW- I tried taking Ginko Biloba for my memory, but I kept forgetting.

ha! I kill myself!

8:21 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Don't do it. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

I thought my mother (she wasn't a fat girl) was the only one who processed information like that. She can turn the simplest statement into a federal case. By the time she gets done twisting it, she has you confused too. My grandpa says she should have been a lawyer. I think she should have been a detective.

8:58 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"You sir have a monkey brain! Welcome to the club!!"

Ha! Just don't call it "Bubbles."

"I think she should have been a detective."

Hmm. Jessica Fletcher or Mrs. Columbo?

9:21 AM  
Blogger John said...

Damn. I need a haircut.

10:01 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

You need a shave too.

10:35 AM  
Blogger John said...

Hmm...anybody have two bits?

10:51 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Yes, but you'll have to pry them out of my horses' mouths.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

Is your name really John? Or is that Tshirt moniker thingy all made up?
Thats not THE joe is it?

1:37 PM  
Blogger Mona said...

LOVE the staff photos!

4:23 PM  
Blogger Spirit Of Owl said...

That was so funny I nearly had an egg.

I'll leave that with you. :P

4:59 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Is your name really John? Or is that Tshirt moniker thingy all made up?
Thats not THE joe is it?"

Yes, my name really is John. But that's all you'll ever get out of me. And is that "THE Joe"? Oh yes it is. It is indeed.

7:29 PM  

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