ANYTHING YOU CAN DO
(They can do better!)
By Tom Clarkson
You know the sort, it may be a brother-in-law, next door neighbor or that particularly irritating high school bully who has gone badly to seed. Several years ago, while flying home, trapped at an altitude of 39,000 feet, one such person sat next to me. The following is a recap of that conversation.
Anticipating take-off in the next week or so, our jet slowly creeped onto one of the taxi tarmacs, as I mentioned how my wife and I hoped to soon get a Labrador puppy.
He rejoined that he also had pets, mastering effective two-way communication with his lowland gorilla that shared its housing with an exceptional and uncommon, white Asian elephant and a Siberian Musk Ox. And then, as an afterthought, he added that his Costa Rican Sloth and Australian Dingo both enjoyed riding on the back of his Cyprus Dwarf hippopotamus. With mouth agape, I mumbled something about how, earlier in my work life, I had been in college administration.
He launched into a discourse of how – following a round of lectures regarding his personally conceived plan for curricula innovations at Harvard, Cambridge, Yale, Oxford, Stanford and MIT – he planned to pursue post-doctoral work regarding the relevance sub-atomic vagaries effecting post-coital deportment of a rare plum eating piranha found only in one seasonal stream located some 255 kilometers from the primary Amazon tributary.
He continued that he anticipated both the National Geographic and Smithsonian to do full features on his work – explaining that he didn’t want to write up the research himself as he didn’t care to again face all of the “interview hassles” by the Pulitzer Prize committee.
After an extended, mouth open, pause to assimilate that bit of information, I struggled to offer that early in my adult life I had enjoyed serving in elective office in Midwest Kansas.
Tut-tutting, he responded how he had personally tutored United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in proper international parliamentary procedures, had honed Former President Bill Clinton’s image (post-Monica), had been begged, repeatedly, to take Ted Kennedy’s seat in U.S. Senate, but – being the humble sort he was – had not wished to call attention to himself and (in a conspiratorial whisper) explained how, in all reality, it had been he who had written the entirety of the Health Care bill.
Wishing to steer clear of all that hinted of politics, I hurriedly changed topics telling him how we had thoroughly enjoyed the climate while living and working in the Kwajalein Atoll in the far south west Pacific.
Before I could explain the nature of our work he interrupted saying that, each Spring, he immersed himself in the Italian Riviera lifestyle; each summer, jetted between the Galapagos Islands, several of the westernmost Mongol provinces and the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia; during the fall he hiked several of the seldom traversed Alps, peaks of the Hindu Kush, a number of the Northernmost Tibetan highest reaches and the “oh, so tame” furthermost Canadian Rockies; and in the winter relaxed in the “chillier parts” of Antarctic . . . but was vague on specifics or explanation of that season’s sport. . . which I wisely did not pursue!
At this point, incapable of cogent response to the preceding, I mentioned how in addition to a daily regime of walking – as a result of slightly raised blood pressure – I now took medication.
Conversely, he explained how he worried little about any manner of bodily infirmities as he could lower his heart rate to twenty beats per minute, could control his body temperature to anywhere between 90 and 110 degrees, often held his breath to just over ten minutes – and could do all at the same time!
Eyes – and ears – glazed over, I turned the conversation to more familial matters, mentioning how our oldest granddaughter had just finished second in the grade school spelling Bee.
He observed that that was all well and good, but his daughter did crosswords in Sanskrit, sang a multiplicity of ancient songs in Aramaic and home schooled her children in Esperanto, Etruscan and conversational Latin as well as how to properly write in one of the more ancient variants of Japanese Kanji.
Mercifully, the pilot then announced we were about to land.