Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The shah and the chimp

Alan Sloman recently put up a blog post that included this wonderful sentence, “... Mum made it quite clear to me, repeatedly, that the Shah of Persia would not be coming if I didn’t eat my greens.”

(And now, of course, you have to go read the post or live your life believing that Alan was indulging in the merely surreal.)

Alan’s mum’s brilliant strategy inevitably reminded me of something. When I was a little boy, I lobbied hard for a pet chimpanzee. They were all over TV in those days, and as an only child I thought one would make a terrific playmate. Not surprisingly, my parents were having none of it. But no was not an answer up with which I was willing to put. I persisted, I nagged, I pestered. I hounded and badgered even though I wanted neither hound nor badger.

Finally, my father had had it. “You can’t have a chimpanzee,” he told me, “because they grow up to be gorillas.”

Well, there was no answer to that, really. Even I realized we had no room for a gorilla. The matter was dropped.

But here’s the thing. I don't know what lessons I didn’t pay attention to, what nature programs I zoned out on, what books I didn’t read, what simple logic I didn’t apply, in what ways I simply ignored the obvious, but I didn’t know the truth of the matter until my wife-to-be and I had a short sharp argument on the topic in our early 20s. She won, unfairly deploying provable facts.

To be fair, Dad’s answer was probably more humor than deception (though under the circumstances I imagine he was perfectly OK with deception). We are a facetious family. We often say what we don’t mean, and mean what we don’t say. We expect others—certainly family and close friends—to recognize this and go along with the joke, the point of which isn’t always jokey. I was perhaps a little young, but I was supposed to reason like this: “That’s untrue but funny. That’s also Dad saying pleasantly what he does not want to say angrily, which is, ‘That’s it. I’m answering your nonsense with some of my own, and if I hear any more from you something unimaginably horrible will happen to your baseball glove.’”

On the other hand....the fib abides.

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