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Burt Prelutsky / May 25, 2020

The Things We Think About

When I was young, it used to strike me as odd when people would question my hearing or my eyesight.

When I was young, it used to strike me as odd when people would question my hearing or my eyesight. How would I know how it was? How would anyone know? The question that always came to mind was compared to what? I saw what I saw and heard what I heard, but I didn’t know how that compared to the senses of other people. When I heard that some people were colorblind, I wasn’t sure what that was. Initially, I assumed it meant that instead of Technicolor, they saw the world in black and white. Later, I heard they simply couldn’t differentiate between certain colors. That made me wonder if there were colors I simply couldn’t see.

At around that time, I would remember that my first wife, as a child, intentionally taught her younger brother the incorrect names of the colors, so he wound up thinking that the word for red was yellow and the word for blue was orange, etc. In the annals of practical jokes, it may go down as the cruelest one ever.

All of this is leading up to the fact that nobody is aware of what is lurking in the minds of other people. I’m not referring to sex, which is what people generally assume other people are thinking of even if they’re not talking about it.

But I’m talking about weirder, more interesting things.

For instance, in Anne Tyler’s latest novel, “Redhead by the Side of the Road,” her protagonist goes out for his early morning jog when nobody is around and there are no cars on the road. He finds himself thinking about those neutron bombs that kill people but leave structures intact. If one had hit Baltimore, he wonders how long it would take before he’d actually realize he was the only person alive in the city.

It’s not an important scene, although it does explain the book’s title. While jogging, out of the corner of his eye he sees a fire hydrant and for a moment mistakes it for a redheaded child.

But the scene resonated with me because for years, whenever I experienced something totally out of the ordinary, wholly unexpected, I’d find myself wondering if I had just died and if this is what the afterlife was like.

I haven’t had one of those experiences lately, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’m so old, nothing that surprising ever happens or that I’m so old, I’ll know all about the afterlife soon enough and I don’t have to rush things along.

Speaking of jogging, I understand donating to charities and I understand running and bicycling. What I’ve never been able to grasp is why friends, family and co-workers are supposed to donate to some worthy cause because other people have chosen to devote part of an afternoon to exercising in public.

After Patrick Miano and I exchanged a few emails about the miscasting of Caucasians as Orientals in the movies, it dawned on me how often it occurred in movies, and not once did it make any sense. It’s not as if there weren’t any Chinese or Japanese actors who could have handled the job and handled it without having to spend an hour in the make-up room having their skin tinted and their eyes slanted.

It’s amazing how many actors actually took a turn at it. Just the ones that pop to mind include all the various Charlie Chans: Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, Roland Winters and even Peter Ustinov. Then there were Boris Karloff (Fu Manchu), Peter Lorre (Mr. Moto) and Tony Randall (Dr. Lao). The only thing keeping John Wayne (Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror”) and Alec Guinness (Koichi Asano in “A Majority of One”) from being the most embarrassing performances of all was Mickey Rooney’s jabbering, buck-toothed, Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

In most cases, the roles weren’t great to begin with, but that’s no excuse for straining the credulity of the audience. For instance, I think Denzel Washington is a pretty good actor and if he wants to have a go at playing the title role in “Othello,” I don’t have a problem with it. But you couldn’t pay me to see his attempt to portray a Danish prince named Hamlet.

Some people are shocked when they hear that I have a telephone but only use it to call out on those rare instances when I have an urgent reason to forego email.

Charles Patterson let me know that he had an Uncle Grover who was of like-mind. He recalls that years ago, he and his dad were visiting Grover at his home in Velvet Ridge, Arkansas, a suburb of Bald Knob.

The three of them were sitting on the front porch when the phone rang. When it kept ringing, Charley’s dad asked his brother: “Grover, aren’t you going to answer that?”

“No,” replied Grover, “I had that thing put in for my convenience, not everybody’s else’s.”

It will probably surprise nobody that Grover didn’t have indoor plumbing, only a well and an outhouse.

I, on the other hand, have indoor plumbing, along with the bills that go with it.

Some restaurant owners are already preparing for the day they can open up, but only so long as they agree to abide by certain ongoing restrictions.

In some cases, they will try to maintain social distancing by seating mannequins and blow-up dolls in every other chair. To make them appear more life-like, I suggest they equip them with iPhones.

I had been thinking along the same lines as a meme sent along by Stephen Hanover. It read: “Great Idea for Socialists: The Screen Actors Guild should resolve that any actor being paid $20 million for a movie will redistribute most of it in order to give hundreds of struggling actors a living wage!”

It had often occurred to me that, in spite of Hollywood being full of self-congratulatory left-wingers who are always nattering on about the fellowship of actors, there has always existed an enormous differential between what the stars are paid and what every other actor in the movie is paid. How is it that an actor like Robert Downey, Jr., who is occasionally paid $50 million plus a percentage of the gross to star as Ironman or Sherlock Holmes, never even thinks of, say, doling out a million or two among his fellow cast members? It would set a nice example and he’d never miss it. Heck, his agent gets $5 million and, basically, all he does for the money is take a phone call and say: “Yes, Bobby would love to do ‘Spider Man 14. Have a certified check here by 4 p.m.”

I suppose that so long as the lockdown lasts, the C-19 gags will keep coming. Here is a batch from Russ Mothershed.

“Cops these days are like 'Come out with your hands washed.’”

“My homeschooled child just said: ‘I sure hope I don’t have the same teacher next year.’”

“Never in my whole life would I have imagined my hands would be consuming more alcohol than my mouth.”

“50 million children are being homeschooled by gun-owning parents and not a single mass shooting has taken place. Arming teachers works!”

“Sitting at the bar in the kitchen last night, I tried picking up my wife. She gave me a fake phone number.”

“Have you noticed that since beauty salons are closed, selfies are down 88%?”

“It’s been a real blessing being home with my wife for all these weeks. We’ve finally had a chance to catch up on all the things I’ve done wrong for the past 15 years.”

When a friend told me she was scared of coming down with the coronavirus, I tried putting her mind at ease by pointing out that it made more sense for her to be frightened of coming down with pneumonia, influenza, cancer, diabetes or heart disease, since they were all far likelier to kill her.

I’m not sure I succeeded.

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