WILSON: Problem solving without a problem
Sometimes, saying a lot requires very few words. Sometimes, rambling on and on says nothing at all. When Harrison Winkle and Jimmy (Harry’s best friend and avowed contrarian) got together, words flew, consensus of opinion was tossed to the wind, and logic became an unnecessary distraction.
Usually, these discussions started with Jimmy finding fault with all the things that require an act of congress to correct (time zones, VA benefits, the border wall with the Conch Republic), which then required Harry to find fault with Jimmy’s fault finding. It was a difficult, thankless job, but Harry was always up for putting Jimmy down. Two simple rules accompanied these debates: (1) solutions were not as important as knowing who to blame, and (2) Harry made up his own set of facts and wasn’t afraid to use them.
“I am sick and tired of having to drive down Napier Avenue to connect with I-94 from US-31,” Jimmy was often heard to complain. It was the kind of complaint a lot of folks near the Center of the Universe shared – the kind of complaint that lost its voice decades back. “All because some lepidopterist caught a bunch of lust-filled butterflies using that chunk of Blue Creek Fen as their fornicatorium.”
Jimmy set himself up as a huge target with that one. So much to refute in such a small statement. All Harry had to do was figure out what a fen was, what a butterfly had to do with the highway not getting completed, and was being called a lepidopterist a good or bad thing? However, Harry was having nothing to do with the “fornicatorium” debate – he did not know what it was, and was pretty sure he wanted things to stay that way.
“You don’t even drive that way,” Harry gave up, quickly, on the aforementioned intellectual topics, and went straight for the low hanging fruit. “When was the last time you drove north?” This was a safe line of questioning, since Harry knew Jimmy maintained a tight orbit within the Center of the Universe.
“I used to do it all the time,” Jimmy countered with a nonchalant toss of his ancient ponytail. “Twice a year I journeyed north for the meeting of the clans in the great woods near Hesperia…”
“Ssssoooo…you don’t do that anymore,” barked Harry like a defense attorney on meth, “You haven’t done it in quite some time,” he continued, “And, you are not apt to do it anytime soon?”
Harry knew, if he didn’t strike quickly, Jimmy was likely to run off topic and focus his diatribe on why Jimmy Carter failed at converting our country to the metric system, or the truth about college professors on the weekends.
“Therefore, it won’t impact you at all if that road never gets completed.”
Harry felt pretty good about his line of counter reasoning — and was equally pleased about keeping “fornicatorium” out of the conversation.
“As usual, you missed the point,” groused Jimmy. “It’s not about me ever driving that way, again. It’s about so many supposedly smart people, taking decades, spending millions, and still not being able to figure out how to build a three-mile stretch of road.”
“You are absolutely wrong,” countered Harry with a big “gotcha” grin — he knew he had Jimmy on this one. “I do not usually miss the point.”
“Which means I’m right,” Jimmy dryly observed. “That danged Mitchell’s Satyr Butterfly is on the endangered species list. I get that.” Jimmy did get it because, in spite of all his quirks and idiosyncrasies, Jimmy knew right from wrong — and knew he was always right. “But, you can’t tell me, 25 years after they found that swamp full of second generation cocoon dwellers, someone couldn’t figure out how to go around that pig puddle.”
“Maybe you should tell MDOT about the fornicatorium,” groused Harry. “I’ll bet that will get someone’s attention.”
Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
After living in Washington, D.C., for nearly 8 years, I love being back home in Pittsburgh. I met many interesting... read more