Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stuck on the Elephant

6. Man undertakes nothing in which he is not more or less

puzzled; and must try numberless experiments before he can bring

his undertakings to anything like perfection; even the simplest

operations of domestic life are not well performed without some

experience; and the term of man's life is half wasted before he has

done with his mistakes and begins to profit by his lessons.

—McGuffey's Fifth Reader, page 289 (Man and the Inferior Animals)

Here’s the riddle:

How do you get down from an elephant?

I don’t know. How do you get down from an elephant?

You don’t get down from an elephant. You get down from a duck.

Once, many years ago, in a supermarket in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I was standing behind a woman at the checkout counter who was apparently friends with the checker and she said: “ I got a good one for you: how do you get off an elephant?”

(I remembered from my youth in northern Ohio the sensation I felt as the car would swerve trying to go up the icy hills, as I listened, anticipating, how this was going to go terribly wrong. . .)

“ I don’t know. How do you get off an elephant?”

(Here it comes, wait for it. . . )

“You don’t get off an elephant. You get off a duck.”

(I peeked to see if there was any serious injury. . . )

All of a sudden, on cue, both women erupted in laughter.

Sometimes I feel like I’m a visitor to your planet. That was one of those times.