It’s New Year’s Eve as I write this. I was thinking I’d list some New Year’s resolutions, but midnight is still hours away. So, for now, I’m more in the mood to look back. Way back.
One of the aspects of my life that has given me the most satisfaction has been the fact that I’ve been able to carry on reasonably amiable conversations with a huge range of people from all walks of life. The range is so huge that when I share this fact in detail, a lot of people get horrified.
Nobody is aghast when I tell them about the various mathematicians, physicists, chemists, MDs, etymologists, astronomers, artists, poets, actuaries, other applied mathematicians, lawyers, attorneys general, animal husbanders, animal wivers, creative historical anachronists, recreators of past American wars, dancers, professional dog walkers, reporters, musicians, composers, plumbers, major league players (even though I don’t go to any of their games) — BREATHE
… radio performers and news readers, computer programmers, millionaires, managers of fast-food joints, mail carriers, landlords, exterminators, aluminum can collectors, mechanics, riveters, scissor and knife sharpeners — well, just one really, and he only had five fingers left on both hands combined — BREATHE
… electricians, politicians, book binders, jewelers, people of the cloth, monks, nuns, food bank directors, Puget Sound captains, laundromat owners, airline pilots, photographers, construction workers, fisherpersons and actors I’ve talked to, to name a few.
Hearing about all that, people might even say, “You’re known by the company you keep,” approvingly.
But then I might also mention I’ve had long conversations with prostitutes, pimps, both active and retired call girls, an ex-diamond smuggler and welfare fraud, convicted bank robbers, unrepentant stalkers, unrehabilitated pedophiles, drug addicts, drug dealers, feebly undercover police officers, an unlicensed street doctor, con artists, various assorted sadists, various sordid generic sex fiends, segregationists, a couple of murderers — both of whom were housemates, one of whom was the aforementioned street doctor — panhandlers and a man with nonstop explosive flatulence.
Then people would say, “You’re known by the company you keep,” shaking their heads, or they’d be speechless, or they’d call me a monster.
I’ve never understood that reaction. It’s not like I encouraged all of them to keep on doing what they were doing. I just talked to them. I let them tell me who they were in their own words, but that doesn’t mean I was a completely uncritical listener.
For example, one of the police officers bragged to me that there was a strip joint that let him enjoy their shows for free. I asked him why they did that. He said, because they knew he could report them for violations of the law. So I said, why don’t you report them and get them shut down? And he said, because I like the shows. I said, so it’s like you’re being bribed, isn’t it? He said, yeah, I guess so. See? That wasn’t me being uncritical. That was just me gathering useful information. You can learn a lot from people.
Some of the people in the acceptable list were surprisingly similar to people in the unacceptable list. For instance, millionaires seem to usually have the same inflated self-esteem as pimps. Not that there’s anything wrong with inflated self-esteem, in and of itself. There are evident survival advantages.
That reminds me to get back to the goal of dropping New Year’s resolutions. I resolve to find a way to fight the urge to write about Donald J. Trump in every column, as soon as Joe Biden’s inauguration is done with. I know and accept that there will be lapses. But I resolve to keep mentions of the deposed former narcissist-in-chief to no more than once a month. On average.
I resolve to be the Beast of the Number 703. This is not only a Revelations joke, it’s a tricky math joke, which almost no one will get. [Hint: Add up all the numbers from 1 to 37. Did you learn anything from doing that? No? So why did you do it? Would you do anything I told you to do?]
I resolve to continue listening to people, because I know what they tell me can be important without being what I wanted to hear at that moment.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more in the Jan. 6-12, 2021 issue.