When I was a wee lad, my older sisters shared the gift of reading with me, and this was during the heyday of magazines. My parents subscribed to Newsweek, and Readers Digest was always in the barbershop. It was a treat to see the world through the lens of the Life magazine photographers, and my first personally paid subscriptions were to TV Guide and the Sporting News.
But the magazine that may have shaped me the most (and some would say did the most damage) was MAD. The satirical monthly made fun of political leaders, parodied the top TV shows and movies, and always featured the gap-toothed grin of Alfred E. Neuman (“What, Me Worry?”) on the cover. It certainly influenced my sense of humor, and my family has had to tolerate that ever since.
One of my favorite MAD features was a series called, “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” Basically, the writers said in print what most of us wanted to say out loud.
For example, one cartoon panel showed a woman looking up at a drip from the ceiling, asking a plumber, “Is that from a leaking pipe?” The plumber, with a deadpan expression, replied, “No, it’s from somebody watering their lawn upstairs.”
Another showed a woman stopped by a traffic cop. “Was I speeding?” she asked. “No,” he replied. “You’re sitting still. It’s the scenery that’s been whizzing by at 90 miles an hour.”
You may not be laughing now, but when I was 12, I was rolling on the floor.
Of course, people are still asking stupid questions today. If not stupid, many of their questions are inappropriate, or even downright rude.
My wife, the dear angel, leads her women’s church group in a ministry to help provide snacks for students at an elementary school. Every week, she visits the store, and fills a shopping cart with juice boxes, chips, crackers, and fruit.
She has learned by now, it is impossible to make it to the checkout counter without bystanders offering their unsolicited commentary and questions. She accepts the banal banter with a smile, but I know what she’s thinking deep down inside. I shall offer her muffled replies in parentheses.
“Well, SOMEONE’s throwing a big party tonight!” (“Why, yes we are! It’s at the county jail. I’m surprised you’re not on the guest list!”)
“Do you think you have enough chips in that buggy?” (“You know, I haven’t really given that a lot of thought. Could you help me load it in my van, and then meet me at the school to unload? Only then will we have the definitive answer.”)
“Let me guess: you have more grandchildren than you can handle!” (“Aw, you guessed wrong. These are for my children. My husband and I started late. We now have seventeen, and another one is on the way! They’re all out in the car, come see!”)
Oh, the things we’d like to say, but in polite society, we just can’t. Wait, what did I just say? Polite society is long gone. These days, anything goes, right? Manners are so….20th century. So the next time I’m on the receiving end of a stupid question, I’ll be ready with my snappy comeback. For instance:
When the tech repair guy on the phone asks me, “So your computer won’t even power up?” I answer in the affirmative. “Have you gone to our website for the frequently asked questions? Many of the answers may solve your problem.” From now on I will reply: “Here’s a frequently asked question for you: How am I supposed to go on your website, when MY COMPUTER IS DEAD?”
Meanwhile, back at the grocery store: I have successfully fulfilled my wife’s request for a butternut squash. The teen cashier is mystified. She holds it up. Tilts it, turns it upside down, looking in vain for a bar code sticker which does not exist. Totally ignoring me, she yells to one of her colleagues. “Brittany! What is this?” Brittany shrugs her shoulders. I helpfully offer, “It’s a butternut squash.” She says, “Looks like some kinda pumpkin to me.” I reply, “Not in the same family.” “They have a family?” she asks.
“Just look up butternut squash on your laminated produce picture card,” I say. After a brief pause, she says, “Is it under butter, or nut, or squash?” I advise her to try them all, and maybe even pumpkin too. I’m playing it safe because I don’t know who created the picture card, or if they have ever been in the produce department.
Eventually the mystery is solved, and she picks up the next item. “It’s a pomegranate,” I say. “Brittany?” she hollers.
“Never mind, let me just buy a Snickers bar.”
By the way, is it cold enough for ya?
(David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor and radio host. His new book “Hello Chattanooga: Famous People Who Have Visited the Tennessee Valley is available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com, or at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405)