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Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's All True

I've always had an odd smattering of knowledge. I recall one instance when I was about nine where I first used this knowledge and simultaneously experienced the doubt of the general public. Mom, Charlie and I were at a department store together. She was buying a rug or something, putting a salesman through what my brother and I like to call "The Treatment." She would have sales personnel eating out of her hand by the end of a trip to A&S. No question. And she wouldn't buy anything in the end.

While watching another salesman fall to pieces around her, I noted a flurry of activity. A man was walking through the rug department and setting off excitement as he passed. "It's Richard Dreyfuss!" someone exclaimed. Another person took up the cry, while the man in question, realizing the fuss he was causing, started to make for the escalator. People pointed and exclaimed. They had seen a movie star, one whose prime was the period of which I speak, the late 70's.

He could have passed as Richard Dreyfuss, but it wasn't him. For whatever reason, at nine I could recognize Richard Dreyfuss in the rug department if I saw him, and the man running like a spotted celebrity for the exit was not Richard Dreyfuss. I said this aloud enough for the adults around me to hear.

"What's that?" a woman said, looking at me with surprise.

I thought I was being helpful. This way they wouldn't be mistaken. "That wasn't Richard Dreyfuss," I said. "That's a guy who looks like him, but he's not."

The woman looked at me with the mild annoyance of one who has been asked to buy the Brooklyn Bridge. She addressed me with a wave of her hand.

"What did that kid say?" her husband asked after seeing the Richard Dreyfuss imposter finally vanish.

She looked at him with a dismissive gesture. "'Thinks I don't know what I'm talking about. Like I'm crazy or something. That was Richard Dreyfuss!"

*****

Like I said, it's been a strange week. Take for example my conversation around the lunch table. Our two English Department faculty lounges are two classroom-sized rooms, each with a long table for teachers to sit and talk over lunch. For reasons that our community could offer, one lounge is often populated with young men between the ages of 25-30 and the other with women just a little bit older. Almost all are younger than myself. The men speak of sports, politics and media outrages. The women discuss clothes, food, light television fare and children.

At the men's table, the issues can be occasionally sublime and often ridiculous. "Which is the greatest beer commercial of all time?" "Who is the shortest shortstop ever?" "Who is less talented - Mariah Carey or Madonna?" "Who is your favorite Russian psychic?" The other day, a question I could field came to the table: "Who is responsible for the longest punt in football history?"

I allowed a few names - good ones - to pass through. "Ray Guy?" "Reggie Roby?" "Randall Cunningham?" That last one isn't ridiculous. Randall could basically do anything, including punt.

"I'll take this one," I said. "Steve O'Neal, New York Jets. Ninety-eight yards."

To be honest with you, I know it sounds a little silly, too. He was a rookie when he did it, and he's almost unknown to history otherwise. But it's true, all true. They look at me like I'm making it up. Sure, they seem to say. Spoken like a Jets fan. Right. "I doubt the Jets even have any records, Marty," one says. Actually for a while Richard Todd held a NFL record he set in 1980 for passing attempts in a game. They look at me as if I fell off a truck and wouldn't know the slightest piece of football miscellany. This is how Dad felt when he told me the Giants used have a quarterback named Y.A. Tittle. I didn't believe him at first, either. That was a ridiculous name.

But at Mile High Stadium in 1969, #20 Steve O'Neal punted the ball some seventy plus yards, where it then took a Jets roll another fifteen or so to the Bronco two.

This is a general problem as I'm getting older. (And how old am I really? I turn 40 in March, for God's sake, but in public school, that can seem like 50, which isn't even that old.) The more I age, the more unreliable my information seems to people younger than myself. This is what used to make my parents mad. Why is it so impossible that I'm actually right about something? Mom would ask. Because you're old, I would think. Now I know why the woman in A&S was pissed at me. Why would some snot-nosed kid know about the star of The Goodbye Girl? Except I was right about Steve O'Neal, and the woman in the rug department was wrong.

It was worse this past Wednesday when, after the Obama win, the only thing my all-white Advanced Placement class had to say about it was that Black Panthers intimidated voters throughout the United States on election day. Really? I asked.

Their evidence consisted of two guys standing somewhat ominously in front of a polling place on Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia. When I speculated that these "Black Panthers" of which they spoke were actually representative of one local instance, the kids didn't believe me. The Black Panthers, they insisted, changed the flow of the election.

That's insane, I told them. There really is no Black Panther movement anymore. The real Black Panthers eventually graduated to become Crips, convicts, worm food, professors, business owners, drug addicts or Republicans. There is Black rage in America, yes, but no Black Panthers. Here were two guys menacing people in front of a door, dressed in all black clothes and berets they probably bought at I. Goldberg's, looking angrily into the camera, having the thrill of their lives, but it didn't mean that the spirit of Huey and Cleaver was alive and well across the United States, or even in Philly for that matter. In fact, I'm convinced that the little guy "Panther" in the video is a local crackpot King Samir Shabazz, a guy so ridiculous he actually got thrown out of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam. Only the Philadelphia Weekly takes him seriously, and that's as an eccentric character.

But, the kids almost suggested, if I didn't know that for sure that it wasn't a nationwide ploy to scare white people, then how could I deny the viral web evidence of Black Panthers intimidating voters - even if the evidence shows it was the same lame Philly story, originally told by Fox, repeated over and over?

Whether young or old, this has been my problem. I don't know everything, but what's the point of having my eclectic and nearly useless knowledge of history, sports and popular culture if no one believes me? It's not like I understand science or math. As Uncle Morty asks in My Favorite Year, "Do I look I come from Minsk? I know what I'm talking about."

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