I was doing the dishes after supper — doing an outstanding job by the way — when K-Mac asked “Where did you learn to wash dishes?”
“I’m self taught,” I replied, using a steak knife like an ice pick to chop a hunk of blackened mastodon off a dinner plate.
K-Mac said “So, you’re an auto-di-dact?”
I knew this was a trick question, one of those where the correct answer is either yes or no. What I didn’t know was whether the correct answer was either yes or no. So while I thought about it, I bought some time with a favorite ploy — answering a question with a question.
“Um,” I said, as if everything were normal, “the auto died where?”
“All learning is self-learning,” she said, deftly countering my maneuver with a trick answer.
I was not without options. I could more or less ignore her trick answer and simply repeat my answer-question, maybe adding a suggestion that she call Triple-A. Or, I could smoothly change the subject with one of my well-practiced subject-changers such as “Do you think it was ironic or just coincidental that they buried President Grant in Grant’s tomb?”
And while I couldn’t repeat my favorite tactic of answering a question with a question — since she’d gone and answered my answer-question with a question-answer — I could always throw out one of my carefully constructed verbal flash-bangs like “Fellop bop bula, fellop bop boom,” or “Lando Calrissian, he no Parisian.”
However, before I could say anything, K-Mac grabbed her own rebound.
“You do know that’s just a design and not burnt-on food you’re trying to scrape off that plate?”
Unfortunately this was another trick question whose answer range also was yes or no. But unlike other trick questions, neither of those answers would do me any good. I say yes and I look like an idiot. I say no and I look like an idiot. I say nothing and I look like a slow idiot.
But because I am a journalist of many decades experience, trained by Himalayan monks to think on my feet — and since I was on those very feets — my reply was quick, professional and, while admitting no error on my part, it would allow me to emerge from this bitter mastodon humiliation with my reputation intact and self-respect pretty much undiminished. Give or take.
“Oh,” I said, shortly and succinctly–especially succinctly and shortly and not verbosely or grandiloquently, not even oratorically, just “Oh,” a perfect word when you think about how it does its job, which is to say, it says nothing while technically saying something, allowing the Oh-er to remain above the fray with dignity and innocence and with no need–I say, no need–of any further self-indictment. Consider the ancient Haiku:
Oh: such a short word,
But useful if one shuts up
And says no more, like…
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2016, all rights reserved.