Surprises sure can set a person back

Published 10:20 am Thursday, July 5, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22

I’m surprised that the titmouse crowed so early.

To call it a crow may be a stretch. It sings an echoed, “Peter.” It’s not really a titmouse. It’s a clock — a bird clock that features authentic voices of birds. The titmouse calls at 5 p.m. It always seems to call too early.

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Surprised? That’s a big word you can use when you need a big word that means nothing.

Humans enjoy surprises — at least pleasant ones. I think “serendipity” might be my favorite word. I think of it as meaning “accidental bliss.”

I spoke at a large gathering in Columbus, Ohio. After my talk, a man approached me. I didn’t know him, but I could tell that he’d attended the same school as I had. I saw his class ring when he picked his nose. I was surprised. I wasn’t surprised because he picked his nose. After all, he went to the same school I had. I was surprised to find a piece of home far away.

Then he surprised me further with a riddle that he assured would be no hill for a stepper like me.

“What’s green and has wheels?” he asked.

I didn’t know and told him so.

He smiled broadly before saying, “Grass. I lied about the wheels.”

I was surprised that a grown man would say such a thing until I once again noticed the class ring.

Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Apparently, Proust was an optician.

I’ve spent much time walking in the company of dogs. A dog has new eyes each day — it finds surprises everywhere. It expects to be surprised and is never disappointed. If surprises were water, all dogs would drown.

Each year, farmers seem surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, by the crop.

I heard someone with a few miles on him say, “Nothing surprises me anymore!” Everything surprises me. I’m surprised at how accomplished some people are at parallel parking. I’m surprised how much of the day is first class. Think about flying economy — how cramped and uncomfortable it is. Then think about how comfortable and roomy it is when you’re not flying. You are living first class. I hope that puts a lilt in your step.

A mother took her little boy to church. The little boy said, “Mommy, I have to tinkle.” The mother said to the little boy, “It’s not appropriate to say the word ‘tinkle’ in church. So, from now on whenever you have to ‘tinkle,’ say that you have to ‘whisper.’” The following Sunday, the little boy went to church with his father and during the service, he said to his father, “Daddy, I have to whisper.” The father replied, “OK, whisper in my ear.”

I’ll bet the father was surprised.

We are easily surprised because real life doesn’t provide danger or merry music as movies and TV shows do.

You shouldn’t be surprised if you can’t afford to retire if you’ve spent every dime on lottery tickets.

Ole didn’t like surprises. One winter, Ole asked Lena to walk across the lake and get him some snus from the store. She said, “I’ll need money.” He told her to charge it. She asked. “Why won’t you give me the money?” Ole said, “I don’t know how thick the ice is.”

I’m surprised what a big chunk of the day it takes to put gas in my car. Gassing up has become a Sisyphean task. When I had a gas barrel on the farm, it took no time at all.

In 1900, electric cars outsold cars that ran on gas. The 1902 Phaeton built by the Woods Motor Vehicle Company had a range of 18 miles, a top speed of 14 mph, and cost $2,000. Those numbers are the same as a 2012 iPhone. In 1916, Woods offered a hybrid car with an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. Electric vehicles lacked the vibration, smell and noise of gas-powered cars. Changing gears on gasoline cars was difficult and electric vehicles didn’t require that. Steam-powered cars also had no gear-shifting, but needed long start-up times on cold mornings. Steam cars had less range before needing water than an electric car’s range per charge. An electric vehicle didn’t require hand cranking.

I’ve never owned an electric or a steam-powered car, but I do remember when gas prices remained unchanged for months. Now I’m surprised when prices stay the same for a few days.

When gas prices drop, it’s serendipity.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns usually appear every Wednesday and Sunday.