Al Batt: It might have been better but it could have been worse

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2024

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

It was 4 a.m. on a 14-degree January day.

Al Batt

If you’re a Minnesotan, you’re probably thinking, “It could have been worse. It could have been 14 degrees below zero.”

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That’s a good point, but it got worse. There was a massive fire, and every fire department in the county was called to the scene. Each department performed masterfully, as they always do.

It got better. No one was injured.

In the rib-tickling movie “Young Frankenstein,” Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and his assistant Igor were digging up dead people in a cemetery. Igor’s attempt to lighten a dark situation led to this exchange: Frankenstein: “What a filthy job.”

Igor: “Could be worse.”

Frankenstein: “How?”

Igor: “Could be raining.”

Those words had barely crossed Igor’s lips when it got worse. It poured.

Back when I thought Central America was Nebraska, I spoke with my brother, a long-time volunteer firefighter, who had battled a huge fire on a gelid

January night when both equipment and people had frozen. I asked him how challenging the experience had been because that’s what I asked. He replied,

“It might have been better, but it could have been worse.”

I met a friend who had extensive dental work done in the dentist’s office. That’s the best place to have extensive dental work done. It’s much better than on a hockey rink. I asked him how he was doing because that’s what I asked. He mumbled something from a sore mouth that I was unable to understand, but

I’ll bet he said, “It could be worse.”

“It could be worse” should be our state motto. We know the sun and the stars will continue to light our way.

When I was a kid who used a giant fork and a shovel to clean a henhouse providing enough ammonia to make Mr. Clean’s eyes smart and refusing to stay spotlessly clean, I never once said, “It could be worse. We could be mired amid an economic recession.”

In adulthood, I started saying, “It could be worse.” I find comfort in those words. When I have a flat tire, I realize I have four tires (counting the spare) holding air and mumble to myself, “It could be worse.”

Ole was walking down the street one day when he saw his old high school classmate, Lars, coming towards him.

“Lars, my old friend, how are you?” Ole greeted his buddy.

“Not so good,” said Lars.

“Why, what’s wrong?” asked Ole.

“Well,” Lars said, “I lost my job last year and I went bankrupt. I’ve got to feed my family. It’s a struggle. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“It could be worse,” Ole said.

A month later, Ole encountered Lars in a cafe.

“And how are things now?” Ole asked.

“Terrible!” said Lars. “My house burned down last night. There’s nothing left but the foundation.”

“It could be worse,” said Ole.

Another month passed, and Ole ran into Lars at a high school basketball game. “Well, how goes it?” asked Ole.

“Oh!” Lars said, “Things get worse and worse. It’s one tragedy after another. Now my wife has left me.”

Ole said, “It could be worse.”

Lars grabbed Ole by the shoulders.

“Uffda!” Lars said. “That does it! Three times in the past few months, we’ve run into one another, and every time, I’ve told you the latest disaster in my life.

I’ve shared with you the fact that my world is in ruins. Every time, you say the same thing: ‘It could be worse.’ I’m sick and tired of hearing that. For crying out loud, Ole, I want you to tell me how on this big blue marble it could be any worse?”

Ole said, “It could have happened to me.”

We can’t always have a seat by a window. Anne Lamott wrote, “Don’t give up on truth and beauty and justice, no matter the headlines, no matter how dire things seem. The light always returns — always always always.”

It was a middling day on the Apocalypse Scale. It was stupid cold with a brisk north wind. I shuffled through the snow, pausing my wintry moseying to watch and listen as 12 trumpeter swans flew over and produced their French horn-like calls.

It couldn’t have been better.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.