Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rob and Jim

Rob and I argue. Not about politics or philosophy or music, necessarily. Not about subjective things. We argue about facts.

We go at this with the same spirit we bring to Trivial Pursuit and Backgammon. Though we are great friends, we seem to need to prove each other wrong. Maybe it's an alpha dog thing, or a sort of penchant we both have for rhetoric. Maybe we still want to be little boys who settle our scores with raised voices. For us, though, the battle is essentially a good-natured fight between neighborhood combatants. A battle in which facts are sticks and facts are stones. Bones are never broken, though, because, after ten years of knowing each other, we're deadlocked in fact-knowing tie. 276 to 276.


On our recent trip from Ohio to New Mexico, we had three disputes. In Indiana, I asked whether we should put our unopened whiskey (Bulleit, purchased in Bourbon County) in the back seat since it's illegal to carry it in the front. He countered (with no small amount of charming insolence), "Why do you always think things are illegal when they're not?"

This from a man who had just considered lifting a fork and knife from a fried chicken joint.

Even though I often yell at him, "I won't be cowed by you," I was cowed.

I wondered if I was wrong, began to backdown, questioned the logic of the "law" I'd thought existed. Certainly there are open container regulations (though not in Mississippi), but why would it be illegal to carry a sealed bottle in a plastic bag in the front seat?

Enter Jim. Always connected to a computer and always curious, Jim is my information trouble-shooter and acted as the arbiter of claims during my trip with Rob. In fact, it had been Jim who encouraged me to carry our beer in the trunk of the car during college. If I was wrong, then, at least I wouldn't be the only one, at least I'd have a respectable origin for my misinformation.

Jim hunted down the actual Indiana Law (reproduced here) and read it to Rob. Huzzah, bottles must be behind the last upright seat! Does Indiana have laws against talking on cell phones while driving? I don't care. Rob was going to hear this from Jim right now.

He was a very gracious loser.

Wanczyk 1, Strong 0.

A day later, in Western Kansas, Rob looked to the right of the car at a wide field of harvested corn.

"Grain as far as the eye can see," he said.

"Corn is a vegetable," I said, and before the sentence was out of my mouth, Rob was reaching for the phone to call Jim.

Now, I know corn in many guises: muffin form, flake form, candy form, creamed form, bread form, jimmy crack form, cob form, syrup form, pop form. These would all seem to suggest the thing's a grain. But I swear my mom used to tell me "eat your vegetables" when I'd inch the yellow kernels toward the side of my plate and into the pool of ketchup that might just hide them. Plus, they look just like peas, which are decidedly vegetabilic. I was confident.

Jim failed me. Corn was, it turned out, a grain, the most common cereal crop in a particular land--maize, wheat, barley, oat, rye. However, the very definition of the word 'vegetable' clouds the subject. See here for more. I read that, "For common people, corn is a vegetable. . ." Perhaps, then, I was more wrong than Rob, but I wasn't as wrong as I first seemed to be.

I am a less gracious loser. And to think corn a vegetable, well, 'tis common.

This corn question was, perhaps, a philosophical one after all if we're to listen to pop-foodologist Michael Pollan. He writes, "If you are what you eat, and especially if you eat industrial food, as 99 percent of Americans do, what you are is corn." Are we humans grain or vegetable then? This question reminds me of a frustratingly catchy Killers song. Either way, I know I am a rich source of fiber.

Wanczyk 1, Strong .75

Let me take a moment to connect these first two debates. One involved whiskey and the next corn. Corn can, in fact, be made into whiskey. It is legal to carry corn in the front seat of a passenger car, however, depending on which arcane laws of commerce we follow, it might not be legal to transport corn, whiskey, or corn whiskey across state lines.

Both corn and whiskey can contribute to obesity. One shot of Bulleit contains 109 calories. Corn, as we've seen, balloons us all. Obesity is a common cause of hernias. BLAMMO. Connection.

My third dispute with Rob concerned hernias. We'd both seen the excellent episode of the excellent Amy Poehler series Parks and Recreation (set in Pawnee, Indiana--illegal to carry corn syrup in a whiskey bottle) in which the character Ron Swanson can't move because of a hernia.

I suggested to Rob that a hernia was the collapse of the tube through which the testicles have dropped.

Rob countered that it was a tear of the diaphragm. (He projected loudly as he said it.)

I was worried I didn't have an inguinal canal to stand on.

But I knew there was something to my answer. Why else would we have the American myth of the turned-head cough? That's a hernia check, nurse.

I called Jim.

Hey, get a-long, Jim a-long Jo! Jimmy crack the hernia code.

Turns out, a hernia is any "protrusion of an organ or the muscular wall of an organ through the cavity that normally contains it." It seemed that my locker room, Comedy Central knowledge was not knowledge but hearsay. But then Jim, miraculous Jim, discovered the inguinal hernia. 27% of men get it. 75% of all hernias are of this type.

Triumph! Hernias do have to do with the testicular canal. Then I quickly considered what my triumph was about--debilitating irritation of the groin. I tempered my reaction.

My physical therapist sister, Dr. Ceej, tells me this about those: "Men get it easier because the ligament stretches when the testicles drop. Internal organs poke through muscle and pinch." She wonders why I want to know. Curiosity is lovely. I wonder why she tells me the following story.

"You wanna hear about a gross hernia I saw the other night? It was a hernia into this guy's testicles. One was the size of a bowling ball. Caused by the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. 'You aren't going to forget this night,' he told me."

"It looked terrifically painful," she told me.

I felt for the guy. But maybe I'd defeated Rob!

"Rob's right, though," she said. Jim had earlier concurred. But again, I was less wrong than had been originally thought. And I felt that having these people around to give me answers on demand must be what it feels like to have power, to be a boss. Mr. Jenkins, get me the corn rundown. Mrs. Stewart, I need the Indiana attorney general on the phone now. Miss Kenderson, call my doctor. Please.

Wanczyk 1.34, Strong 1.34.

Soon there will be a tie-breaker. I assure you we'll jerry-rig it so we're both embarrassingly wrong and both save-facedly right.

1 comment:

Joe said...


If I could read one of these everyday, I'd feel better about my time on the interwebs.