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The Column

The Solace System
3/28/04

"This is where I heard you stand to see all five planets at once."

There are often new entrants into my ever-expanding feud with stupidity. I've already discussed my ongoing feud with UPS and Kinkos and much of the major motion picture industry. But rarely do I get a chance to single out just one stupid person. Really I get that chance almost every day of my life, but I don't often use it.

When I retell a story about someone else's stupidity, I often realize part way through that I'm going to have to pump up the ending to make it interesting. Because the guy who simply stands there on an escalator while everyone else is walking by isn't all that entertaining, no matter how much it annoyed me at the time.

"He wouldn't move! Can you believe that?!"

Long pause.

"I mean, he just stood there!"

Long pause.

"And then some guy smacked him in the head, and he didn't even feel it!"

Long pause.

"I think maybe he was dead or something."

Shorter pause. Possible reaction.

"Yeah. That's what happened...Can you believe that?"

This situation often prevents me from relating my stories of individual stupidity, since I don't want to constantly have to pretend people on escalators are dead. Thankfully, I recently caught a piece of conversation so inane that I've been able to share it with everyone.

"This is where I heard you stand to see all five planets at once."

That's what a woman said as I walked by her on my way to visit my mother. My mother, who taught me when I was younger, that there are, in fact, nine planets.

Remember the anagram we had to learn? Each word stood for a planet. My was Mercury. Very was Venus. I don't remember the whole thing, but it was something like, "My Very Educated Mother...is a lot smarter than the moron on the corner of 65th and Queens Boulevard." I know that's not it exactly, but it's been a while.

The woman, who looked as though she'd been alive when at least one of the nine planets was discovered, did not stop there.

"You're supposed to be able to see every one of em," the sudden-astronomer said. "Usually, you can't see any."

She was partially right. For the next few weeks, you can allegedly see five (of the nine) planets. But I missed the part where the exact spot to see them was the corner of 65th and Queens Boulevard. Did I mention it was still light out?

The part of this whole thing that gets to me is that her friend didn't disagree. While it's possible she knew better than to bother correcting Ms. Cleo, she was probably more ignorant and looking to her slightly less dumb friend for guidance. Did I accidentally discover the late 50s version of Beavis and Butthead? Only instead of the AC/DC shirt she sported a raincoat and a fisherman's hat. But my discovery pales in comparison to the news that all five planets were aligned.

Perhaps I should not judge this woman an idiot. Maybe she's brilliant in other disciplines. She could be a fantastic business woman or doctor or musician. Though I'm guessing if she were a musician, she'd be the drummer. (Take that, Ringo!)

The real problem with stupidity is that it is contagious. She knew part of the story, but was explaining things as if she understood the whole thing. How often do you repeat things you heard without corroborating the facts? Constantly. This woman was half correct. But half very very incorrect.

It is possible that this woman heard about the five planets from someone she worked with, perhaps a fellow surgeon or bandmate, and repeated it. But that guy heard it from his dry cleaner. Who heard it from his cousin Brenda. Who heard it from her cable guy. Who was really just trying to say that he knew a guy on Queens Boulevard who, for 65 bucks, will hook you up with some extra MTVs and that's how you stand to see all five Janets at once.

But odds are this woman is another casualty of the "I got through most of my life without bothering to learn details, I can make it the rest of the way" attitude. Or maybe she works for UPS.

Whoever she is, and what ever kind of drums she plays, I hope she is reading this. So she could learn three things.

1) There are nine planets.
2) You can, in fact, always see at least one planet. Look down.
3) It is never too late to learn something new.

Maybe next week, I can teach her to step to the side on an escalator.

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