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The Idle American
"He Who Laughs Last..."
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 • Posted June 30, 2010

The world applauds folks who are masters of spontaneous verbal come-backs. Somehow, they are "right-worded" in facing tenuous situations with grace.

Never seen sweating, they are unflappable rarities. Their words flow effortlessly while the rest of us melt to mush at binding times, our facial expressions and skin tones dead giveaways that our goats have been gotten.

We can make long lists of times that "duh" would have been better than our stumbling responses. "Do you have any reason to be driving so fast? Your luggage is a pound over the limit; you owe another $35. I know your son is a gregarious fourth-grader, but he must learn soon not to bite others. I’m sorry I asked if the woman is your daughter; how long have you been married?" Such questions stretch toward infinity….

* * * * *

One such guy with a hair-trigger brain is Jim Bob Solsbery. "Yep, my folks named me ‘James Robert,’ but I was ‘Jim Bob’ before we left the hospital. They say our dogs got all the good names," Solsbery claims with a distinctive Texas twang.

Some of his kinfolks stop just short of Hatfield/McCoy stalemates, arguing about whether "Solsbery" originated in England or Germany.

Jim Bob cares not; he just knows that his first and last names are about as compatible as a mule in the Kentucky Derby….

* * * * *

He resembles the Marlboro man, except he’s shorter, older and doesn’t smoke. More hat than cattle, he and his trademark Stetson are inseparable. Blue jeans and boots made for amblin’ complete his daily attire.

A 30-year agriculture specialist with the government, this son of West Texas has long had a keen eye for humor. He’s a wonderful storyteller, convinced that humor is an attitude—the title of his book. He maintains a blog ( and commits funny speeches around the U.S. when he’s not tied up with his grandkids.

His ability to diffuse difficult moments is undeniable. Jim Bob doesn’t raise his voice and maintains unflagging optimism. Hard to rile and determined to smile, he rarely encounters obstacles that he can’t climb over, sneak around, dig under or stare down….

* * * * *

Here’s one example. Changed plans recently forced him to make an eleventh hour cancellation at a fancy out-of-state resort. Jim Bob and wife Jan weren’t sure they could avoid a late cancellation fee.

First off, repeated phone calls to the swank place went unanswered. Then, the desk clerk could find no reservation for "Solsbery." The resort manager joined the search, and his computer screen failed to show "Solsbery" either—for that date or later.

Jim Bob was resolute, adamant that he had made reservations several weeks earlier. Finally, the manager asked if he had a reservation number….

* * * * *

He bluffed, saying he needed a few minutes to put his hands on it. Truth to tell, he didn’t remember jotting down the number, and certainly didn’t know its whereabouts.

"I checked my office in the car," he related. "I found several items, including ballpoint pens, rubber bands, hamburger wrappers and church bulletins."

But wait! There was a crumpled envelope lodged between the seats, and on it, a scrawled number. Shorter than his Social Security number and longer than a Baskin-Robbins "wait in line" number, it was maybe, just maybe….

* * * * *

His voice oozed confidence when he returned to the phone. Seconds later, the computer coughed up a "cha-ching"reservation. It was for a week later, however, and under the name "Fosbury."

"You folks got me confused with the high jumper," he drawled. "I’m not the ‘Fosbury Flop;’ I’m the ‘Solsbery Sot’!"

The manager, himself of granddaddy vintage, broke into laughter, recalling the unique "flopping," back-first style of Dick Fosbury, whose leap of seven feet, 4.25 inches set a new world record at the 1968 Olympics. The clerk, much younger, had no clue why the boss was laughing, and probably couldn’t define "sot," either….

* * * * *

Maybe next time my friend will make reservations under "Jim Bob." That would be hard to get wrong.

In the meantime, he’s got more fodder for his blog and upcoming speaking engagements.

And his firm belief that humor is an attitude, unshaken….

* * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Website:

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