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The Idle American
Unraveling of Riddles...
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 • Posted June 13, 2012

A silly riddle from bygone years: “Railroad crossing, look out for the cars. Can you spell THAT without any ‘r’s’?”

Wow, that was a mountain to climb until older kids’ explanations finally made sense! Eureka! Light dawned; there are no “r’s” in “that.”

Now, mention of railroads awakens pre-school imagery of stops at crossings where train cars lumbered forward like so many elephants, each grasping the next tail. We grew dizzy trying to count them, so spelling anything—with or without any “r’s”—was off our radar….

*****

Those were “stop, look and listen” days. Now, it’s “pause, glance and text.” I can’t remember the last riddle I heard—or overheard. Marquees, t-shirt messages and “tweets” have put riddles to rest.

Consider Abilene Animal Hospital’s sign: “It’s all fun and games until somebody ends up in a cone.” Passersby are snapping pictures, remembering when vets placed megaphone-like cones around their pets’ heads.

Makes one remember the childhood tag game called “got-you-last.” Each tag got rougher. One-upmanship became two-up, then three-up before one or more participants broke into tears. We deserved to be handcuffed; cones would have only heightened our determination to get the last tag….

*****

I came across a 90%-off sale on t-shirts the other day. There were reasons for the virtual giveaways. Some messages failed to resonate; others were hopelessly dated. I examined the shirts with eagerness equal to my wife’s as she slams down multiple chocolates.

One had “two strikes” against it. First, it had a washtub full of “X’s” in front of XL. Second, its message: “I Beat Anorexia.”

Another dated back to the American Revolution: “General Washington’s Boat’ll Never Make It Across the Delaware.”…

*****

Long-time friends Will and Tracey Carrier have turned out millions of t-shirt messages at Willie’s T’s, a business they founded 22 years ago.

Here are some of their favorites: “I Smile Because You’re My Sister—I Laugh Because There’s Nothing You Can Do About It…. To Save Time, Let’s Just Assume I’m Always Right…. I’m Silently Correcting Your Grammar…. I’m Not Short—I’m Fun Size…. Mom Likes Me Best…. I’m Not Bossy—I Just Know What You Should Be Doing…. Bad Spellers of the World—Untie…. I Don’t Suffer From Insanity; I Enjoy Every Minute of It!”

Here are a few more picked up here and there: “Photoshop: Helping the Ugly Since 1988.… He IS heavy, Father (Flanagan); He’s My Brother-in-Law.… Spousal Question: Why Do I Love Your Mother-in-Law more than I Love My Mother-in-Law?… Only Dead Fish Go With the Flow…I’m a Glove-findin’, Uniform-washin’, Gatorade-gettin’, Carpool-drivin’, Picture-takin’, Always Cheerin’ Baseball Mom!”… Drum roll, please, for my favorite: “Top 10 reasons to procrastinate: No. 1).”…

*****

Before we were enfolded by t-shirt info, we depended on signage—billboards, for example—for humor enhancement. Somewhere along the way, neon light signs pierced the darkness, usually with brevity. (Them ‘lectric signs were priced by the letter. Thus “Acme” became a generic name for an array of firms.)

One of my ill-fated business ventures (ill-fated seemed to fit all of ‘em) was selling snow cones. My machine, cups, scoop and flavors were atop a table in a small gun shop.

You guessed it: The sign out front read “Snow Cones and Handguns.”…

*****

A public outrage erupted during World War II, when soft drink companies dared to increase the charge from five cents to six cents.

Grocers and restaurants alike tried to “soften” the blow with clever wall messages, such as “We Don’t Know Where Mom Is, but We’ve Got Pop on Ice.”Another stated: “Our Drinks Are All Sick Scents.”…*****We aren’t much good at public outrage anymore. Anyone else notice that soft drinks, iced tea and coffee now cost a minimum of $1.50 at restaurants? We’ve yawned instead of picketed.

We are in “ho hum” modes, settled into “sock-it-to-me” postures. We fully expect daily “hits” by unidentified missiles from unexpected directions.

Radio’s “Lum and Abner,” one of the weekly “must-hear” shows of yesteryear, posted this door sign at their general store: “Open When We Get Here; Closed When We Leave.” They unashamedly carved out fishing time daily and lived to a ripe old age….

*****

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Twitter: @donnewbury. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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