Friday Morning Pop Quiz

(There will be no extra credit)

Library of Congress
Library of Congress


If two trains are approaching each other at increasing rates of speed, and the top speed for the first train is 90 miles an hour, and the top speed for the second train is 100 miles an hour, and each train will achieve its top speed in exactly four minutes, and they are at this very moment four miles apart, why in heaven’s name would anyone invent a puzzle like this to inflict on vast armies of squirming cheerful small human mammals whose greatest concerns this morning were not trains but their uncomfortable new shoes, and that girl with the stunning hair in the fourth row second seat, and what and why the dog barfed this morning, and when in heaven’s name it is ever going to be lunchtime, and what day basketball practice begins, and then back to that girl with the stunning hair, can you actually talk to a girl like that, or do you just gaze at her mutely and hope your guardian angels, if there are such ephemeral creatures immanent in this world, will gently turn the girl’s attention to you, and she will miraculously perceive your existence, and even perhaps evince some mild curiosity, and perhaps even, if the stars are aligned in strange and mystical ways, speak to you?

If one tectonic plate slides under another, is there any requirement to be polite about it, or is it like brothers, where you just shove the other guy casually out of the way, being very aware that the other guy might then shove you right off your chair and onto the floor, which would precipitate a pile of brothers, because some brothers would be defending one guy and the others are allied to the other guy, roughly by age or by what floor in the house you are assigned to that year, so that it’s pretty much downstairs guys versus upstairs guys, with a couple of exceptions for reasons we do not have room for here, and even if you did not want to pile on to the brothers wrestling on the floor, because if you stay at the table you will (a) get more of the mashed potatoes and (b) accrue some much-needed credit with Mom, you do pile on, partly because if you don’t pile on, then there will be some judgment later about lack of dedication to the alliance, but mostly because o my god what a target to drop down upon like an avenging angel, elbows first, is there anything quite so pleasant as leaping onto a pile of brothers with cheerful malice, because there are so many brothers in the pile that no one can pin assault charges accurately on anyone else?

If five Catholic sisters go to the store, and their names are Mary Catherine, Mary Margaret, Mary Anne, Mary Eileen, and Bridget Mary, what madness came over their mother there at the end with wee little Bridget Mary? Did the mother have the flu when it came time to name the baby, and she forgot the pattern? Or was that a desperate play to stay in the game because by then the poor confused father wanted to name the baby Baba Ghanoush?

Extra credit: If 19 buffoons were running for president under the aegis of one political party, and 11 bloviators were running for president under the aegis of another party, and all 30 of these clowns were either natural-born liars and poseurs or forced into ridiculous public capering and prevaricating in order to lure money from wealthy madmen so that they could pay for brief films of the most airy fiction imaginable, and most of the other people running for president from various other tiny political parties were reduced to speaking either to likeminded souls in church basements or muttering to themselves in the privacy of their own cellars, and all of this was so vastly entertaining and maddening that it was better than any television or theatrical or cinematic experience, could it be that the system that originally was created to winnow down various candidates for an office that in the end is crucially important, has itself become a televised and theatrical and cinematic production devoid of substance, and should be replaced by a lottery in which little Bridget Mary picks the winner?

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Brian Doyle, an essayist and novelist, died on May 27, 2017. To read Epiphanies, his longtime blog for the Scholar, please go here.


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