Despite what you might hear on the Comedy Channel, one-liners are not just the stuff of stand-up comedians. A single line can be linguistic short-hand representing the inside nugget of some really big and dangerous ideas. We hear the phrase and we instantly know who said it, and the ‘big idea’ behind it.
The Founding Fathers got it; “We, the People…”. Somehow, Lincoln had a sense of the moment in Gettysburg when he began; “Four-score and seven years ago…”. Sometimes I wonder if John Kennedy really understood what he was in for when he challenged us to “ask not what your country can do for you...” or how about Martin Luther King? “I have a Dream.” How did he know? Do we?
My point is we hear those one-liners and we can short-cut to the rest.
But there are other one-liners who don’t aspire to telegraph such massive social movements, but are just as effective in representing pedestrian truths we all take for granted. See if any of these ring a bell:
MOVIE: Cut to Scene (a rainy moonless night): Four or five teenagers have made their way up a long and darkened driveway and entered the old and deserted insane asylum on the edge of town. The chimes in the tall clock tower above begin announcing midnight about the time we hear the jock say, “Let’s split up”.
Are you kidding me? Have none of these people ever seen a single scary movie?!? Chain saws? Hockey masks? Zombies, Vampires? Does any of this sound familiar? Anyone? All I can say is the jock deserves to be eaten. Seriously.
On a lighter note, there are notable examples of the same short-cut truths rolling around on TV. How many times have we watched some hapless contestant on Wheel of Fortune tell Pat Sajak, “I think I’ll spin one more time…”
Some of you are already nodding your heads because you know what happens next. It’s spelled B-A-N-K-R-U-P-T and no, you can’t buy any more vowels. Enjoy your lovely parting gifts on the long drive home back to Laguna Beach.
Speaking of long drives, have you ever gone somewhere new with someone else behind the wheel? Who can forget the famous one-liner that’s been falling from guys mouths for decades: “Oh it’s OK. I know a short-cut”.
Really? I hope the rest of you in the car had enough foresight to pack supplies because odds are it’s going to be a while before you get over the river or even through the woods. Saddle up weary travelers, the short cut to Grandma’s house is going to put you there well after dark.
I’m the first in line to acknowledge that maybe like you, I suffer from my own form of such self-inflicted poxus-short-cut-it-i-cus (derived from the Latin for ‘duh’).
Earlier this week, a big brown truck delivered a large box from our cable company. Inside were all the trappings and widgets needed to self-install the latest and greatest high-speed internet modem/service they offer. Speed Racer had the Mach V. We had our new modem. The anticipation was palpable. Coaxial cable; a power supply (with it’s own battery back-up) and all manner of bits and bobs to make it all come together. This was going to be cool. Even the TV in the bedroom had equipment of a new and sexy digitized nature. Yes, my fellow cable junkies, it was ‘Happy Time’ in our little corner of Valhalla.
Normally, my better half would be doing the hardware. He’s really good at that kind of thing. But Rick was in the kitchen, creating another culinary masterwork as he promised he would. So knowing myself as I do and not wanting to wait, I did something novel. I read all the directions first. It may cost me my Guy Card, but the older I get, I am slowly getting better at protecting myself from myself. After reading the details and looking at the pictures (luckily geared to a 3rd grader), I remember my fateful one-liner, ‘I got this‘.
Pulling the old equipment was pretty straight-forward: unscrew, unplug and yank. ‘No big deal’…another one-liner.
And while I knew what needed to be done to install the new stuff, there was one thing I hadn’t counted on (a common realization worthy of its own post, but I digress).
My desk set-up is pretty tight and precise. It’s comprised of pre-existing elements put together like a Swiss puzzle. There’s the desk proper, my grandpa’s wooden file case from his days on the Santa Fe which fits perfectly underneath the left-side desk drawers; a wooden table that’s been re-purposed into an “L” off the left side of the desk; the rolling typing table that fits underneath the wooden table, the PC’s CPU and to the right of that, a 2-drawer chest for my CD’s – also tucked back under the wooden table. Add to that the telephone stand cabinet off to the right of the desk I use to hold extra PC cables and software with a milk crate that fits under the right-side desk drawers for spare printer paper. Behind the other side of the wooden table is the media center that angles off, facing away to serve the living room…it’s a lot of stuff, but it all fits into a compact utilitarian configuration that serves me well. And now I was confronted with the prospect of having to pull a Johnny-Five and ‘dis-assemble’ all of it.
I felt the energy quickly running out of my earlier excitement. This was going to take awhile. Or…maybe not. There it was…my ‘short-cut’, whispering in my ear and it was oh so seductive. Maybe I could just snake my wires in and around in such a way that I didn’t have to move anything. Yeah. That could save a lot of time. That’s the ticket!
Before you can say ‘hi-speed modem’, I was standing over my monitor, peering over the back of the desk to the nest of wires issuing from the backside of the PC. ‘I got this’.
Before long, there I was, laying on the floor, flat on my back, arms up over my head and wishing my wrists were triple-jointed. Nope. That’s not working; so back up and onto my knees under the wooden table, using my back to lift the furniture ‘just enough’. Next, back to laying on the floor again, but this time on my side. By sheer grit, I ticked off one item after another till all that was left was bringing the whole system back to life by plugging the new power supply into the gang box/surge protector on top of the 2-drawer chest up against the wall and under the wooden table. That’s fine, but with my furniture nesting together so precisely, I had no sight line to where I needed to put my plug. I couldn’t see it. Fumbling and feeling for the slots in the socket like a bad imitation of Helen Keller at electricians school, I just couldn’t seem to get the plug into the waiting socket I knew was there. I’d spin to my other side; get up off the floor and go to the other side trying to find a better angle of approach.
Back to the middle and on my knees, my arms simply weren’t tiny enough to fit back into where I needed them to be. This went on for nearly 30-minutes. But I wasn’t alone in the house. The decreasing interval between deep sighs and muttered profanity must have been a tip-off to my better-half that prompted him to say, “Why don’t you just move the stuff out of the way and you can get to the gang box?”. Oh dear god in heaven, how I hate it when he does that. I don’t know about you, but I had to suppress the urge to strangle him. Grunting some vague acknowledgment to the suggestion of the obvious, I continued to struggle – only now with even more vigor. ‘I got this‘ had morphed into ‘I refuse to be beaten..it’s my short-cut’. “Do you want some help?” ‘No, I got this’…but I didn’t. Sweating and breathing hard, I stood there while being brought (kicking and screaming) to the harsh realization that my attempt to make this easy was proving to be anything but. So I did what any red-blooded guy would do in the same situation. I got down on the floor and tried it one more time in a vain effort to save my pride. By now, I swore I could hear the plug snickering at me. ‘Fine…I’ll go to Plan B‘. And while I didn’t pull apart everything, I did move what had proved to be the obvious obstacles and in less than 3 or 4 minutes, I was plugged-in. Victory!
I booted up the machine and nothing happened. ‘You’ve got to be kidding…’ “Is the surge protector switch on?” Rolling my eyes at such a foolish suggestion, I looked over and saw that in my gymnastics, I had, in fact, switched the whole thing off. Sheepishly muttering something that sounded like ‘yeah‘, I flicked the switch. Green lights came on, amber lights began blinking while the sound of whirring fans and beeps told me I had made it home. I quickly pushed everything back into place and watched a new generation of internet speed descend on my household. I was happy – humbled – but happy.
Now, a couple of days later and so much calmer, I find it curious how the longer my short-cut became, the more dedicated I became to ‘making it work‘ despite all the evidence to the contrary…it was supposed to be easy. Sez who?
The lesson in all of this? Much as we tell ourselves differently, some problems can’t be solved with short-cuts. In not facing that which is big in our lives, the problem only gets bigger. I’m grateful at being reminded that sometimes, there’s no better short-cut than going the long way to begin with. Its gift is showing us the how-and-why behind what we so often take for granted. If you have any doubts, ask a physics major to do long division without his calculator. He can’t. His short-cut has saved him time and effort, but it’s also made him soft. And when his brain went mushy, all he was left with was a short-cut that is now, his new normal. Sad.
If you’ve got big problems, rejoice. Big problems force us to pull things apart that we normally wouldn’t in order to get down to the brass tacks of the issue. Wrestling with big problems equips us with earned insights into its anatomy that work – whether we have a calculator or not. When we understand the real guts of an obstacle, we gain problem-solving ability that works whether the power is on or not. That’s real Power.
Like you, our nation has some of the same and very real problems…big ones. History will measure each of us (and our society) on how we treated the young, the old, the poor and the sick. I remember hearing something about someone who said that ‘the least of these is my brother‘. Is there a short-cut for this one? Nope, but there is a one-liner that boils down easily; is easy to remember and fits everything you’re going face this week.
Let me paraphrase the same guy and suggest that we will probably find the best solutions when we ‘love thy problem as thyself‘. If it helps, you can break this one down even further. With only two vowels to buy, I think I might even be able to get this one: L-__-V-__.
The good news is I suspect that down deep, you already know the answer is Love. What do you say we live this week accordingly? Travel well.
Fun Fact: When used to describe numbers, a ‘score’ equals 20. Hence, four-score and seven works out to 87 years.
Photo Credits and Attributions: Compilation of opening graphic by dan4kent with thanks to William McNeile Dixon (1866 – 1946) Professor of English Language and Literature, University of Glasgow Lectures: http://www.giffordlectures.org/Author.asp?AuthorID=52; and David’s Head by Tim Holtz: http://easyscraps.com/blog/blogu.php/introduction-to-stamping-tip-2, Abandoned Insane Asylum: Original Source Unknown.Shortcut Road: http://ywca-saskatoonemploymentlearningblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/blog-shortcut.html, Puzzle Blocks: http://woodgears.ca/table_saw/precise.html, Johnny-Five: http://www.overclock.net/t/1269583/9to5mac-ifixit-new-retina-macbook-pro-calls-it-least-repairable-laptop-yet, Furniture Assembly 1, 2 or 3: http://brikis98.blogspot.com/2011/08/ikea-furniture-some-assembly-required.html, Short cut to China: http://www.powerbuzz.org/insolite/yes-in-life-you-are-allowed-to-take-shortcuts-2189/,
Pink Floyd Album Cover – Tree of Half by Storm Thorgerson: http://six0sixdesign.blogspot.com/2010/12/storms-art.html, Dangling Feet (How to Love): http://www.marcandangel.com/2010/09/06/how-to-love/
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