COMPLAINTS from a college dormitory told of constant jumping from above that disturbed study hours, and upon investigating, the proctor found two boys on the upper floor who were bouncing up and down on their bed as if it were a trampoline. ``Why in the world do you do that?!'' he asked. And one of the boys said, ``Well, sir, you see - we're identical twins.'' I offer this as a model riposte for any thrust in the nature of a foolish question - something everybody is subjected to sooner or later and seldom has a subtle reply for. I have long been a student of the devious response, and this is an extension of earlier studies.
As a young suitor full of innocence, I called for my betrothed, and she appeared in attractive raiment ready for the new Valentino at the Bijou, and in what I thought was an ecstacy of joy, I said, ``Wow!'' She said, ``You don't like it!'' This not only cast a gloom on what was intended as admiration, but it also caused me to be cautious ever since. So I'm careful with remarks, causing a certain delay by my meditating. I think things over.
Long ago in the autobiographical book of Napoleon Comeau, the North-Shore Canadian naturalist, I was much taken with his yarn about stealing muskmelons. Although Napoleon was fluent in French and Montagnard Indian, he never heard a word of English until he was 15, when his father sent him up-river from Post Jeremie to Trois Rivieres to the academy. He was an alert student and was soon handling English, and he had discovered that the Anglican clergyman just down the street had an excellent garden with a melon patch in one corner. Napoleon would step into the patch on the edge of twilight and take a melon back to his room. The clergyman soon began missing his melons, so one afternoon he rigged the clothesline through the melon vines on little stakes about a foot long.
Unaware of this knavish trick, Napoleon arrived and had a melon selected before the vicar pounced on him. After Napoleon had tripped the third time on the clothesline, he was subdued. Lifting him by one ear, the clergyman waltzed him out of the garden and into the manse, where two very pretty girls about Napoleon's age were sitting in the lamplight eating popcorn balls and reading a storybook.
Now the clergyman released his hold on Napoleon's throbbing ear, and he said, ``I'm sorry, young man, that since you haven't told me your name I can't introduce you to my daughters.''
Since morality, reform, contriteness, and such-like virtues are outside the scope of this purely Socratic consideration of remarks and counter-remarks, we can leave Napoleon on, we might say, the carpet, and if anybody wants to know him better I believe the book is available in Canada.
This whole subject of conversational attack and defense has had academic evaluation, and I'm happy to tell about Teedy Ringrose and how she got an A in Shakespeare. Teedy was a flapper about three years before flappers evolved, and was the first girl in our town to arrange her hair in ``cootie garages,'' which stemmed from WWI. Teedy chewed gum, but with dexterity and stealth so no teacher ever told her to drop it in the wastebasket. In her sophomore year in high school she got the customary introduction to the Bard, and was a victim of ``The Merchant of Venice.'' Teedy hated school, including English and Shakespeare, but at our Friday-night sociables she'd fox trot the boys off their feet. Miss Perkins, our English teacher, should have known better, or maybe she was having her own fun when she asked Teedy a question.
She said, ``Miss Ringrose, who would you prefer as a suitor, Antonio or Bassanio?''
Taken thus neatly by surprise, Teedy was not one to be without an answer. She stood to recite, which was then customary, and titled her head to affect a posture of profound dramatic discernment, and she said, ``Now, to tell you the truth, Miss Perkins, I have not given the possibility a great deal of thought.''
Miss Perkins smiled, but not until she had turned her head aside, and in English that term she gave Teedy an A - the only A Teedy got in four years of high school. In after years I have thought on this now and then, and I'm not sure Miss perkins rewarded Teedy for any scholarship, but for having an answer to a foolish question.