Still we wave, sink, or scratch

Ricky was our third-grade waver. He spent the entire year with his right arm in the air, signaling like a railroad crossing, waiting to be called upon. When his arm tired, he'd boost it back up with his left hand.

"Why don't we let someone else answer this time, Ricky?" our patient teacher would say.

It's not that Ricky always had the correct answer, but he always had an answer. It didn't matter if it was a true-or-false question or merely a discussion "where there are no wrong or right answers," as the teacher claimed.

Ricky loved to voice his opinions and answers. Every elementary class has a waver, or two, or three. These kids grow up to be "pollees" - the people we hear quoted in polls every day on the news. These people always have an opinion expressed with confidence.

"In the latest poll, the president's popularity rating was 42 percent...."

I can see Ricky waving his arm and mouthing, "Ask me, ask me."

Along with the wavers, every grade-school class has a "sinker" or two. I was a sinker, scrunching as far down in my desk chair as possible and focusing on a classmate's shoe so that I could disappear. Even when I knew I had the correct answer, I was too bashful to want to be called upon.

Along with wavers and sinkers, every class has "scratchers." At first their arms shoot confidently toward the ceiling like the wavers. But as they mull their answers and have doubts, their arms droop lower. Finally, they maneuver their arms to the back of their heads and vigorously scratch.

"Mary Jane, do you know the answer, or are you scratching?" the puzzled teacher asks.

"In the latest poll, 20 percent of Americans said they had not decided which candidate they intend to vote for...."

These are the scratchers.

Not long ago, this old sinker was singled out for an opinion. I saw my chance to finally be a waver like Ricky.

A pollster had set up a table in the mall with two mystery soft drinks. I tried the first brand, then the second.

"Which is your favorite?" she asked.

I took another sip from each cup, concentrating on the tingle and taste.

"You're kidding," I whispered. "These two taste exactly alike. Have you made a mistake?"

She sighed and filled the cups again. I sipped and concentrated again. I drew a blank. My taste buds must have been disabled by eating too many extra-spicy chicken wings. I scratched the back of my neck.

"I honestly don't have a preference," I mumbled. I wasn't about to lie and skew the results. "I'd rather not answer this question."

As I walked off, I knew one thing for sure. Yes, indeed, I was still a sinker.

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