Jack was telling me, in between mouthfuls, how he'd got a raw deal with some furniture he'd bought, and that he was pondering what to do about it. He was thinking of going back to the store and causing a stink. I suggested there might be more efficacious ways to deal with the problem, adding "there's more than one way to skin a cat."
Apparently it was the wrong thing to say.
"Oh yeah," said Jack, "name a few."
I said "What do you mean?"
Jack said "Name some other ways to skin a cat."
I said "Jack, that's just a saying; it means there are usually more ways than one to deal with a problem."
Jack was not to be appeased: "Well, it's a stupid saying. In fact, there are lots of stupid sayings."
I guess I was just trying to get even -- my mistake -- when I responded: "Oh yeah, name a few."
Jack didn't need any time to think. He said "like 'I could kick myself'. Have you ever tried kicking yourself? You can't do it!"
"OK, that's one," I said, "any others?"
"Lots of them," said Jack, "How about 'I'd give the world...' for something or other. Think about it: it isn't yours to give! Or how about people who say 'have a good one'. That really gets my goat: I ask them, 'have a good WHAT?... a snooze, a beer, a lay?' Are they trying to save time? Since when is 'have a good one' shorter than 'have a good day'? It bugs the hell out of me!"
I could see that Jack was getting worked up. But before I could interject to calm him down, he was pontificating some more on the subject.
"'A friend in need is a friend indeed.' If you ask me, a friend in need is a real pain in the ass. And some of these sayings cancel each other, like 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' and 'out of sight, out of mind.' Now if they'd said abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, that would have been right on the money. And what about 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth.' Where are you supposed to look? Under its tail? And what about 'the exception that proves the rule? If it's a rule there can't be an exception, otherwise it's not a rule."
"Actually, Jack," I said, sensing an opening, "the verb 'to prove' here is used in the old sense of 'to test'. So the exception merely tests the rule."
Jack barely paused to let me finish my tiny contribution to the conversation.
"'The four corners of the earth' Surely to God we know better four centuries after Columbus! And what about 'necessity is the mother of invention'? Anyone who knows anything about marketing knows its more like the other way around: 'invention is the mother of necessity' Advertising is based on the idea of selling you things you didn't even know you needed."
I said: "Like, as soon as somebody points out that there are two birds in the bush, you want one in your hand."
"Actually," said Jack, with a mischievous look in his eye, "I prefer my bird in a bush to one in my hand any day, if you get my drift!"
I said "Jack, you never change, do you?"
Jack said "My lady-friends wouldn't want me any other way."
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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