If you’re stuck for a topic of conversation, Tom has some ice-breakers for you

Thank god for middle aged white women.

I read recently that the art of conversation is on the endangered list. One of the main reasons is (in the overly kind words of Edgar Allan Poe) "the nearly liquid mass of loathsome—of detestable putrescence" that occupies the White House.

In the old days, you could always start a spirited—while respectful—discussion about politics. Not anymore. Nowadays, all political discussions quickly devolve into a determination of which side you're on vis-à-vis the Putrescence in Chief. If you're a liberal (and therefore a traitor), he's an inveterate lying sex offender who is poisoning the American well for generations to come. However, if you claim to be what used to pass for conservative (and therefore a patriot), he's an inveterate lying sex offender who is making America great again, mostly by keeping the dusky-skinned folks in their place, but also by trying to take full credit for an economic recovery that began nine years ago.

It just seems that there is so much rampant dumbassery out there, even among ostensibly smart people. The other day, Rush Limbaugh said that instead of fining NFL players for taking a knee, they should be penalized by having the other team awarded points. "Yeah," he sneered, "see how they like it when they have to start the game down 17-0."

Yeah, but 17 is a prime number; three doesn't go into it evenly. You're both a hater and a dumbass.

So, as a public service, I'm going to share a few things that can serve as conversation starters. Who knows, maybe if we start talking to each other, we might nudge our society back on track. Here goes:

• This will drive you insane. Take a brand-new deck of cards and get rid of the Jokers and all other extraneous items, leaving just the 52 cards in their four consecutive suits, each in order of ace to king. Cut the cards exactly in the middle so that you have 26 cards in each hand. Then, shuffle the cards perfectly, meaning the cards go left-right-left-right-left exactly all the way through the shuffle. (Please know that this is on the nearly impossible end of the human capability scale.)

However, let's say that you are able to cut the cards perfectly and then shuffle them perfectly. If you repeat that process eight times (English being the weird language that it is, that means do it once and then do it seven more times), you will end up with the cards in the exact order that they were in when you started the process.

I'm not sure if that could start a good conversation, but it could probably start several arguments.

• North Dakota claims to be the 39th state to enter the Union, but nobody knows for sure. When President Benjamin Harrison was getting ready to sign the Dakotas into statehood, in order to avoid a pissing match, he had Secretary of State James G. Blaine shuffle the papers and then cover them so that no one would ever know which one got signed first. North Dakota claims to be No. 39 based on alphabetical order.

• I've always wondered why Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote, among other things, 2001: A Space Odyssey, lived in Sri Lanka. I recently learned that, as it turns out, he was gay and didn't want to live in his native country of England, which had basically killed its biggest World War II hero, Alan Turing, for being gay.

In this day and age, when being gay is basically accepted by everybody except Pat Robertson and the entire Republican Party, relocating to Sri Lanka seems rather extreme. But Clarke moved there back in the 1950s, not long after Turing's death. Those two things are not related, but they feel like they should be.

• Sticking with the space theme, after decades of looking at one of the most iconic photographs of all time, I leaned that I (and just about everybody else who had ever seen it) had been hoodwinked by NASA. You know the famous photo "Earthrise," the one of the Earth rising above the lunar horizon taken on Christmas Eve of 1968 by astronaut Bill Anders of Apollo 8? (That's the mission that orbited the moon and was commanded by former Tucson High quarterback Frank Borman.)

It turns out that NASA rotated the image 90 degrees before releasing it because "it just didn't look right." While everybody in my dorm had a poster of Farrah Fawcett or a psychedelic concert thing, I had Earthrise. After staring at that thing in wonder for a half-century, I now know that the image was rotated. The Apollo 8 mission didn't orbit the moon top to bottom; it did so side to side. So when it came out from behind the Moon and they saw Earth, the lunar landscape would have been vertical in relation to them and Earth.

Somebody decided that it looked better the way we've always seen it. They were right.

• John Tyler became President in 1841. For those of you who went to a charter school (and Rush Limbaugh), that's 177 years ago. He has two grandsons who are still alive. Not great- or great-great-grandsons—grandsons! You can look it up, although the details are kinda ewww!-inducing. Still, they don't make presidents the way they used to.

And we're back.

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