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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Excuse me, did you say “42”? Because 42 is so last week. I have discovered the answer to life, the universe, and everything, and it’s a lot more useful and comprehensible than 42.

My wife was accosted in the supermarket parking lot by some ill-mannered brigands, otherwise known as female high school students. Don’t get me wrong; people are more mannerly and friendly in Maine than in other places I have known. But there are many interactions between persons that have been bent by circumstance. One thing used to mean one thing, and now means another. The form of the thing remains, but it’s reflected in a dirty funhouse mirror.

That is to say: a dirty mirror in a funhouse, not a mirror in a dirty funhouse. A dirty funhouse sounds like fun to my ear. Upon reflection, I’ve been in a dirty funhouse before. It was fun. Walmart is not fun, but it is dirty. It’s installed dirty, I think. All the surfaces look drear on day one. The sky was lowering and the occasional urban jellyfish was buoyed on the breeze pregnant with rain, and …

Sorry, I turned into David Foster Wallace there for a minute. Anyway, the old trouble and strife needed provisions, and she had to pass the portals of Dante’s Always Low Prices and Common Denominator Warehouse to get them. That was the precise moment that she was waylaid, when she was girding her loins and shrugging from a low-rent blow from an existential god unseen — the exact moment we discovered the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. The students sauntered up to my wife, and importunately asked if she would like to buy a candy bar to send a kid to camp.

My wife is very quiet and reserved. She smiles a lot, but she doesn’t talk very much. I have always depended on her steadiness, because I am mercurial. I wonder if there is anyone in this world who has anything bad to say about her, other than she chooses husbands in lighting not suitable for buying off-brand bales of hay. Anyway, she was caught somewhat unawares, and didn’t have a moment to parse what she said carefully for its effect. She just asked, more or less politely, “Why would I want to do that?”

They backed up like people who had opened a mummy’s tomb and heard Egyptian being spoken. It was as unanswerable as a tax bill.

Don’t you see? Can’t you see it? It’s the answer to everything. It’s the Swiss army knife of life, with the little can-opener dongle on it, except instead of opening cans it opens universes. If everyone would answer 99 percent of the questions put to them every day with, “Why would I want to do that?”, the world would be a better place. Not just for the questioner. All manner of mischief would fold up and die and I wouldn’t get messages from Nigerian princelings anymore because every offer to send a million dollars tax-free would be met with, “Why would I want to do that?”

I recognized it like a lost friend. It’s the phrase I’ve been thinking but not saying, morning, noon and night, for years on end, whenever anyone asks me anything about anything. It is my default position for everything, I’ve just never uttered it.

Why would I want to do that?

Look at it. It’s a daisy. It’s magnificent. No, really try it out. Try it right now. It works on everything.

“For only five dollars more a month, you can add over 250 channels of television programming to your monthly Internet bill.”
“Why would I want to do that?”

“If you act now, you’ll receive a free coupon that will allow you to take the whole family to Disneyland!”
“Why would I want to do that?”

“This new button on YouTube lets you autoplay all the videos in the right-hand column!”
“Why would I want to do that?”

“Sign up for Facebook and find your friends. Create an account to start sharing photos and updates with people you know!”
“Why would I want to do that?”

“You can read the New York Times on your smartphone for free!”
“Why would I want to do that?”

“For only $200, you can have an Amazon Echo device that will let you use voice activation to stream music from a smartphone app wirelessly!”
“Why would I want to do that?”

” You can donate $3 of your federal tax to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund”


It was there that my slogan failed the ultimate test of life, the universe, and everything. Because it had to be modified in this one instance, it was not universal, and with the modification, the phrase reads and sounds less lyrical to the ear:

“Why in the name of Honore de Balzac would I want to do that you buttmunch dillhole *deep breath* me cago en la leche *deep breath* yela’an sabe’a jad lak *deep breath* nide muchin shr ega da wukwei *deep breath* krisnera zhazh tan vred *deep breath*. Now go piss into a transformer.”

It just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Back to the drawing board.

8 Responses

  1. Wouldn't it just invite sales types to enumerate all the reasons you should do what they want you to? A nice teenage girl is easy to flummox.

  2. I say it works for "You can donate…", for me, anyway. Still, adding vehemence and other words of bad repute may well improve this response at times.

  3. when one asks 'why would i want to read this blog?' the answer comes back because the gracious author has read the classics.
    i got approached by someone yesterday who started his soliloquy by telling me what he did was believe in God. based on the smell i told him i thought he drank too much. for someone purporting to holiness i sure did get roundly cussed. he never even got to asking for money. he just stood under a tree and said 'go ahead and call the cops i'm waiting here'….i'd never said boo about the cops.

    somehow i find as i've aged the 'why would i want to do that?' bluntness is easier. maybe it's just that i'm more confidant in myself.

  4. That is a good one. My standard response to almost all requests is, "I'm gonna pass." Smile.
    There is not a thing anyone could say bad about your wife. You lucky lunk.

  5. So far have we fallen down the ladder of handout mentality that kids around here just touch you with a tip jar to send their team to camp. I've actually asked the adults in charge of such a tactic what they think they are teaching these children. That is met with derision of my character for being stingy. "Wash my car and I'll 'donate' $5.00" is my response.

  6. For even worse questions, I sometimes step up the answer to the Miss Manners classic: "What an extraordinary question!"

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