What Do You Get When You Cross A Joke With a Rhetorical Question?

I received an email today from one of my internet chums, Dr. David Kamens, emeritus professor of history at Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana. I’ve never met the good Dr. Kamens face-to-face, but we have developed a most enjoyable email friendship over the last few years made possible by our mutual friendship with Richard Harris. Richard is my high school classmate, East High, Superior, WI, class of ’63. He is also the legendary, much beloved, and now retired director of Ball State’s highly acclaimed Disability Services program.

David was commenting on my original posting on Cromwell’s Head entitled A Rhetorician and a Philosopher Walk Into A Bar…”  He was waiting for the punchline. It not being forthcoming quickly enough (in truth, without prodding from David, there never would have been a punchline), Dr. Kamens decided to supply his own punchline. “Try this,” he wrote: “. . . & when the bartender asks ‘whussup?’ the two trip over themselves to respond first.”

Okay. It’s a start. I replied: “The rhetorician will always win the race to be first to respond. The philosopher will lose time as he fills his pipe, struggles to get it drawing properly, and then begins to muse dreamily about the nature of up vs. down. By that time, the rhetorician will have spewed enough words that, if properly rearranged, would make a decent translation of War & Peace.”

Upon further thought, I decided that my response was not in the spirit of the “….walks into a bar” game. So I offer this: “A rhetorician and a philosopher walk into a bar where they are recognized by the bartender who had taken classes from the aging professors as an undergraduate. Remembering their loquaciousness, the bartender decided to cut off discussion and asked them: “What do you get when you cross a joke with a rhetorical question?” Think about it. When you get it, you’ll laugh and laugh and laugh.

Fine; if you think you can do better than David or I, go ahead, give it a shot. But let me warn you, comedy is not easy. Send me an email at attystanjohnson@charter.net


Toronto to London: Flight Engineer? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Flight Engineer

Assuming that the APs do not get stopped at the border and refused entry into Canada, Johnson and Ryan will fly out of Toronto’s Pearson Airport non-stop to London’s Heathrow Airport on a British Airways Boeing 744 in the mind-boggling time of seven hours and 15 minutes.  Yes, our travel agent, the always delightful, if somewhat dawdling, Donna, finally plunked her magic twanger and we are booked—not in a “book ’em, Dano” sense but in a “book ’em, Donna” sense. We are scheduled to depart Toronto at 6:35pm on July 16, a Sunday, and arrive at Heathrow at 6:50am on Monday, July 17. The plane cruises at about 575 mph though it is capable of flying at 614 mph, just short of the speed of sound. In truth, it is the world’s fastest commercial jetliner. Ever wonder how fast your jetliner is going when it takes off and lands? Wonder no more. The 744 takes off at a speed of 180 mph, and lands at a speed of 160 mph.The world’s fleet of 744s has carried 3.5 billion passengers, roughly half of the world’s population. Oh Brave New World of flight.

But here’s the mysterious thing: when I Googled Boeing 744 jet, I did not initially discover any such entity.  Not to be deterred, and given the fact that the APs are, after all, masters of  research, further and exhaustive (not to mention exhausting) investigation revealed that a Boeing 744 is actually a Boeing 747-400. In a fashion entirely too cavalier for my taste, one site, offhandedly and with no further explanation, says that the Boeing 747-400 is sometimes called the Boeing 744. Mystery solved, the 744 discovered. But I, for one, would like to know why, and under what conditions, the 747-400 is sometimes called a 744. Maybe it’s a diminutive, a term of endearment. It seems that the 744’s most distinguishing feature versus preceding 747s (or 744s, as the case may be), are 6-foot winglets mounted on 6-foot wing tip extensions (sounds like something you’d use on your fancy shoes). Winglets: sounds awfully cute doesn’t it? Also sounds like an appetizer of the amuse bouche variety: “I’d like an order of winglets with Frank’s hot sauce, some bangers and mash, and a plum duff. And bring us a bottle of your finest grog.”

So, we have a plane with an unexplained, sometimes  diminutive, and  distinguishing (but not necessarily distinguished) cute features. And no flight engineer. Yes, you read that right: no flight engineer. That’s because the 747-400 (let’s call it by its full name, shall we?) is equipped with a two-crew glass cockpit which Wikipedia says dispenses with the need for a flight engineer. How a glass cockpit dispenses with a flight engineer is beyond me. Maybe the glass cockpit allows the pilot and co-pilot to see much farther than in earlier versions of the 747, or 744s as the case may be; but is that all the flight engineer did was to provide distant vision? Possibly. Navigation at sea was done by eyesight until about 1500. Flying through the air is akin to plying the ocean is it not? I just don’t know—aeronautics is not my field of expertise.

The plane can fly non-stop 7,670 nautical miles. The distance from Toronto’s Pearson Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport is 3,085 nautical miles, so we do have some leeway. I suppose it’s easier to see 3,085 nautical miles than 7,670 nautical miles. But if a flight attendant wanders through the cabin desperately searching for a dispensed-with flight engineer, in vain most likely, don’t think that I won’t be a trifle irritated.


Carlsbad to San Remo

When last we heard from our aging professors, they were planning their trip to Cambridge, England. In actuality, the travel arrangements are being planned by a travel agent who seems to be taking her time and the aging professors continue to age. But hope springs eternal, and wonders never cease. If you’ve ever read Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis, you know that it’s the travel itself that ruins a trip. As Lewis said, “To live in Carlsbad is seemly and to loaf in San Remo is healing to the soul, but to get from Carlsbad to San Remo is the devil.”  The plan is for Stan to shuffle off to Buffalo, New York on July 13, spend a couple of days with Linda and Dennis Ryan before the APs get on a jet plane (at a currently undisclosed location) on July 16 and fly to London’s Heathrow Airport.  The APs are eagerly expected (speaking of hope springing eternal) at Sidney Sussex College sometime Monday afternoon, July 17.  Cambridge is a mere hop, skip, and a jump up the road from London, about 64 miles via the M11.  Getting from London to Cambridge can’t be as bad as getting from Carlsbad to San Remo can it? Happily I have no idea where Carlsbad or San Remo are, so I’ll continue to hope for the best.  What could possibly go wrong?

A Rhetorician and a Philosopher walk into a bar…

Two aging professors, one a rhetorician (Stan Johnson), the other a philosopher (Dennis Ryan), will attempt to make their way to Cambridge, England, there to search out the paths trod by Oliver Cromwell and Ludwig Wittgenstein: Cromwell in the 17th century, Wittgenstein in the 20th century. Cromwell’s head is buried in a secret location in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College. Wittgenstein is buried (presumably his entire body) in Ascension Parish Burial Ground, in the northwest of Cambridge, about a nine minute bus ride from our digs at Sidney Sussex College.

Sidney Sussex College was founded in 1596, making it one of the newer of Cambridge’s 31 colleges, under the terms of a will of Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, and aunt of the famous poet, Sir Phillip Sidney. Sidney Sussex was the college of Oliver Cromwell, who came to Sidney Sussex on 23 April 1616, the day William Shakespeare died. He left in 1617 without taking a degree.  That Sidney Sussex was Cromwell’s college, albeit briefly,  accounts, in part I suppose, for his skull being interred at the College. It does not account for why his head was not buried there until 1960. There are reports of sightings of Cromwell’s ghost since the interment of his skull. These are tales to be elaborated on in subsequent postings.

The College has produced five Nobel Prize winners (the fourth highest among Cambridge colleges) and played a critical role in the code-breaking successes at Bletchley Park during WWII. Dennis and I will be housed in ensuite rooms in a relatively new addition to the college, Blundell Court, built in 1967. The building even has a lift (an elevator to you non-Anglophiles). During term, the rooms are occupied by third and fourth year students or possibly graduate students. A factor in our decision to stay at one of the Cambridge colleges rather than at a more conventional hotel, is that the room charge we pay is returned to the students, in part, by way of reducing their boarding costs during term. That seems felicitous. Also not to be discounted is that this will be a sort of return to the halcyon days in the sunshine of our golden youth when we were college students. I haven’t occupied a “dorm” room since 1965 when I was the first resident of 415 Barr House, Ogg Hall, at the University of Wisconsin. That particular iteration of Ogg Hall was demolished a few years ago, but Blundell Hall survives. A later post will discuss the source of the name Blundell as relevant to Blundell Court.

But wait, there’s more. We shall also visit the iconic pubs and shops of Cambridge whose walls could tell tales too. We shall, as best we can, ferret out their stories and share them with you, gentle reader, if indeed there be any—tales or gentle readers.