Stories - Chez Goodman 
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Everyone has stories that they tell, over and over, to anyone who will listen. Are you listening? Here are some of ours...

 Table of Contents 
What Are Friends For? 
People Don't Think 
You Named it What??? 
Doesn't It Snow In Los Angeles? 
Playboy Centerfolds and the Binary Search 
Family Names 

Structural Differential

What Are Friends For?

My friend Bal, one of my closest friends, paid me what I think is the best compliment anyone has ever given me. I was to meet him at the home of a mutual friend and Robin wanted to give me directions to her house. My many years of doing field service had left with me a distrust of verbal instructions and a fondness for maps, so I suggested that I was sure I could find the house myself. And I did.

When Robin told Bal I wouldn't take her directions, he informed her, "If Dave says he can do something, you can be sure he'll do it. Don't even worry about it." I guess I take a lot of pride in my competence in certain areas, for that simple statement made me feel better than any compliment I can ever remember receiving. Thanks, Bal!

(In case you're wondering, Bal is a fan of General Semantics, and has on his wall a strange structure like the one depicted above. I've probably violated some rule of semantics by stating that "Bal is a fan." Forgive me, Korzybski.)

It's Unplugged

People Don't Think

For many years I serviced electronics, fixing everything from Pong games to computer systems, as both a field engineer and a service manager. I'm sad to report that you get a bad impression of people when your only contact with them is to hear them complain.

I learned that you can never ask a caller if their computer / printer / vibrator or whatever is plugged in. They will always, ALWAYS, answer, "Yes, of course!" They don't realize it could have been unplugged by the janitor, or kicked or pulled from the wall, or never plugged in in the first place. I learned to suggest that they go to the wall, unplug the device and plug it in backwards. Frequently, they would then go find the plug, see it laying on the floor, plug it in and come back to report, "That was it! It was in backwards!"


You Named It What???

My wife's family had a cat named Dingus. I don't know which of them named it, and I'm not asking. When we got our own first kitten, our daughter Debbie promptly named it Dingus. She also responds to "Ding," "Kitty" and "You Nuisance!"

Last Christmas Debbie got a parakeet. She wanted to name it Dong, so we'd have Ding and Dong. Grimacing, we patiently explained that a dong was a slang term for a man's organ, and she went, "Ewwwwwwww!"

So she said she was going to name it Bong... and we explained that a bong is used by some people to smoke marijuana and she went, "Ewwwwwww!"

So she named it Sweetie.

Chicago Map

Doesn't It Snow In Los Angeles?

During my first trip to Chicago, I noticed gray domes along the freeway- excuse me, the tollway <mutter>. I started asking people, "What are those gray domes along the tollway?" and kept getting blank stares.

I have this insatiable curiosity, so I kept asking. Finally, a waitress in a coffee shop told me, "That's where we store the salt."

"What for?" I asked.

"To put on the snow," she replied.

"It snows in Chicago?" I asked.

She laughed at me and said, "Of course it does! Where are you from?"

"Los Angeles," I replied sheepishly.

"Doesn't it snow in Los Angeles?" she asked.

My turn to laugh. Travel really does broaden your horizons, you know? Another thing I noticed was that Chicago had huge water tanks, like giant golf balls sitting atop colossal golf tees. I wondered why they had those, as I'd never seen them in Los Angeles. (Go ahead and pity me, I'm always wondering strange things.

Finally (I'm slow), it dawned on me that a) if they had them in Los Angeles the first earthquake would have baptized the local homes and b) Los Angeles puts their water tanks (nice, squat, solid tanks) in the hills that Chicago lacks.

Playboy Bunny

Playboy Centerfolds and the Binary Search

When I was a teenage male (okay, I'm still male, but far from teenaged) I had Playboy centerfolds adorning my bedroom walls. (My grandfather once suggested I pity them because they couldn't afford clothes.) One day a friend was visiting, and inquired as to which was my favorite.

Gazing raptly at each one, it seemed a hopeless task to choose a favorite. Sensing my indecision, Cory pointed at two posters and asked, "Which do you like better, her or her?"

With the choice limited to two selections, I was able to pick one that I liked better. Cory asked, "Okay then, her or her?" as he pointed to yet another.

After he'd repeated this process a few times, I said, "Okay, shutup, I can do this," and proceeded to compare each new poster to the last favorite. This was my introduction to the problem-solving strategy known as "Divide and Conquer." It's a strategy I still use today, and I owe it all to Cory and Miss February.

Matsukawa ideogram

Family Names

When I worked for PPL, I met a Japanese gentleman named Matsukawa. In traditional fashion, I bowed and offered my business card, saying, "Meishi o, dozo." ("Please take my business card.") He took the card in both hands and read carefully, as a sign of respect, then commented on it, to show that he'd read it. Noting my surname, he said, "Ah, you're a good man!" with a smile.

In reply, I related the story that my grandfather told about our family name: During World War I, my great-grandfather was living in Poland (where my grandfather was from) when an army invaded, as they often did. The people in his shtetl, or village, had no last names, which the army decided wasn't adequate for their needs. A soldier was sent to ask about each villager, and assign last names. When asked about my great-grandfather, the villagers said, "He's a good man! He's a good man!" And so the soldier recorded the name Goodman as my family's last name.

Matsukawa-san laughed at hearing this story, and responded with one of his own: A few centuries ago Shogun Tokugawa, a Japanese warlord, invaded the village where Matsukawa-san's ancestors were living, a village by a river in a pine forest. The people there had no last names, so the Shogun looked around and gave them all the name Matsukawa.

If you look at the Japanese ideograms for the name, you'll see on the left the symbol for matsu matsu, a pine forest, and on the right the symbol for kawa kawa, a river.

With those stories, Matsukawa-san and I now shared a bond: our families, living at opposite ends of the Earth, had both been named by invading armies.

Copyright © 2004 David K. Goodman. All Rights Reserved.
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