When I First Knew It


It was my natural enemy: the whiteboard with the “Did You Know?” fact of the day written on it. Ever since I was a kid I prided myself on knowing stuff, and after I found out that shows like In Search Of Mysteries Of The Supernatural World of Charles Fort in His Merry Pyramid Spacemobile: The Toltec Electro-Ghost Computer Years were not perfectly reliable I’ve been aware how most anything listed as a neat factoid suitable for posting on a “Did You Know?” board is usually right only if the answer is, “I did not because that isn’t exactly right because, for instance, it was the Cahokia that had Electro-Ghost Computers, which the Polynesians brought them from the North Pole.”

And yet, this was a fact which if in fact a fact — I’m sorry, let me start that again — this was a fact which if a fact is in fact — that’s not getting better — if this is right, then, “57% of people report having felt déjà vu”. I would think this was based on a trustworthy survey of qualified déjà vu survey experts coming up to people and asking, “Have you ever felt déjà vu?” except then the answers would be much more nearly a hundred percent “What?” and “Who are you?” and “Did you say something?” Maybe that’s just me. I’m usually lost in my own little world when out in public so it takes some time to warm up to noticing someone’s asking me a question.

I need people to warn me they have questions for me, by a process of approaching slowly and not from my blind spot, being preceded by a stout man waving a large red flag and perhaps a signal flare, and saying hello first. If someone just asked me without warning whether I experienced déjà vu I’d think maybe I heard something, stumble over my shoes, and stumble right into the Panda Express counter at the mall. I’m assuming we’re doing this at the mall. If we’re not I’ll stumble into somewhere else, but let me know where we should meet.

But never mind my wondering about how the survey was done. Let’s imagine that it’s right and 57 percent of people report having felt déjà vu. What the heck are the other 43 percent of people feeling? I thought déjà vu was one of the universal feelings, something that every person experiences at some point or other, alongside such commonplace emotions as the sense that you are the last person in the world with any idea how alternate merges work, the fear that you’re just imagining that you imagined hearing some gurgling noise from an unauthorized point of your anatomy and that it’s actually the first warning sign of a major catastrophe, the belief that if you really had to you could probably write a successful score for a silent movie, or the sense that someday you’ll lose a game show because you don’t know what an “anapest” is. Not experiencing déjà vu just never occurred to me as something people could even feel, or not feel.

Maybe the trouble is people don’t know what déjà vu is. I could understand denying the feeling if you thought déjà vu was, oh, the feeling that you’re only really alive while discussing things over a conference call, or the secret glee you experience in knowing something obscure about North Dakota that the majority of the public never even suspects. I could easily imagine two-fifths of a representative sample of the public feeling there’s nothing they know about North Dakota that’s all that unsuspected. “It’s pretty darned rectangular”, for example, or “its capital is not Pierre”, or “its statehood papers were signed by President, uh, Woodrow … Grover … … Presidenton at the same time as South Dakota’s, with the names covered up so nobody knows which was really admitted first”. No glee attaches to knowing those facts. Maybe they thought déjà vu was something embarrassing and they shouldn’t admit to this kind of thing in public. There’s no way to tell without an exact provenance for this alleged information.

So what I’m saying is this is why I spent all weekend crouching by the whiteboard trying to catch the person who brings the day’s new “Did You Know” fact.

Statistics Saturday: The Most Rage-Inducing Things You Can Say To A Fan Of Something


  1. “I never heard of that. Is it any good?”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Obviously you have heard of it or you wouldn’t be talking to a fan of it, so you’re a fibber and if there’s one thing we can’t take on the Internet it’s deadpan humor, but fibbers are also trouble.
  2. “I loved the movie they made based on that!”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Nobody’s made a lovable movie based on anything since 1989’s The Dream Team was made based on the idea that Stephen Furst and James Remar should spend some time in a movie together.
  3. “Oh yeah. I loved whenever that guy turned up on Science Theater Mystery 2000.”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Get the title right at least. It’s Science Theater Mystery 4000.
  4. “You know one-seventh of all the people to serve two full terms as Vice-President of the United States were Richard Nixon?”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    There isn’t any context in which this isn’t a weird thing to say. Even gatherings of fans of the Vice-Presidency swapping trivia about the Vice-Presidency is the wrong place for it. Just avoid bringing it up.
  5. “Does it have a web site?”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    What is this, 1997, when Star Trek first appeared on the Internet? There are whole web sites devoted to nothing but things that don’t have web sites. You sound like you’re trying to make a badly programmed robot’s head explode.
  6. “I know it, I just don’t like it.”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Yet you are presumably allowed to vote, and possess rutabagas, and give your own opinion about how gigantic a kangaroo you would have to be to be satisfied with your gigantic kangaroo nature, and throw around trivia about the Vice-Presidency.
  7. “I remember that thing. It looked pretty good but I just never got into it for some reason.”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Well, obviously. Anyway, there’s really nothing you can do to sufficiently apologize for saying something like that. It’s probably best if after this you end the friendship, possibly by moving to a new city, in a different country, on another continent.

Never Let Them See You Sweat


You sometimes see claims that humans are the only animals that sweat. At least, I sometimes see that claimed. Maybe I’m the problem and I need to move in different intellectual circles. It doesn’t seem like that interesting a claim, but now it’s got me bothered because I don’t even know whether other animals want to sweat. Going on about it like it’s some great accomplishment when there’s not, say, an upswell of ground squirrels looking enviously at my ability to usefully employ spray-on antiperspirant looks a little sad.

I asked our pet rabbit about this, but he complained again about the cold again and chewed on my sock.

Bookstore Numbers


14: the average number of minutes you have to hover around the History section of a bookstore before hearing some fully grown-up man explain in all sincerity to another fully grown-up woman that, actually, the United States was justified in getting involved in World War II. This is down one minute from the same statistic as measured last year.

Five Astounding Facts About Turbo, That Movie About A Snail in The Indianapolis 500


  1. Thanks to the pioneering work of this film next year’s Indianapolis 500 is going to have the question “is there a rule saying a snail can’t race?” in its FAQ.
  2. The current lack of rule specifying the inability of a snail to race in the Indianapolis 500 also fails to prohibit the racing of sponges, beams of light, the abstract concept of “justice”, pepper shakers, nuclear ibexes, or photosynthesis, so next year’s race looks to be wide-open.
  3. Turbo is a movie that exists, somehow.
  4. Someone will grow up with sweet memories of how this is the first movie they ever remember seeing, and when they try to tell their friends about their happy thoughts of being with their folks and watching this on the big screen, they’re going to be laughed at mercilessly, for their whole lives.
  5. Film was actually written and directed by a snail, whose dream was to someday make people bolt upright in bed asking if there really was a movie about a snail racing the Indianapolis 500, and who failed to give it up even after a high-speed collision with a lesser noddy who dreamed of being the guy in accounting who shuts down movie projects.

What-Nots That Were


Q. When someone talks about what-nots, as in, “taking care of this or that or what-not” (this isn’t a good example and I should fix that before I send the question in) what are they referring to?

A. Begin by considering things. Now rule out from the set of things: mathematical operations, griffins, pancake breakfasts, sandcastles, ham radio repeater stations, tool sheds, rock operas, and the things you keep in that compartment of your car’s armest but not where CDs are supposed to go. Now take the geometric mean of the things that remain. You can’t, because that’s a mathematical operation, which you ruled out, see? The what-nots are the trinkets you keep on your shelf so that it would be too much bother to remove them before dusting, as well as the receipts from ATM transactions and movie purchases that you keep because they might come in handy someday. Also included, optionally, are up to one quarter-cup of spices (any kind).