Reflexes and Wit

I remember back in college, I was helping one of my friends review for our Art History final exam. At one point he had to leave for a class, and I was joined by another friend. When the first friend returned an hour later, he was surprised we hadn't gotten further in the text. “Well, I didn't have to stop to explain everything to you,” I said. There was some laughter, then some silence, then after what seemed like a full minute the second friend piped in, “Oh, I get it! Y'all think I'm SLOW.”

I think there's a definite difference between being quick-witted and being witty. I average about an hour minimum per blog post, so while I'm someone certainly who can think, I've never been someone who could think on his feet. Rare is the occasion when I know the perfect thing to say to a girl, or the perfect comeback to a joke at my expense. I was at a barbecue with some of my college friends over the weekend, and when they asked me what was new I mentioned joining a gym. “And have you actually gone?” quipped one of them, to which I began answering sincerely and explaining that it had only been a few days so I wasn't likely to have any results yet. “And he answers!” laughed my friend as I realized he'd been teasing me. Like George Costanza, I usually think of the perfect comeback much later, so I'm sure any day now one will come to me regarding that gym crack.

I think wit is a combination of experience and foresight. While Nicolas Cage's character's ability to see two minutes into the future in the film Next would definitely come in handy, no one actually possesses such precognition as far as I'm aware. The only area in which my reflexes shine is music. I've been playing so long, I have our band's entire repertoire memorized. On Monday night, we had to play a procession in the dark, so while some guys were waiting for street lamps or fumbling with miniature lamps clipped to their caps, I was right there on the downbeat whenever our leader called out a new tune. Somehow, humming ”Way Marie” the next time I'm verbally sparring might throw off my opponent and buy me time, but it won't garner a victory.

Last Friday at happy hour, there were a pair of hot girls walking around promoting Miller Lite. At one point, coming back in from the outside bar with a handful of glasses, one of the girls struggled to get the door open. “You should go help her,” said B13 with a wry grin. “Yeah, imagine?” I said, not moving and continuing to drink. “No, really. HELP her!” he said. I kind of half stood up, froze, started to sit down, got yelled at by my friend again and resumed standing, but by then she was inside. “That's okay; thanks anyway!” she said, and offered me a beer for the near-gesture. I think that story is an example of my slow reflexes teaming up with my crippling shyness. By the time I realized B13 was making a serious suggestion, I started processing whether or not it was acceptable for someone like me to take action, and by then it was too late.

One of the reasons my father has never been able to memorize music despite the decades of experience he has over me is because he thinks too much. He doesn't think melody; he thinks notes on a page. What key is the song in? What line or space is that note on? What position is that on the instrument? By the time his brain processes all that, we're already on to the next measure. I learned a while ago that there's no time to think when playing live music. I'm not thinking notes on a page, thinking A, B, C, D, E, F, or G. I'm not thinking about which valves I'm pressing. I just have the melody in my brain and my lips and fingers skip the thought process and just do what they need to do to produce a song. Of course, that only came after the experience of playing a lot of wrong notes, over and over until I hit the right ones, and remembered to do the same thing each time. Applying that philosophy to life, it will only be after repeated social interactions and failures that I know the right things to say in meetings or at parties.

Or, failing that, I'll just hum Italian melodies. I'm a little slow, y'all...


Blogger Rhodester said...

"I joined a gym!"

"Oh yeah? Have you actually GONE?"

"Of COURSE I have.. I drop by EVERY month without fail to pay my dues!"

..came right to me. :-)

7/02/2008 5:26 AM  

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