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Column: The occasional double take

Posted: May 21, 2018 2:58 p.m.
Updated: May 22, 2018 1:00 a.m.

After 20-something years in this business, I can still occasionally put on what my old friend and musical partner in crime Frank Lee Johnson calls the “Carson Stare.”

He is, of course, referring to that look the late, great Johnny Carson would get when something struck him out of the blue -- usually some out-from-left-field response to a fairly innocuous statement or situation.

To be clear, one innately understands, especially in this business, that certain hot button issues will get certain people stirred up. It’s been my personal experience that generally speaking, the lower the I.Q., the hotter the buttons, but that’s another observation for another day.

The point is, it’s the outrage from left field that still provides the occasional double take -- and I have certainly enjoyed my share of heavy duty Carson stares over the years.

There was one reader, many years ago, who called to inform me that she was deeply offended by a column I wrote -- a real tear jerker, actually -- about having to put my dog to sleep. Specifically, she was incensed by the headline -- I had titled the column “Damn right, all dogs go to heaven” -- and apparently not only was my use of profanity in the headline deeply disturbing but worse, the very suggestion that a lowly animal such as a dog would go be allowed to go to heaven apparently flew all over her particular brand of “the faith.”

A couple of years ago, in another town, I had a fulminating, spittle-flecked nutbag ... uh ... I mean impassioned reader, who called to castigate me about an article I wrote regarding a restaurant owner who was considering selling his business. Apparently, his concern was that the owner was a complete scumbag and my reporting that he was considering going out of business was somehow collusion in sins that had possibly occurred nearly three decades prior.

Oh yeah, and the restaurant’s menu -- gourmet hot dogs, I think they served --  was blatantly anti-semitic.

Well, alrighty, then.

Eventually, one has to fall back on the old saw, “it takes all kinds to make a world,” and move on, although as a far from perfect person, I tend to temper such attempts at maintaining a live and let live attitude with the occasional hope that some people who are here “because it takes all kinds” will get hit by a runaway bus or a falling piano in the near to middling future.

I won’t say nothing surprises me anymore -- that would be just a little too cynical. Nonetheless,  I do tend to forget that the most bizarrely innocuous statements, observations or situations are usually the very things that tend to rile so intensely.

There’s an old joke that sort of explains what I’m talking about. It seems this young minister, fresh out of divinity school, was assigned to a big church up in the Kentucky farm country. Not knowing much about the area, he preached his very first sermon on the evils of drinking liquor.

That sermon fell flat.

When he asked for advice, a couple of parishioners informed him that quite a number of the more generous members of the congregation also happened to own very profitable bourbon distilleries, and perhaps the good reverend should find some other topic for discussion in his next sermon.

The next Sunday, he preached on the evils of tobacco, only to find the same problem -- an unreceptive,  hostile audience due to the fact that many of the congregation were prosperous and generous tobacco farmers.

The following Sunday, he preached on the evils of gambling. That, too, met with stony silence; as it turned out, quite a number of the more wealthy and generous parishioners raised, raced, and bet on race horses.

“What do I do? It seems like everything I preach about is going to offend someone,” the young minister moaned.

“Preach against them heathen voodoo witch doctors,” suggested one of the deacons. “There ain’t a one of them within a thousand miles of here!”


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