Thursday, March 21, 2019
The Gnome Scale
Frame of reference is so important.
Earlier this week, the Sun-Times had a cover story whose headline, "Why some neighbors hate 'Windy City Rehab,'" left me initially wondering how there could be a TV show shot in Chicago about addicts seeking sobriety without my knowing about it.
And then I began reading: Ohhh, that kind of rehab. Of houses.
There's usually humor to be found in that confusion. My pal Rob, a straight-laced NU classmate, was having his apartment gutted—his family moved to a hotel while the work was being done. During that time, I loved looking gravely at mutual friends and announcing, "Rob's going through a difficult rehab ... he had to move out of the house," and watching their faces.
Frame of reference can be less funny. Over another friend's house for dinner this week, and the cute little kids were brought out for introductions.
"How old are you?" my wife asked the little boy. He formed his index finger and thumb into an O so he would splay the other three fingers. He meant, "Three" but for a queasy moment the only thing I saw was the white power sign I've seen 25 times online.
One last example.
We had a very windy day last week. And this is the funny part. My wife came home, saw that our three garden gnomes were down, and her first thought was this: that some mischievous child had kicked them over. Forgetting that our street hasn't had a mischievous child doing anything anywhere for about a dozen years, since our own boys were racing their bikes up and down the block.
So her frame of reference: mischievous kids, and perhaps a tad of guilt over being the sort of people who prominently display garden gnomes.
I came home, saw the gnomes down, and my first thought was this: "the Beaufort Scale had been usurped." You know the Beaufort Scale, the 0-12 measure of wind force, a handy way to describe hurricanes and such.
Always struck me as a little dry. The storm was a "9." Ho-hum. How much better to say, "Did you hear the wind last night? It was a 3 Gnomer for sure!"
Here is where I would dig into the history of lawn gnomes. Fortunately, that has already been done—this article traces them back to Roman Times, with an emphasis on Germany and its tradition of trolls, etc., and a highlight that in 17th century England there was a job known as "ornamental hermit," whose duties were to live in a shack on the grounds of vast estates and go to seed in a picturesque fashion, to let their hair grow, their clothes decay, and lurk around in the distance.
You know, that doesn't sound like a half bad job.