04 February, 2010

Mr. Know-It-All

"Excuse me...." It was someone I'd never spoken to before, yet his approach was awkwardly familiar. He touched my shoulder to get my attention.

I turned, prepared to be chilly with this invader of personal space, but he put up his palms, as if in apology, and said, "I was just wondering who sang 'Wild Thing' — the original. They said you'd know."

Out of nowhere. You'd think a sign on my back glowed neon: ESOTERIC QUESTIONS FIELDED HERE. At some point or another I became a go-to guy for settling of trivia bets, solving of crossword puzzle clues, and unsticking stuck-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue things. It happens numerous times each day, occasionally too often for me to keep track. Granted, those in search of an answer are generally at least tangentially connected to my circle of daily associates, not utter strangers I don't even recognize by reputation.

Reputation is everything in prison. For better or for worse, mine is now cemented as a guru of random information. Yes, I know how many points there are on Kermit the Frog's collar. (Answer: eleven.) Yes, I know the name of that actress who played opposite Tom Cruise in Risky Business, as well as the year the movie came out — though, no, I've never seen the film. (Answers: Rebecca DeMornay; 1986.) Yes, I know the chemical formula of caffeine. (Answer: C8H10N4O2. Would you like me to draw the molecule for you too?) Not a whole lot of my knowledge is practically applicable in the real world. I would dump it if I could, clear some room in my cluttered brain for the type that might do some good. The guys with their inquiries, though, wouldn't want me any other way.

For the stranger with the music question, I didn't miss a beat. "That was the Troggs," I said.

"Of course," he said, making the head-slapping motion I see every day. "And that's with two gs, ain't it?"

"Mmm hmm."

"Okay. Hey, thanks a lot, there, brother," he said, then turned and walked away.

I tried resuming my prior conversation, but it was hopeless; my companion's curiosity had been piqued. He asked the obvious question: "What was that about?"

"Oh, just something I do."

"Answer questions?"


"Does that happen a lot, people coming up to you like that?"

"Pretty often."

"That's a hell of a service. You ought to start charging for that." And not for the first (or the last) time does the thought cross my mind.

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