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Fred Niedner: Life’s revelations explain the simple and mysterious

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: May 30, 2012 8:14AM



Revelations have come my way in bunches lately. None fall into the heaven-rending category, but some have cleared up mysteries that long bedeviled me. One helps me understand something I’ve deemed impertinence on the part of today’s students. My email in-box commonly contains messages that say, “Hey, I’m too sick to write my paper,” or, “Hey, I accidentally slept through class. Did I miss anything important?”

To this last question I usually respond, “No. Since you weren’t there, we merely fooled around for an hour.” The opening, however, leaves me speechless, or in email terms, keystroke-less. I would no more have addressed my professors with “Hey” than I’d have greeted them on campus as Norm or Elaine. (Indeed, we weren’t sure some of them had first names.)

Now, however, I know better. A friend newly returned from a trip to Finland shared a few words she picked up, including the Finnish for “hello,” or “hi,” which happens to be “hei,” and pronounced “hey.” So, all this time I thought my students rude, they were merely Finnish and I didn’t know it. Neither, perhaps, did they. But I feel better now.

Another revelation came disguised as a cookbook review. The book contains recipes that include a special, secret ingredient — lard. (Readers under 40 can find that word in a dictionary.) The author, a food scientist of sorts, attempts to rehabilitate lard in much the way nutrition experts recently brought back butter and eggs from dietary banishment. I have not yet sought out lard in local groceries, but I find myself wondering what other risky childhood delights may someday receive redemption. Will we bring back DDT, perhaps, and let children ride their bikes behind the trucks that spray it into our neighborhoods like my friends and I once did, deliberately inhaling the enticing fumes?

The most remarkable of these new revelations may allow me to fend off family members’ insinuations about my sanity, or lack thereof. All my life, I have listened to baseball games on radio. To me, this is the most natural thing in the world. However, both in my Nebraska childhood and now in my 40-year exile among Cubs fans, the station that carries the broadcasts I wish to hear lies far away. Hence, I listen to lots of static, punctuated by occasional, isolated phrases, like, “a high, fly ball to center ... ” or, “rounding third and here’s the throw ... ” 

In some ways, the most satisfying element of this experience is piecing together what must have happened during the static, in between the intelligible phrases. With practice, one can become remarkably adept at reconstructing the flow of a game with only a few shards of play-by-play as puzzle pieces. Alas, my family members hear only racket and they find it maddening, especially at the volume levels required for catching the intermittent phrases that float above it.

Now comes news of an innovative technique doctors and hospitals use to reduce the trauma infants and toddlers experience when stuck with needles. A combination of rocking, massage and a special kind of noise apparently makes wee ones hardly notice a sudden pain in the posterior.

The noise? A synthesized version of what a fetus hears inside a mother’s womb. On my car radio, as part of the news story, it sounded exactly like, yes, a ball game.

Frankly, this is unsettling. Perhaps I never truly loved baseball, but merely use it to run from pain and poking.

Strangely, the frequency of revelation appears directly proportional to the speed at which life becomes more mysterious — and full of wonder.



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