Since my accident (see “Oz – Don’t forget the scarecrow,” July 31), I’ve been busy reconstructing another Old black truck. Many people believe that I’ve been using the same old Ford service truck for the past 30 years. Really, though, this will be the 3rd in a series of nearly identical OBTs.
This added workload has caused me to miss my deadline for this week as we’re pulling an old story from the archives. “How many a’s in a-a-actually” 1st appeared in the May 27, 2015, Review. At the time, I was unaware that John Nash and his wife had recently died in an auto accident in NYC.
Around the mid 1970s, I spent considerable time talking with “Doc” Nash. I didn’t know at the time that we had West Virginia in common. That would have explained a lot. John Nash was a master of the Mountain State’s spoken-word tradition.
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These hills and hollows are full of very smart people — they’re sensible and practical minded, too. Most are more comfortable chatting in the garden, under the hood of an old pickup, over a parts counter or a pile of mortar and stone — while painting or sculpting or on a parked tractor or picking ladder. Perhaps conversing on a front porch during a break from banjo, guitar or fiddle. That’s the kind of folks that West Virginia produces and attracts — and I’m happy with that.
They certainly don’t assemble in idle groups to engage in pointless conversation for the purpose of displaying their intelligence. About 230 miles northeast and about 45 years ago, things were a little different.
Everybody likes to pick on pretentious, high brow “‘intellectuals” — even those of their own stripe— though normally only in the 3rd person and at a safe distance. So this should be safe territory to tread. There are, though, intellectual types who do serve a sound and practical purpose, like the “2-fisted intellectual” Studs Terkel, but then there are the others.
Remember Fritz the Cat? This 1970s adult cartoon film was silly to say the least. However, in one soliloquy, Fritz well describes the so‑called “intellectual” who seeks greater education so as to be able to out-intellectualize other intellectuals and intimidate everyone else with his vast knowledge.
Certainly we’ve all benefited from those with higher education, especially in the medical field. I know that I have. Moreover, mathematicians who can target a moving comet millions of miles away and hit it with a tiny space probe in the vastness of space continue to amaze me. The list goes on.
But education for education’s sake is just chasing your tail and often gives education a bad name in the process. General knowledge is best derived from life experience, which offers no degrees, nor does one ever graduate — alive, anyway.
Here’s a big time intellectual mystery to ponder: You’re lost in the wilderness and a passing storm followed by a sudden cold spell has soaked your matches. You have only a fully-equipped Swiss Army knife. The sun is shining, but it’s rapidly getting colder. You need to start a fire in order to survive. How would you do it? That seems more like a problem for a Boy Scout to solve, but I’ve seen an inverse of this question stump some of Princeton’s highest brows.
The scene is rural New Jersey in the late 1960s. I was still living at home and was outside working on my vintage (even then) Harley‑Davidson. The really neat thing about this area is that one can claim any culture that he chooses in order to fit the situation. There’s the refined Princeton/Montgomery Township culture, the Hunterdon County farmer, the tough immigrant factory town and no nonsense attitudes of Hillsborough, Manville and Bound Brook. Due to the influence of older factory working cousins, I was leaning significantly toward the latter culture.
While working on the Harley, I heard the sounds of 2‑stroke motorcycle engines in the distance, across Township Line Road, in mysterious Montgomery Township toward Princeton. At Princeton, the hallowed ivy covered halls are a backdrop to Nassau Street abuzz, with pipe smoking profs in exotic flatulent sounding foreign cars. A bearded, distinguished-looking geezer gazes defiantly from a recumbent bicycle. This place breeds intellectuals like mold.
I hopped on the Harley and sped down the tractor paths past the hay fields, toward the sound. It was a journey from which I would never completely return.
As it turns out, it was fashionable in those days for young college professors to rent otherwise abandoned old farm houses in the countryside. These pleasant and liberating venues attracted other educators and eccentrics. And, inevitably, those whose sole purpose seemed to be to engage in pointless high‑brow discussions.
Notable figures who frequented the farmhouse we’re discussing were Andrew Kohut Sr. and John Nash, subject of the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” These guys’ brilliance is for real and their contributions undeniable. The powers that be don’t hand out Nobel Prizes for the funniest hat.
Motorcross was a sport that a few younger profs gravitated to, hence the motorcycle sounds in the distance. I got to know these people through our common interest in motorcycles. Our relationship prospered, especially when it was learned that I could fix their motorcycles and ancient trucks and automobiles.
In turn, I was curious about these strange people, especially a particular raven-haired Patchouli drenched young lady, a younger sister of a dean of admissions from New York City. We seemed to be getting on quite well.
On one occasion, I happened upon one of many lively intellectual discussions (they still called them “rap sessions” then). The subject was a Swiss Army knife and why one of the blades held a firmly embedded, small magnifying glass. Apparently, these big city academic sages had been stumped by this discovery. They had been going at this discussion for quite a long while and seemed nearly out of breath, if such were possible.
I don’t recall specifically, but it seems that neither Kohut or Nash were present or perhaps they were remaining quietly on the sidelines, watching the fun. Kohut, the famed pollster who builds kayaks, sailboats and Volkswagen engines at his riverside farm, would be country enough to figure out the magnifying glass mystery. Nash, being from West Virginia, would have pegged it as well. The reader has likely arrived at the correct answer by now, too.
I was handed the knife and in a slightly condescending tone asked what the purpose of the tiny magnifying glass might be. “It’s for lighting fires,” I replied, casually handing it back.
Silence. I could hear the creek of the old random-width floor boards as I walked back outside to supervise an MG engine swap. Likely, a coalition would soon form in order to discount my theory. A greasy 16-year-old mechanic from the cornfields of Hillsborough couldn’t possibly have the only correct answer in the presence of such great minds.
These people gave me no shortage of advice on life in general — some good, some not so good, some downright dangerous. At times, I would be told that there is no God — a popular concept with this group. (Kohut’s and Nash’s positions on this subject are unknown.) I felt no need to defend my belief in God because I really didn’t have any. At the time, girls, motorcycles and hormones comprised my world. I really didn’t care one way or the other. However, I just couldn’t get comfortable taking advice from people so overwhelmed by their own intelligence that if their matches got wet in the wilderness, they would probably freeze to death with a magnifying glass in their pocket.