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  • Dear Pippo,
    I hope this letter finds you well and free of rips in your seams. I am fine.

    Everyone has a set of rules they live by. For those Biblically inclined, Rule # 1 was, “Don’t eat the fruit off of THAT tree right there.” One rule—two people. That’s it. No addendums. Minimum peer pressure. Unfortunately, Rule #1 was promptly broken. Parents understand that concept. Put a three year old in a room with nothing but a large red push button and say, “Don’t touch that!” and see what happens. We seem to be a species that likes to make rules but characteristically doesn’t follow them.

    If you are an evolutionist, then Rule #1 probably was, “Don’t go near that tar pit!” Any geologist will tell you that even if there were dinosaurs, apparently they were rule breakers, too.

    Even later in the Bible, there were the Ten Commandments. Before Moses could get down from the mountain with them, the Israelites had already broken the first two. Based on the first few books of the Bible, they did a fair job of breaking the other eight on a regular basis as well.

    In aviation, there are three basic rules in an emergency:

    AVIATE—Keep your plane in the air.

    NAVIGATE—Find out where you are and where you are headed.

    COMMUNICATE—Tell someone where to find the wreckage.

    On the movie, Forrest Gump, Lieutenant Dan’s two rules were (1) Keep your head down and (2) change your socks. Our mothers would agree with at least one of these.

    These are all good rules and seem quite practical (especially the rule about staying out of the tar pit). However, with the onset of modern television, we are aware of a different set of rules created by fictional (but larger than life) NCIS special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. These rules are nearly as well known as the Ten Commandments and are worthy of memorizing. However, there are a few that are worth special mention:

    Rule #4: “The best way to keep a secret? Keep it to yourself. Second best? Tell one other person—if you must. There is no third best.” A friend of mine once said, “How do you get three people to keep a secret? Make sure two of them are dead before you tell them.”

    Rule #9: “Never go anywhere without a knife.” In our community, being without a knife is a hanging offense. Besides, around here you never know when there is possum that needs skinning.

    Rule #16: “If someone has the upper hand, break it.” Practical, except for the possible assault charges that might follow.

    These are great rules, Dear Pippo, but in my experience Gibbs left out several key rules that I have tried to convey to my children. I have adhered to these rules for the last 20 years, and they have served me well. They are as follows:

    “Never take a woman to shoot a gun.” I learned this as a young teenager. I took a girlfriend with me to shoot turtles, wanting to impress her with my marksmanship. I humored her by letting her have a turn. “Pick out a turtle and just pull the trigger,” I said with a snort. She selected a turtle swimming some 50 yards away. “Go for it!”, I encouraged with a chuckle. Big mistake. Her shot lifted the turtle out of the water and spun it around. The turtle waved a white flag and surrendered. In addition, three other turtles and a bullfrog turned themselves in before she could reload.

    “Never challenge a woman to a game of pool.” You would think that if you knew the first rule, you’d never try the second. But after all, we are only men and apes, similar in many respects. We are not required to think and therefore avoid cognizant thought whenever possible. An addendum to this rule: “Never, ever play for money with a man whose nickname is a state or when ANY woman is involved.”

    “Never take a woman fishing.” If you want to find out the size of the largest fish in the lake, take a woman with you and give her a cane pole with a bent rusty nail on the end of a string. Use your most expensive rods, reels, lures, and baits and I’ll bet you she still catches the biggest fish. I once watched a woman point at a golden trout in a fish pond and declare, “I think I’ll catch that fish”…and she did! It was sure expensive replacing my pole after I broke it.

    “Never watch medical personnel handle your newborn baby.” I am the biological father of two of my six kids. The first one was born in 1980 when it was still optional for fathers to be in the delivery room. I took the more traditional method of pacing outside the delivery room until they came out with the baby. Instead of looking like it came from the Cabbage Patch, it more resembled a very small person who had a terrible cottage cheese accident. I did, however, watch the nurses pick him up by the leg, bend him around like a pretzel, and other such indignities. I thought babies were made of glass and would break if I dropp…uh…never mind. I was present for the second delivery, but during the important part I was engaged in my own laborious struggle trying not to give rebirth to my supper. The nurses soon presented to me a creature that looked somewhat like a Chia pet after it’s watered but before it sprouts. The nurse tucked it under her arm like a football and took off toward the incubator like that guy on the Heisman Trophy and put it in a little bed with a sunlamp. I guess she agreed with me that it didn’t look done. Those hospital events are a quite different scenario from my good friend who kept getting in the way of the doctor during the critical part of his wife’s delivery while trying to get a good photo angle. (None of us asked to see those particular photos).

    “Never watch a body shop guy adjust the door of your new car for wind noise.” Forget the baby, now we are really talking about something precious. Do you know how they adjust your door for wind noise? Most body shop employees will put a block of wood or some other large item into the space between the car body and the door. Then they get the largest guy in the shop to come and swing on the door like a large ape on the Empire State Building (Calm down, Pippo, I’m not talking about anyone in your family). It is not a pretty sight to watch.

    “Never, ever, go into the back of a restaurant where you like to eat.” If you don’t want a crash course in “Why is there a health department and where are they when I need them?” don’t go in the kitchen. Ever. You will see people going in the bathroom with flour on their hands and coming back in the same way. You will second guess yourself—“Do I want to see a rat trap in the kitchen or rat poison in one of those little D-con boxes?” Addendum: If you are in the restaurant kitchen do not read the posted cleaning schedule by the bathroom door or you might be privy to such information as, “Refilled toilet paper dispenser and unstopped toilet again. Customers must be wrapping their arms like Q-tips to do their paperwork.” The same goes for the posted comments from the exterminator such as, “Boy, I caught a big one today!” or “Infestation nearly under control. Using DDT to get rid of them” or “Ventilator hood cleared. Called zoo to pick them up.”

    So now, Dear Pippo, you have my basic plan for a long and happy life. As for the Israelites, Jethro Gibbs, and myself, we sometimes stray from those things we know are absolutely true. But just because we don’t follow our own rules doesn’t make them any less true. It just shows we aren’t getting much smarter as we age. Trust me—Do as I say, not as I do.


    Lernen Slowe and his wife, Hebroka Rule
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