Strong, silent type shortens prospects of a long life

Burt's Eye View

There was a time when I believed talking would kill me.

True, my mouth has almost gotten me clobbered more than once. He who smarts off learns to duck quickly.

No, I’m talking about the little-boy logic that drove 8-year-old me into become the strong, silent type.

I’d run out of comic books to read, so out of boredom, I tried deep thinking. After almost three full minutes of careful consideration, I hit upon my first great philosophy — we’re all born with a word limit and when we reach it, we die.

It made sense to an 8-year-old kid. You couldn’t pack two gallons of milk into a half-gallon carton. You were limited to a half gallon. A couple of meals would drain the carton, and out it went. It was gone.

The way I figured it, each baby was prepackaged with a lifetime word limit. It might take 70 or 80 years, but eventually, you’d drain all the words. Then you were gone.

I was astounded that no one had thought of this before. Yet, I couldn’t tell anyone if I wanted to live to be 200 years old. I wasn’t going to accomplish that by blabbing.

Becoming the strong, silent type is a lot tougher than it sounds. Have you ever seen your little brother scamper off with your G.I. Joe and not be able to tattle?

Or been in the back seat when Grandma called out, “Does anyone want to stop at Dairy Queen?” You can nod your head until it snaps off your neck and rolls under the seat, but Grandma still can’t hear you if you don’t spend a few life-extending words.

Or how about when Mom walks into the living room, gasps, then screeches, “Burton William, who smashed my prize spider plant? Well? Speak up right now, young man.”

OK, bad example. Not answering a direct question from Mom always posed a risk. She considered it sassing even though you hadn’t actually uttered a word. But as I stood next to a big pile of scattered dirt and crumpled house plant, I calculated that confirming Mom’s suspicions about the culprit’s identity could be even more dangerous.

I’d never known how brave John Wayne’s strong, silent types in the movies really were.

I was forced to revise my theory. In only a minute or two, I’d figured out my error. It wasn’t the number of words that were prepackaged, it was the number of breaths. So I practiced not breathing to live longer. It didn’t work so well.

Perhaps, I thought, we all had expiration dates stamped on our rear ends: “Please discard this product after June 12, 2059.”

What was my use-by date? I couldn’t twist far enough to see my own behind, and it’s not the kind of thing you want someone to check for you.

I casually asked Mom, “Did you notice anything on my butt when I was a baby?” After she recovered from choking on her tea, Mom assured me that neither I nor anyone else bore such markings.

I was stumped. All that deep thinking left me as drained as the milk carton but no closer to the answer.

Fifty years later, I’m working on a new life-extension theory involving naps and chocolate. It may prove to be as suspect as my other ideologies, but it’s nowhere near as dangerous to pursue. Live long, my strong, silent friends.

— Philosophize with Cole at or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.