The Issue

A sage once opined that when we persist in arguing over and over again with a stupid person, we reveal ourselves as the stupid one.  Nevertheless, I have long engaged in fruitless discussions with an old-time friend, to the point where I’m beginning to suspect the adage is true.  I’m the stupid guy.

The problem I have is that this friend always strays from the issue at hand, deflecting my well-reasoned arguments by taking us off topic.  For instance, if I were to suggest to him that it’s raining outside, a fact easily verified by looking out the window, he might well claim he sees no one with an umbrella.

“That’s not the issue!” I would protest.  “You’re changing the subject.  Whether or not you spy an umbrella has nothing to do with whether it’s raining or not.”

He would probably just smile and ignore my argument.

Or if I were to offer an opinion that wages for the working-class haven’t kept pace with rising costs, his comment might be to tell me he has more money at hand now than he’s ever had.

“That’s not the issue!” I would probably object.  “You might well be better off than ever, but that doesn’t change the fact that costs are rising.”

He’d likely smile again, placidly this time, and not concede my point.

Perhaps I wouldn’t find this habit of his so maddening if it didn’t seem to me that he blithely assumes he’s had the better of me when these discussions happen.  Without ever directly rebutting something I’ve said, he inevitably counters with a peripherally-related argument, thereby appearing to satisfy himself that the matter is settled.

And yet, stupid me, I keep arguing with him.

A while back, we were talking about whether or not the scarcity of cold and ‘flu medicines on drugstore shelves is a problem.  “I’m told it’s a supply-chain issue,” I stated.  “And that’s exacerbated by a heavier-than-usual demand for the stuff because of the prevalence of illness now that school is back.  So, it’s a real problem right now.”

“I don’t use over-the-counter remedies,” my friend said.

“Yeah, but that’s not the issue,” I replied.  “The issue is that there’s a shortage of those products at a time when people need them.  That’s a problem!”

Another casual shrug was all I got.  And that smug smile.

We’re both aged athletes with an abiding interest in sports, and while watching a televised ballgame together a few nights ago, I said, “Boy, the Blue Jays look really good tonight.  It’s only the fourth inning, and they’ve already got seven hits and four runs in.  They’re hot!”

My friend replied, “Yeah, but they’re not playing the Yankees!”

“That’s not the issue,” I exclaimed, maybe a bit heatedly.  “So what if they’re not playing the Yankees?  They could be playing Casey at the bat in Mudville, for all I care.  They’re playing really well tonight.”

My friend shrugged as if it didn’t matter.

More recently, we were talking about the government’s removal of masking requirements for air-travel.  “I think they must consider the pandemic over,” I complained.  “They figure no mitigations are needed now, but I think that puts all of us at risk.”

“I don’t fly,” my friend said.

“That’s not the issue,” I fired back.  “Lots of people don’t fly.  But for those who do, the issue is they’re being placed in harm’s way.”

My friend shrugged off my assertions.  “But not if they don’t fly,” he said.

“That’s not the issue…” I began, before giving up.  How stupid can I be?

Yesterday, over a couple of beers and Reuben sandwiches, I decided to tell my friend why, during many of our conversations, his continual diversions from the subject at hand are bothering me.  “It’s almost as if you’re ignoring my point,” I said, “as if what I’m saying doesn’t matter to you.”

“Why would you think that?” he asked, squarely on point.  It caught me by surprise because I’d expected him to offer one of his usual non sequiturs.

“Well…you never seem to respond directly,” I stammered.  “You usually mention something only superficially related to whatever I’ve said, and then assume you’ve won the argument.”

“Argument?” he repeated.

“Well, not argument,” I demurred.  “More like discussion.  And you ignore the points I’m making.”

“And you think I’m doing that in order to win…what, exactly?”

“The…the argument.”  I smiled weakly over my beer at the absurdity of it all.

My friend smiled back.   “Did it ever occur to you that I might be conceding your point in these discussions, agreeing with you, and simply offering up another thought to keep the conversation going?”

Drawing a deep breath, I said, “Oh!  I guess not, no.  I sort of assumed you were just trying to one-up me and win…you know, the argument.”

“Well maybe, that’s the issue then,” he said.

And at that point, we ordered another beer and moved on to a much less-stupid, more pleasant conversation, all issues set aside.

Fathers, Sons, and Trains

Again this year, I know I’ll receive warm hugs and kisses from my daughters in recognition of yet another Fathers’ Day, my forty-fifth such occasion.  It never grows old.

We dads grow old, however, despite our best efforts.  And in so doing, we lose our own fathers as they board the last train to glory, to borrow from Arlo Guthrie.  My dad departed the station more than a dozen years ago, but he remains with me almost daily in my thoughts.  And never more so than on Fathers’ Day.

When I was a young boy, he would often take me to local railroad crossings to watch the big steam locomotives and their endless caravans go storming by.  I treasured those occasions because I would have his undivided attention, a not-so-frequent circumstance in a family that eventually numbered five children.  He enjoyed the time with me, too, I’m sure; but he loved those trains even more than I, a boyhood fascination he never lost.  He was truly a railwayman, if only in his dreams.

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Not once did it occur to me as a lad to ask him if his own father had taken him to see the trains, so caught up with the spectacle was I.  I’ve often wondered since if he might have been fondly recalling such times with his dad, even as he was standing beside his son.

At the time of his passing, I wrote these lines to commemorate what he meant to me, and they comfort me still—

The Railwayman

You’d take me down beside the rails to watch the trains go storming by,

And tell me all those wond’rous tales of engineers who sat on high,

In cabs of steel, and steam, and smoke; of firemen in their floppy hats,

The coal they’d move, the fires they’d stoke, as o’er the hills and ‘cross the flats

The locomotives huffed and steamed, their whistles blowing long and loud.

And one small boy, he stood and dreamed beside his daddy, tall and proud.

Terrifying monsters were they, bearing down upon us two, who

Felt their force on that steel highway, hearts a-racing—loving, true.

I’d almost flinch as on they came toward us, with their dragon-face

A-belching, spewing, throwing flame and steam and smoke o’er ev’ry place.

But you’d stand fast beside the track, and, oh! the spectacle was grand.

So, unafraid, I’d not step back, ‘cause you were there holding my hand.

Oh, Railwayman, oh, Railwayman, I’m glad you knew when you grew old,

How much I loved you—Dad, my friend, who shared with me your dreams untold.

Oh, Railwayman, oh, Railwayman, if I, beside you once again,

Could only stand safe in your hand, awaiting with you our next train.

Now, all aboard, Dad…all aboard!

Happy Fathers’ Day to all who, like me, are both fathers and sons.  We are blessed.