A beautiful mind

Ed Smith
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Sometimes I wish I had Other Half’s mind. Sometimes.

It happens when a situation arises to which an appropriate response doesn’t immediately come to mind.

The solution to whatever the problem is does ultimately come, albeit somewhat later than I would have liked.

You’ve all been in that situation. Someone says something to you that isn’t exactly complimentary, and your mind goes emptier than a Harper politician defending the decision to close the Coast Guard station in St. John’s.

The only response you can think of is puerile or asinine or totally stupid — same as a Harper politician when speaking about almost anything, but especially coast guard stations.

Remember the Conservative MP speaking at that conference on safety, I think it was? Anyway, the genius politician in question couldn’t understand why, in an emergency on the North Atlantic, the authorities couldn’t call on the local police and/or the local fire department to help them out — same as they do on the Ottawa River.

It’s that kind of political savvy and genuine common sense that, in another four years, should have this country ranking 115th of the list of best countries in the world in which to live. When that happens, I hope the majority of Canadians will have the decency to somehow manage to kick themselves soundly in the ass.

But I digress. We were talking about the manner in which the mind fails the tongue in coming with the swift retort when it’s most needed.

Let me give you the most wonderful example of that I ever heard. It was someone who said the exact right thing at the exact right time. In short, the perfect retort.

Angry congregation

It happened several years ago to a young student minister who had quite innocently gotten himself in trouble with a sizable number of his congregation. Led by one of those pillar-of-the-church types, they brought all kinds of trumped up charges against him and attempted to have him removed from the church forthwith.

A congregational meeting was called by the church head office to deal with the problem. Several people got up and repeated the rumours that were circulating among the narrow-minded and close-minded of the faithful.

When they were finished, the young minister was asked to respond. Unfortunately, he was more hurt than angered and his tongue totally failed him.

All he could think to say was a line from the biblical Isaiah when prophesying about the Messiah: “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.”

All it did was make him look weak. But the leader of the attacking group knew exactly what to say. He jumped to his feet, pointed his finger and in ringing tones cried, “Are you comparing yourself to Jesus Christ?!”

It was designed to be the ultimate put down, the final nail in the coffin of this 19-year-old boy who was standing before them.

But the boy was not without his supporters, who knew him to be far above the attitudes and actions of which he was accused. One was a retired magistrate, who slowly got to his feet and, in the tension-filled silence following the first man’s terrible words, said slowly and with great feeling, “No, my friend, he was comparing you people to the Jews!”

Ripping reply

There it was, the perfect retort. It defused the opposition the way the defender’s double-barrel shotgun discourages the mugger attacking with a pocketknife.

Again I digress. Digressing is a fatal flaw in my writing. Shakespeare would’ve had a ball with my character — perfect in every way except for that one fatal flaw. Oh well.

Remember the first line? It’s the mind of OH I want to talk about.

She was booked into a Sheraton hotel in Toronto a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, she had to cancel out of that particular establishment and informed them accordingly by email. When she got to Toronto, the thought struck her that perhaps she had better make sure they had gotten the message. so she called the reservations people to verify.

Sorry, the clerk advised her, the reservation was not cancelled.

“But I emailed it in.”

“We do not accept cancellations by email.”

“OK, I’ll do it now,” said OH.

“Sorry,” the reservations desk replied, “but it’s too late.”

“Too late? It’s not until tomorrow!”

“Sorry,” the clerk said again, “but we require 24 hours’ notice.”

OH had never heard of that kind of required notice before. She glanced at her watch.

“But it’s still 22 hours to my reservation time. I’m only two hours late.”

“Sorry, Madam, but there’s absolutely nothing we can do.”

And precisely here is where the superior mind clicks in. I would have considered myself without any argument and given in. Not OH.

“OK,” she said, quite reasonably, “but I think you should know that I will not allow a $300 room to remain empty all night.”

“That’s up to you, Madam,” the clerk said. “It’s your room; you have paid for it.”

“Yes, I know,” OH replied reasonably again, “but I think you should know who’s going to be in it.”

The clerk didn’t seem that interested.

Night of comfort

“What I intend to do,” OH went on, “since I don’t know anyone in Toronto who needs a room, is go out on the street and find four homeless people. Shouldn’t be that hard. I’ll give them the room for the night.”

There was silence on the other end of the line, and then an, “Oh! Just a minute, Madam. I have to consult.”

It wasn’t long before a very pleasant voice came on the line.

OH told her about wanting to cancel the reservation, but seemed to be just a little too late. She said nothing about Toronto’s homeless.

“That’s perfectly OK, Madam,” the voice which was the Sheraton soul of reason said, “we can cancel the reservation for you.”

Want to bet she hadn’t been told about the homeless?

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca.

Organizations: Coast Guard, Sheraton hotel

Geographic location: Toronto, North Atlantic, Springdale

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