Quiz #16. Dumb Kids (April Fools)

April 1, 2020, Steve’s Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz

What’s the dumbest thing you did as a kid? For me, the list of nominees is long.

(See the “What did NOT happen?” question below for more. I’d also like to know what dumb things you did as a kid and you can leave them in the comments.)

What dumb things did you do as a kid?

This morning, Wednesday April 1st, I was reminded of one dumb thing I did as a a kid. I grew up on Long Island and we had a peach tree in our backyard. I liked to eat the whole peach--including the pit. (As I recall, I was advised that this was not a good idea and yet I persisted.) One time, I ate a peach and swallowed the pit, but it got stuck. I was choking to death and ran into the house. My father grabbed me by the feet and turned me upside down over the kitchen sink--my head in the sink with his arms and my feet at the ceiling. He gave me a few shakes, my body jerking until the pit popped out. This would have been the early to mid 1960’s--a full decade before Dr. Henry Heimlich first described his now world-famous method for helping someone who’s choking to death. Henry Heimlich, Bob Thode. They’re the same in my book.

I was reminded of this peach pit story because of something I read this morning in a fantastic newsletter called “Understandably,” written by Bill Murphy, Jr. of Inc. (h/t to Sara for recommending this newsletter. Murphy is related to a neighbor that Sara met last summer in the local community fight against running high-voltage power lines down residential streets. I began subscribing to Murphy’s newsletter at the start of the coronavirus mess--another example of lemonade from life’s lemons.)

This morning, under the heading “My dad called,” Murphy wrote about how his own father (Bill Murphy Senior) had reached out to him to remind Murphy Junior how he had once gotten a magnet stuck in his nose. Murphy Senior used another magnet to get it out.

And why did Murphy Senior remind his son of this dumb thing Junior had done as a kid?

It was because in Tuesday’s edition of Understandably, Murphy had highlighted a story from the Guardian that you may have seen fly by on your Facebook feed. If you missed it--which Murphy had not--it’s fantastic. Under the heading, “Kids, Don’t Try This at Home,” Murphy recounted the story of a 27-year-old astrophysicist from Australia, Donald Reardon, who tried to come up with a way to prevent people from touching their faces during the coronavirus. He began playing around with powerful magnets and ended up getting 2 of them stuck up his nose--only to take 2 more to try to get the first 2 out before 4 magnets were stuck in his nose. He had to go to the hospital to get them out. Murphy wrote,

‘The doctors thought it was quite funny,’ Reardon said afterward. I think so, too--which is why I’m grateful to him for sharing the story so openly. They said comedy equals tragedy plus time—but this all happened just a few days ago, and the truth that most of us realize is that there’s a lot more for us to struggle through with this whole pandemic. Which is the reason why I’m grateful to be able to find things like this to share. We need to be very serious about what it will take to come through all this. But we also need to find ways to express hope, and gratitude—and heck yes, laughter.

I read Murphy’s Tuesday newsletter on a day when the grim reality of coronavirus began to punch America in the gut. On Tuesday, the coronavirus death toll passed the official death toll from 9/11, 2997. The White House came out with its projections from the University of Washington that even in the best case scenario of full mitigation (which is not yet being practiced across the 50 states) 100,000 to 240,000 people will die in America from coronavirus. Those numbers are astonishing.

I work in TV news and I remember that back in 2001, I offered the following perspective on the magnitude of the number of deaths from 9/11. As a thought experiment, I asked, “What if we were to do a daily tribute to a 9/11 victim, one each day? How long would that take?” The answer, If you estimate the death toll at 3000 and divide it by 365.25, is that you’d need to do a daily tribute for more than 8 years to finish the project. If you apply this same rough math to coronavirus, even in the best case scenario with 100,000 deaths, it would take you 273 years--until 2293--to pay a daily tribute to each American coronavirus victim.

In the aftermath of 9/11, like millions of New Yorkers, I turned to the New York Times for their tributes to 9/11 victims. They were called “Portraits of Grief” and each one included a photograph and a short story that summed up a person’s life. (Every picture tells a story.) The New York Times put out the collected “Portraits” as a large, tabletop book. Years later, a bored teenager who was visiting our house picked up the “Portraits” book and began to read some of the portraits. I still remember the shock and awe--and sadness--she expressed when she realized that all these people had died on 9/11. 555 pages worth of people. For coronavirus, we’ll need 33 books like that--again, even in the best case scenario.

For Coronavirus, the New York Times has started a new series on coronavirus victims called “Those We’ve Lost”--which brings me back to something else which took my breath away when I read Murphy's newsletter on Tuesday. Under the heading, “7 Other Things Worth Your Time,” Murphy recommended that readers take a look at the AP’s obituary for children’s author, 85-year-old Tomie dePaola. Murphy added this line, almost as a throwaway.

And as so often happens, I learned more about him from his obituary than I ever knew before. Rest in peace.

Sadly, these days we’ll soon be seeing a lot of obituaries--and too many of us will be writing eulogies which, in one of the most savage twists of coronavirus, we will need to deliver at either small, socially distant funerals or virtual memorial services.

When my father died 4 years ago this March in 2016, he literally died of a broken heart. He’d had a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery in 1996. In 2006, he was really beginning to slow down and they did a cardiac catheterization to see what was going on. The test revealed an 80% blockage beyond the bypass. The assessment from the doctors was that they could not put in a stent, the risk was too high. Heart failure, the doctors told us, would be what kills him. It could be months, it could be years. It ended up being nearly a decade.

Faced with this bad news back then, I did what I always do in times of stress. I got ready.

I wrote his obituary and wrote his eulogy which included the story about how he saved me from choking on a peach pit. I also started building a Shutterfly photo book of his life, using the slides his grandfather had taken along with the slides he’d taken of my siblings and me growing up. He dubbed those slides “Golden Oldies” and my father and mother would set up the slide projector and turn out the lights for a slide show down memory when the family got together with all the grandchildren.

I’d planned on using that photo book at my father's memorial--and it was Sara (again) who gave me some sound advice. As soon as you make the photo book, she told me, give it to your father. Why wait? Let him enjoy it now while he’s still around. I gave him the book as soon as it was done and it provided him comfort and joy in the last 10 years of his life.

In part, then, that’s the message from Murphy. Don’t wait to read anyone’s obituary. Before they’re gone, celebrate and discover as much as you can about the people you love. They will not be around forever--and you don’t want to find out about the stories that shaped their lives when they’re gone. “I learned more about him from his obituary than I ever knew before.”

But Murphy’s follow-up story about the magnets today reminded me that we lose something more when a parent or older person dies--as so many will with coronavirus. For Murphy, it was the father who’d reminded the son about sticking a magnet up his nose when Junior was young. When my father was in his retirement community, I remember looking through his college yearbook when my children and I had come over for a visit. We began talking about my own years at college and I told my kids about the schools I had applied to--and the one school, Williams, that had rejected me. My father perked up and said it was a good thing I’d never gone to Williams. Another kid in my hometown, Tom, had gone there--and my father reminded me that he’d always been a childhood rival, his parents boastful and him not far behind. Like Murphy and the magnets, I’d completely forgotten that story.

We live on in the memories of others and when someone goes before us, theirs is not the only life that’s lost.

What did NOT happen?

A. I was a toddler when a hurricane hit Long Island. I was playing with my sisters, Ginny and Susan.  They fed me baby aspirin and my mother had to drive me to the hospital in horrible weather. I was given medicine that tasted like Coke-a-cola.  I vomited in a large metal bowl. I remember it looked like cream corn;

B. When my little brother Richard was born, I would feed his pacifiers to our dog Timmy without telling anyone.  His stomach got blocked and he had to have emergency surgery (Timmy not Richard). Inside, they found 8 pacifiers, all whole;

C. When he was a toddler, I told Richard to chew on a piece of tin foil, telling him it was better than chewing gum;

D. As a kid, I was playing with a hand drill on our new kitchen table.  I drilled a hole in a piece of wood but went too far, creating a tiny round divot on the wooden table. I cleaned up the tools and the sawdust, never fessing up to the crime even though my father was not pleased when he noticed the divot that night at dinner;

E. When my uncle had heart surgery, I was the first one to get home from school.  My mother had gotten the call that he was out of surgery and OK. When my sister Ginny got home from school, I told her that my uncle had died.

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Answer #16. “Dumb Kids (April fools)

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Want more?

Here’s the next quiz in the series: Quiz #17. “Be You.”

Here’s the previous quiz in the series: Quiz #15. Old Dogs.

Here’s the first quiz in the series: Quiz #1. Stella and Social Distancing, March 13, 2020

The quiz is explained here: Steve’s Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz.

Here is an archive of all the quizzes.


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