Every now and then I get tired of the foofaraw in the Atheosphere and just like to relax my mind, not burdening it with any details. Yesterday was my birthday, so I didn't want to have to trouble myself with the usual atheistic minutia like how many fundamentalists can dance on the head of a pin, or what caused the strange disappearance of DaVinci (the blogger, not the genius).
Instead, Mrs. Exterminator and I spent some time reminiscing about the good old days. The good old days — which, really, weren’t that great unless you liked French-cut canned stringbeans — were back before the Atheosphere, back before the Internet, back before laptop and desktop computers. In those days, people found information by reading books. I’m not kidding. We turned pages with our — yuck! — fingers.
Of course, that’s an outmoded procedure nowadays, but Mrs. Ex and I are kind of outmoded ourselves. So, even though each of us can Google with the best of them, we still often find ourselves racing to our bookshelves whenever we’re in search of tidbits of information. You can’t teach an old dog new research methods. That’s why it takes us about a week and a half to get through a 90-minute DVD.
To be more precise about the reason it takes us so long: It’s because we’re Lookies.
The original Lookies were a couple of friendly question-mark-shaped children in the 1950s who urged kids to nag their parents for the World Book Encyclopedia. Their motto, as I remember it, was: "We never guess; we look it up. 'Cause we're the Lookies!"
I've been a Lookie all my life, and so has Mrs. Exterminator. Years ago, when we first combined living quarters, we sat our two reference collections down and promised that we'd show no favoritism. But now, ages later, we still don't trust each other's books.
"What does 'heuristic' mean?" she might ask, looking up at me from a magazine article.
"I’m not sure. Let's look it up."
"Use my dictionary."
"Well, it's my word."
Our Lookitude really flourishes, though, when we're watching a film. Like we were last night.
"What city is that?" asks Mrs. Ex, as the camera pans down on the opening shot.
"I'm not sure it matters to the story," I answer, scanning Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, an edition of which I always grab before pressing Play. You never know what kind of film-knowledge emergencies might come up.
"Of course it matters,” she says. “It’s not just some vague place. We're supposed to recognize those buildings. What does the book say? I see palm trees. It's probably Miami or L.A., don't you think?"
"There's a street sign," I point out.
"I missed it. Stop and hit reverse. Let's see it again."
Meanwhile, the film's narrator is telling us, "The sun rose that morning over ..."
"Stop that damn thing for a minute!"
"C'mon," I complain. "He just said it was Minneapolis."
"I don’t care what he said, but I think you’re hearing things. There aren’t any palm trees in Minneapolis. Even you know that, right? Go look up 'palm' in my botany encyclopedia."
"Maybe it was an unusually warm summer," I suggest. "Let's just watch the movie."
Mrs. Ex leans over and grabs the remote from my hand, frantically hitting pause. "Wait a second. Wait a second. What else took place in Minneapolis? I'm thinking of something but I can't zero in on it."
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show,'" I say.
"Oh, yeah, right." We both sing “Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take ..."
“You know when Mary Tyler Moore really made me smile?" Mrs. Ex gets up to walk over to one of our 3,000 bookcases. "I wanna find something in Total TV. Just bear with me a second. Go pee or something"
"I don’t have to. Can't it wait till after the movie?" I ask.
"This is gonna drive me crazy through the whole thing. When we were singing about Mary Tyler Moore, it reminded me of when she was married to Dick Van Dyke. And I suddenly can't remember their last name. Aha! Here it is! Petrie!"
"Yeah," I say, "like the dish we used to make gunk in during high school biology. Now you've got me curious. Who's that dish named for? You think it'll be in one of the desk encyclopedias?"
"I bet it's in mine."
"Mine's better. Hold on, while I check in my office."
“I’ll go look in mine.” Both of us call out, almost simultaneously, "J.R. Petri, German bacteriologist." Then, as she heads back to the living-room, she hollers, "OK, I'm ready to watch the movie now."
"No, no. Not yet," I holler back. "I wanna see something. I'm checking Nobel Prizes for Medicine in The World Almanac."
"I don’t know. I graduated from high school in '65, so it had to be before that. Just shut up and let me do some serious research here."
About fifteen minutes later, I march into the living-room, triumphantly.
“Did you find out if he won a Nobel Prize?” Mrs. Ex asks.
"No, I got sidetracked. But y’wanna hear something weird! We were just talking about Dick Van Dyke, and I was looking up awards given out in 1965, right?” She nods. “Well, guess who won the Miss America Contest in 1965!"
"No clue," she says.
“I can’t. Now you’re holding the movie up.”
"Vonda Kay Van Dyke!" I say. "Isn't that a strange coincidence?"
"What the hell kind of name is Vonda?"
"It's a variant of 'Wanda' and it means 'wanderer.' I knew you'd want to know, so I looked it up."
"In What to Name Your Baby."
"What are you doing with that?"
I shrug. "It was on sale at Barnes and Noble. I couldn't resist. You never know what kind of information ..."
"That reminds me," she says. "Remember ‘The Wanderer’?"
"Yeah, yeah. I figured you'd ask so I looked in The Encyclopedia of Rock 'n' Roll. Dion sang it in 1962."
"Not that wanderer," she says. "A different wanderer. I was thinking of some opera character. Where's my opera handbook?"
"I'll go look in mine, too," I suggest.
Five minutes go by.
“Siegfried," she calls. "By Wagner," I respond. "The Wanderer is Wotan," she calls. "Leader of the Norse gods," I answer.
"Yeah. By the way, my stylebook right here says not to confuse 'Norse' with 'Norwegian."
"You know who I picture when I think about Norwegians?”
“Garrison Keillor," she answers.
"Hey, that’s amazing," I shout. “Minnesota.”
"Minneapolis!" we both cheer.
Finally, having come full circle — at least for the time being — we head back to the couch to unpause the movie. And to breathe a sigh of relief after a job well done.
Nobody ever claimed that being a Lookie was gonna be easy.