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Front Page » April 15, 2008 » Opinion » Staff column: Denseness is in the eye of the beholder
Published 2,732 days ago

Staff column: Denseness is in the eye of the beholder

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I'm really dense.

I do a lot of dumb things and have a hard time figuring out a lot of things that I should easily understand. I have to look around and wonder, however, if denseness runs in families. My kids aren't dense; my parents and my sisters weren't dense; so where did it come from.

Who knows.

Actually, I think denseness is in the eye of the beholder. After all I know what I don't know or can't do, but I am not sure about what others don't know and can't do. I mean I have to live with myself for 24 hours a day. Even my wife, who knows me the best of anyone in the world, only actually sees me a few hours a day. So that long time I spend with myself might point out flaws I can't see in other people.

Maybe denseness is a ubiquitous commodity that everyone has, and I just don't realize it. So every once in awhile, I get a glimmer of hope from my experience that there are people as dense as me, at least for a few minutes, in the world. Here's a couple of examples.

A couple of months ago a guy who called up the library where my wife works looking for a particular book.

"Hello, this is the library," my wife answered.

"I'm looking for a book," said the guy on the other end of the phone.

"Do you have the title of the book," my wife asked.

"It's a green book," said the caller.

"The title of the book is "It's Green?" asked my wife.

"No, it's a chemistry book," said the caller.

"Do you have the title?"asked my wife again.

"It's called Chemistry for Changing Times," said the caller.

"Is this a text book?" my wife asked.

"Yes," said the person on the other end of the phone.

"Are you sure you meant to call the library and not the bookstore?" she asked.

"Well yeah," said the caller impatiently. "I don't want to buy the book, the semester's almost over already."

"Okay," she said. "But I need to tell you that we generally don't carry textbooks in the library collection. What is that title again?"

"'Chemistry for Changing' times and it's green," the caller said more impatiently.

She looked over the listings and didn't find the book in the library's menu.

"I'm sorry, that's not a title we have in the library," she told the person.

"Did you check in the green books," said the caller emphatically. "I know you have green books in the library."

"We don't have an area just for green books," my wife said, trying to keep her voice from sounding incredulous.

"Then how can you find it?" demanded the caller.

"We check by title, which I already did and we don't own the book," she explained as best she could. "You can either contact the bookstore or talk to your professor to see if he has a copy you can borrow."

"So you will look in the green books," said the caller who was ignoring her explanation that the library has no green book section.

"Please contact your professor," she said trying to end what was obviously turning into a conversation circle. "He is the only one that can help you."

That ended the conversation, but I think the person needs more than a chemistry professor to help them.

Then there are those that take denseness to a whole new level by their actions and not their words.

Back in ancient times when I was going to the University of Utah, I was working as a custodian at a high school in Salt Lake in the evening trying to make enough money to get through the educational process. One April Friday night the boss told us that that weekend the time would be changing to daylight savings time. That meant that all the clocks in that 300,000-square-foot building had to be changed by hand because there was no master clock system. Altogether I and the night supervisor figured there were over 200 regular wall clocks in the building that needed to be changed.

On the crew were two guys who were always fouling things up. Elmer and Gene were kind of like the Three Stooges, but there were only two of them. The night supervisor decided to assign those two guys to go around and change the clocks telling me that "I don't think this is something they can goof up."

After they had finished their regular routine for the evening, and had taken what was a dinner break on swing shift, they began at the north end of the building at 7:30 p.m. and began changing clocks. The night supervisor sent one down one side of the hall and other down the opposite side. He had them coordinate their watches with his and he told them to set all the clocks one hour ahead of what time it was when they set each device.

Later that evening as they approached the finishing point on the south end of the complex, and we were within a half an hour of going home, the night supervisor invited me along to help him check the outside doors to be sure they were locked and in the meantime we peered into each room to make sure that the assigned workers hadn't missed any clocks. We began at the north end of the building where they had started doing the time change and we noticed something odd. As we went down the hall, in each room the clocks appeared to have become progressively slower with the first clocks showing the correct time of 12:30 p.m. (the correct set back time) but each succeeding room was two to three minutes behind the preceding one. When we reached the south end of the building, where we encountered Elmer and Gene who had just finished performing the task, the clocks read 8:35.

As they had gone through the building, they had set all the clocks at 8:30 not accounting for the time that was passing while they were setting them.

"Well you told us to coordinate our watches to 7:30 and that's what we did," said one of them to the night supervisor. "And we set them an hour later, just as you said."

So when denseness strikes, I just have to think about Elmer and Gene and feel thankful that when denseness was passed out, I just got a very small piece of it.

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April 15, 2008
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