When I was a child, I had a wonderful book called The Nonsense Book by Edward Lear, of riddles and jump rope rhymes, knock knock jokes, and logic puzzles. There were great illustrations here and there, but by far, the riddles section was my favorite. No contest. I learned every version of “What’s white and black and red all over,” and I could fire them off like any of the Catholic prayers drilled into me by the nuns of my primary school. Except the riddles were met with groans, and as far as I know, God didn’t groan at me, even when I was going through a whole rosary as penance for telling Danny McGuinness he had a fat head.
I can’t conjure up the whole list of white and black and red all over riddles anymore, though I’ve retained a few, but over these last few decades much of what lay between The Nonsense Book’s covers has become something of a cultural touchpoint for me. It’s a reference that pops up now and again, like when I’m trying to explain a layered conundrum: I’ll say something like, “You have a wolf, a cat, and a chicken, and you have to cross a river, but you can only take two animals at a time.” Or there will come a time when the lyrical “Not last night but the night before, 24 robbers came a’knocking at my door.”
Okay, maybe it’s not that often, but it’s often enough that I’ll have occasion to recall something from the tome. What may be more telling isn’t what I reflect on, but in what context. For example:
My brother-in-law, Susanne’s younger sibling, who lives in Portland, came up on Wednesday evening to spend the Christmas holiday with us. We planned to see a couple of movies, play board games and cards, have a few nice meals, and generally catch up. As none of us have any offspring, it would be a quiet, leisurely event.
We live in a one-bedroom with no dishwasher and no private laundry. These were the trade offs I made when searching for a cheap 6-month rental, because having a wall seemed critical to our continued success as a married couple. But this means that when guests stay with us, as has happened a few times while we’ve lived here, that they’re on a futon in the living room. And while I appreciate our single wall, let’s note for the record that the entrance to this small bedroom, only big enough for our queen-sized bed, is a French door.
Yes, the door to our bedroom is made of glass. Which is see through. When someone is sleeping over at our place, we drape a long towel over the door for some semblance of privacy, and it’s low-budget plus tacky, but hey, we only have a fifth of our material possessions in our temporary abode, so we have to make things work in a pinch. Towel Door is just such a pinch.
Towel Door, however, was created from my towel. As in the one I need when I dry off my wet, fat, naked body after I shower.
As in I’ve just gotten out of the shower when I realize my towel is hanging over our bedroom door and is not in the bathroom with me.
Then the cold air hits me, wedging itself into the multitude of water droplets that are clinging to my skin. I shiver, my teeth begin to chatter. I look at a short stack of washcloths and do some quick math—absorbency rate versus the real estate of my wet self—and I shake my head. This is bad. I could put on my t-shirt and boxers that I wore in here before my troubles began, and they would cling to me while I left wet footprints down the hall and to our bedroom. It wasn’t promising.
I spied it, just then, one of our luxury towels scored from a wedding guest—a hand towel, about 14 inches long and 8 inches wide, otherwise known as legal paper-sized. It would have to do.
And here is where I flashed to a riddle from The Nonsense Book.
Q. What gets wetter the more it dries?
A. A towel.
Thank you, Nonsense Book, for explaining my own idiocy to me. It’s like little pieces of my klutzy walk through life were foretold in the book.