Kinds of Smart

Humorist Will Rogers once said, “Smart people are just as dumb as the rest of us. They’re just dumb in different things.”

The Mensa society has just one requirement to become a member. You have to be smarter than 98 percent of the population as measured by an IQ or other recognized test. Yet I’m told these folks struggle mightily with bylaws and other organizational minutiae that are taken in stride by lesser mortals.

I once interviewed a university professor whose specialty was identifying various types of intelligence. He had distilled six general categories including memory, creativity, organization, forecasting, and emotional, and management skills. He told me that the standardized measures for smartness are too narrow and often impractical. He said, “We give out grades based on who can absorb the most information and then regurgitate it back on a test. He said, “Suppose you were interviewing for a job, and they asked ‘What do you do well?’ You answered, tell me something and I’ll tell it back to you. They would probably say, ‘Why would I want you to pay you to tell me something I already know?’”

He said that in school we give approval to the person whose hand flies up first with the right answer. Meanwhile the kid on the back row who has dreamed up a hundred reasons why he didn’t get his assignment finished is probably not going to be rewarded for his creativity. That had a familiar ring.

Back in eighth grade math class Mr. Holliday looked at my paper scribbled with numbers in haphazard paternless scrawls. But at the bottom triumphantly circled was miraculously the right answer. The fact that I can still remember that moment after more decades than my math impaired brain wants to calculate tells you how often I achieved such success in the numbers games. Mr. Holliday analyzed my accomplishment and announced to me and the class, “Duane, you’re nothing but an old slop.” I thought we were doing math not graphic design. I would have been more artistic in drawing my numbers but probably not much more.

Many years ago in the Tonga Islands a mechanic I knew could not speak English, but he could speak engine. He could put his ear to a car or a motorcycle, or lay his hand on it and invariably know what was ailing it.

I have a friend whose knowledge of nature is encyclopedic, but he has a hard time organizing it in conversations and presentations.

I have the opposite problem. I’m fairly good at arranging and presenting what I know, but I don’t know that much.

At the extreme edge of this list of specialized smartness is the late Kim Peek of Ogden Utah. He was the inspiration for the Movie The Rain Man. He could not get the hang of how to button his shirt or walk up stairs, but he read more than 16,000 books, and essentially memorized 9,000.. He would read both open pages at a time one with each eye moving straight down the page in about 10 seconds. In front of an audience he could field questions on any subject, from sports to classical music to history of the royal house of England; answer in detail, and almost always be right. . He could recite pages and pages from telephone books he had read, and he knew the street names of more cities in the world than most of us know exist. At age six, a doctor diagnosed him as hopelessly retarded and recommended a lobotomy. But by then Kim had read and memorized seven volumes of the family’s encyclopedia. Nobody knows how he learned how to read.

What a marvelous garden of varied minds, outlooks, skills and specialties we live among. I’m convinced everybody has the divine spark of genius in some mental, emotional, spiritual and/or other categories we haven’t even discovered yet. We just need to find out what our genius is, develop it and use it to help others.

Traveling Light

“Faster Ferron, faster,” my mother encouraged.

Dad tightened his jaw muscle and bore down a little on the accelerator pedal.

My brother on the front fender gripped the small sailing ship medallion on the hood that signified we were driving a Plymouth. The breeze began to blow his hair as we moved a bit faster into the darkness; black night penetrated feebly by the wavering beam of a flashlight, and the receding headlights of the car in front of us.

I hunkered down in the back seat, glad I was only the kid brother and hoping mom wouldn’t think of something adventurous for me in this project.

One of the unsung miracles of this world is how a man and a woman of different backgrounds, tastes, opinions, and perspectives can bond together in love so strong that their differences unite instead of divide them

My mother enjoyed traveling. My father broke out in a cold sweat when we passed the city limits.

My mother liked to see what was over the next hill. My father was convinced our car would collapse before we got to the top of the present hill. He had case histories to substantiate his forebodings.

But this time would be different Mom assured us all. We would go see the famous natural wonders of Southern Utah, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and even Grand Canyon. The biggest wonder of it all for us children was that Dad agreed to take us.

Part of his boldness came from our fairly new sedan. It just might make the trip without breaking down.

We got a late start, but at least we started. We sang songs, watched for out of state license plates, and memorized the immortal poetry on the little red Burma Shave signs along the highway. Each sign carried a line of the poem. We even read them backwards from the opposite side of the road. We would assign each person to look back and catch the line on the receding sign. Then we would. recombine them to put the poem together. Great American literature such as,

“Don’t stick your elbow (next sign)

Out too far (next sign)

It might go off (next sign)

With another car (last sign) Burma Shave.”

The car purred all afternoon and into the night. Darkness closed in on us in the southern Utah sagebrush prairie. Suddenly the road went black. Dad jammed on the brakes, felt his way over to the shoulder of the road, and fulfilled his duty as a prophet. “I knew it,” he pronounced.

Mom characteristically saw this as at worst a problem to be solved, and maybe an adventure to be had. “Gordon, take this flashlight and sit on the front fender and shine it on the road so your dad can drive.” Apparently it never occurred to her that with no tail lights some speeding semi might not see us in the darkness and launch us to an aerial view of The Grand Canyon.

Gordon was more obedient than enthusiastic. We started slowly. Mom said, “You can go a little faster Ferron.” Dad eased the accelerator down. The speedometer needle lifted slowly off the bottom and crept upward. Gordon gripped the flashlight with one hand, and the sailing ship with his other tight fist.

Car headlights appeared far back on the straight road behind us.

“Whiplash coming up,” Dad said.

“He’ll help us,” Mom said. She rolled down the window and shouted, “Gordon, shine the flashlight back so he can see us.”

Gordon did.

“I can’t see the road,” Dad hollered.

The flashlight beam vacillated between the road in front and the car behind.

As the car approached he slowed down, either to help or suspicious of a dark car sneaking down the road by flashlight.

He passed us and began slowly pulling away.

“Ferron he’s going slowly so we can see by his headlights. Stay with him,” Mom exclaimed.

“I don’t think so,” Dad said, but he increased his speed anyway.

The car in front did the same.

Dad did the same.

“Go faster Ferron. He just wants to help us get to a town sooner,” Mom shouted.

“He thinks we’re a bunch of smugglers or worse,” Dad answered.

Despite Mom’s cheerleading the gap was widening. He sped up, and we stuck on his tail. Fear overcame his Good Sameritanism. He slammed the accelerator to the floor. A black space appeared between us..

“I can’t see,” Dad shouted and instinctively jammed on the brakes. In the darkness we watched a flashlight beam turning summersaults across the sagebrush plain.

Gordon staggered back dizzy but unscathed.

Mom said, “Quite an adventure.”

Dad said ,“Just what I expected.”

“Three” and The Three D’s

“Three” was a big number for The Three D’s. Not only was it a third of our name, but it seemed to be ruling the entertainment industry of which we were a part. The big gate keepers were all grouped into threes. There were three main movie companies, Columbia, MGM, and Paramount; three record companies, Capitol, Columbia, and Decca; and three radio/television networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS. If you were not connected in with one of them, progress up was a long hard road.

Speaking of which, even the road was dominated by the big three, Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler. We toured in our elegant camper on the backs of a succession of Ford trucks, a tough Chevy, and considered a Dodge once but changed our minds.

Sometimes in the hours and miles traveling between gigs I burned a few brain cells pondering the threes in our society. Profound questions like, “Why do so many jokes start out, ‘Once there were three…’ Why do they give a gold, a silver and a bronze medal in the Olympics? Why not a zinc medal for fourth place? If there were only two blind mice would the song be one third less popular? Why does the parade queen have two attendants, so she won’t fall off either side of the float? Or this heavyweight theological question, I have heard it said that in the battle for men’s/women’s souls, the forces of good and evil are relatively equal so the individual has to make the choice which side will win. Are there three on each side? Faith, hope and charity opposed by wine women and song? Some people believe good and bad things happen in threes. Could a gambler break the bank by loading up on his next two bets after he has won one? Or is gambling itself so bad that it overshadows his little winning spree? He really has two more “bads” coming and doesn’t know it. #2 he gets robbed coming out of the casino. #3 chasing the crook into the street he gets run over by an 18 wheel truck. Upside, is his spirit winging toward heaven now eligible for three good things at the judgment bar? These are deep metaphysical questions I have yet to resolve. I suppose you could write a funny book or a boring research paper on our society’s obsession with three.

But back to work. In our business our connection with one of the big three of the big three was Capitol Records. We were fortunate to be signed shortly before the Kingston Trio left Capitol, so it was a sweet spot to be dropped into. Having Capitol Records snuggled up next to us on our promotional material opened many doors.

Then came a fateful late night in the recording studio. Our producer kept reminding us that the song we were working on had the potential to climb the charts. He was experienced in the Hollywood music scene, and we listened to him respectfully when he told us we could have a hit on our hands here.

Just one problem, the more takes we did trying to get it perfect, the less it sounded like The Three D’s and more like a formula product rock and roll group. I hasten to add that contrary to what my children would tell you, I’m not against all rock, just bad rock, and to us this rock was starting to sink like a stone.

I said to our producer, “Dave, we feel like we are going the wrong direction.”

“Don’t you think it will sell,” Dave said.

“That’s not the point.” I lost him on that one. “We are not on track to be the next Beatles, but we have fans who love and support us. The way this song is going would be a betrayal of their confidence in us.”

The studio got very quiet. The backup musicians looked puzzled, or looked away.

Outwardly Dave tried to convince us that this was the current trend, and we’d be successful if we went along with it. Inwardly he must have been thinking, “How did I ever get hooked up with these corn ball country boys?”

As you might guess, by today’s standards this song would sound suitable for a church service. But for that day, we felt it was pushing the envelope of good taste, not what we wanted to portray.

We couldn’t reach a meeting of minds, so the musicians packed up. Dave stomped off shaking his head. We left with feelings of foreboding.

But the next day, Dave, the musicians, and the executives at Capitol Records all complimented us on sticking to our values, and assured us we were a credit to their company and had a great future with them.

Not.

They cancelled our contract, told us how naïve and foolish we were, and showed us the door.

It was a dark day in our career. But we would do it again. When you are a Christian trying to be worthy of the name, and you feel that impression from above as we did that night, there is one three that supersedes all the rest. That would be The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost.

The Great Train Robbery

I was once asked to write and direct a movie featuring the youth of our church ward (congregation). So I pulled out my smart phone, pointed it at the young people and wrapped up the project in 15 minutes.

Not.

This was in another age, shortly after painting on cave walls was going out of style, according to my children and especially my grandchildren. We used “portable” motion picture cameras mounted on tripods. We used subtitles because sound for amateur movies had not yet been developed. Or as my grandchildren assume, language had not yet been invented. The technology was so ancient; we took actual photos on a transparent tape called “film.” The project took not 15 minutes, more like 15 months.

I borrowed the title from a 1903 epic “The Great Train Robbery:” a 12 minute production which was “absolutely the superior of any moving picture ever made,” according to its catalogue description.

We wanted our movie to be somewhat longer. Fortunately we had in our ward a cinematographer who taught at Brigham Young University. We also had a slew of horse owners. And we had a historic old train called the Heber Creeper because it was used to ferry tourists up Provo Canyon to a little town named Heber. We were practically outfitted enough to rob a real train, but decided we would finance the project another way.

Like the title, the plot of our movie was old. Lonely miners learn of a train filled with a bevy of beauties bound for the theaters in San Francisco. They decide to stop the train, kidnap the comely wenches and woo then into wanting to marry them. More on that later. Try to control your enthusiasm.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, or in this case, back at the backyards, the neighbors and friends were grooming their motley herd of horses for their debut. The horses ranged from glue factory fodder to Jim Nixon’s multi-thousand dollar purebred Arabians. We also had one super star, at least in his own mind, a donkey known well in the neighborhood as the community alarm clock. Early every morning he was faithfully at his post braying in the dawn.

Since this was a church project, we hoped it would not only give our young people a memorable experience, but also teach them valuable character traits. Such as standing firm on their principles in a world where people are often, in the words of St. James, “Driven with the wind and tossed.”

I arranged with the Heber Creeper to have the train stop at the shore of a scenic mountain lake. Our miners would be waiting to storm the train, and sweep away with the fair maidens.

As you know, movies are not shot chronologically, but in scenes which are then strung together in the proper order in the editing room.

So to expedite things and not keep the train passengers waiting, the miners were already mounted with their lovely captives on the horses. We would film them riding romantically away with their future wives to a mountain hotel. Their would-be husbands would then court them properly to persuade the girls to marry them. The plot thickens here.

Came the day of the Great Shoot for The Great Train Robbery. We gathered the motley horse herd and motley horse trailers at the church. Timing was critical. We didn’t want to miss the train. Unfortunately the horses didn’t know that, or care. But we finally coaxed, cajoled, and cussed them on board.

Except His Majesty the donkey. Apparently dissatisfied with his billing on the marquee, or unwilling to be photographed in the company of horses, he refused to budge out of his corral.

I tied a stout rope to his halter, fastened the other end to the bumper of my unstout four cylinder Volkswagen bus and The Great Tug of War for the Great Train Robbery began; forty horse power against one donkey power. It was a standoff. The bus didn’t stall, and the donkey didn’t step. Straight legged, firm as a statue he scraped up the road to the waiting trailer. Many hands lifted him on board, and we were off.

By the tracks at the water’s edge we heard a train whistle in the distance. The boys nervously pulled their bandanas over their mouths and noses. The girls hugged their captors’ waists for security. The Horses pawed the ground a little in anticipation.

“Here she comes,” the boys shouted as the train rounded a bend.

In the festive spirit of the occasion, the engineer blew his whistle. The plaintive moan in the distance was a sonic blast up close.

Every horse spooked for the hills. Miners and their fair maidens were launched in every direction. A couple of horses crossed paths with a creek. Spooked by the water they hit the brakes and catapulted their riders into the stream. Some youths hung on and sped up the mountain until their winded mounts wheezed to a halt.

Amidst the panic and confusion, only one stood steadfast at his post, braying at the top of his lungs. The engineer paused his train, but finding no one but a donkey in sight, he put on the steam and rolled on down the tracks. Or so he thought. From the perspective of the star of our show, steadfastness and non flinching had won the day. He was not, “driven with the wind and tossed.” Single voicedly: he had driven away the enemy.

Somewhere perhaps St. James is smiling.