Schwab: Rudolph knows rain, dear, but the fog story’s a hoax

Coming down from a Italian gelato high, Sid muses on calculus, puns and a certain reindeer myth.

By Sid Schwab / Herald Columnist

Crossing nine time zones to return home after three weeks away, arriving around midnight after 24 hours of sleepless travel, leaves one with a fogged brain. This one, anyway. Which explains the absence of a column last week. And, perhaps, the following fatuous, foggish frivolity, as I’m not yet ready to give up my gelato high and get serious.

So:

There was a time when I was really good at math. In high school, I took advanced calculus, did more than passably well on the math SAT. By my calculation, that was in 1962. The last time higher math had any personal importance was the last day of freshman year in college, where I also took calculus, which, to the chagrin of English majors, was required at the time. Last exam, last thought, last relevance. Not even in medical school. My guess is the same can be said for all takers of calculus who aren’t currently working for NASA. Nowadays, I couldn’t integrate my way out of a wet paper derivative. Its terminology is as foreign to me now as Mandarin Chinese.

I did, however, get one thing out of it of lasting importance. Mister Rogers, the other one, my high school math teacher, demanded the invention of original puns. Never one to pass up an opportunity for approval, I ran through a bunch of phrases that might be fertile, and came up with one. (I interject that since it’s now past Thanksgiving, any reference to Christmas, however indirect, is acceptable.) (Also parenthetically, as a woke liberal, hearing “Merry Christmas” doesn’t offend me. I say it right back. Same with “Happy Holidays.” It’s not a war and never was.) But I digress. Here’s the pun:

Natasha and Rudolph live in a cabin in the woods not far from Moscow. One morning Rudolph gets out of bed, goes to the window, opens the curtains, and says, “Wow, Natasha, it’s raining really hard!” Still in bed, Natasha says, “From here, it looks like snow.” “Nyet. It’s definitely rain. Not snow.” “Are you sure,” asks Natasha? “Look,” he says, annoyed. “Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear.”

This remarkable event happened down there in Portland, where I grew up. Thirty years later, more or less, I was driving through, listening to a local radio station, when the DJ told that very joke. This led me to consider (calculate?) several possibilities: 1) my brilliance lived on in the town of its birth, finally grapevining its way onto the radio; 2) someone else had thought of the same thing; or 3) it wasn’t original at all when I came up with it. Maybe I’d heard it before and didn’t remember.

Having just entered my 80th year, crossing that threshold bearing the typical (I hope) memory failings of the age, I can relate to the idea of having heard and forgotten. But I didn’t. For one thing, I was more than 60 years younger. I made it up, as surely as f(x) indicates … something. Which is not to say someone else might not have, as well. But, surely, that’s not important right now. What is, is the song.

Much as I liked Burl Ives, who ended up living and dying in nearby Anacortes, and who, I think, is most associated with singing it, I’ve finally realized it makes no sense. Notwithstanding our love for redemption stories, tales of people overcoming handicaps or other obstacles to become successful, Rudolph’s saga isn’t. Sure, his pinkish proboscis made him a pariah until that pre-Christmas night; and, yes, he became — assuming the story is true — a popular polar protagonist, proactively.

But, really: Around here we know fog, which is sort of how this column began. We’ve experienced multiday stretches of impenetrable and unrelenting fog, such that one can’t see oncoming headlights till they’re mere feet away.

It’s treacherous. But who among us would address the problem by placing a red light bulb on the hood of their car? How would that “guide” us anywhere but into a tree, or worse? Unless Rudolph’s nose was the “on” button of a radar dome, sticking him up front would have done Santa less good than a quadratic equation does me.

That’s just a fact, and it’s time we recognized it as such. Christmas is Christmas; but, c’mon! Rudolph? Unlike climate change, his story, the song, is a hoax. How could we, even as children, have fallen for it? Was it the strength of Ive’s Burly charm?

In contrast, Donald Trump is a would-be dictator and his most ardent followers are fascists.

Ah! The fog is lifting.

Email Sid Schwab at columnsid@gmail.com.

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