Straight Dope

The Straight Dope

It was a trip which began with many wrong turns. I avoided civilization completely, due to the holiday traffic, but it turned dark too soon. I kept turning down the wrong highway in the middle of nowhere. Within a couple of hundred feet, I knew I was going the wrong way. I’d double back and try again. When I got to Hackett, I looked at the bank thermometer and saw that it was 32 degrees— or zero, depending on your scale. It’s always a matter of scale, isn’t it?

I read more Hegel before I slept, but the nightmare didn’t start till the following morning. It began innocently enough. I walked outside to stare at a clear and crisp blue sky with remnants of the moon. I read Barthes and then an essay written by my cousin Wendy about growing up. My mom complained— “that may be the way Wendy remembers it, but I don’t remember it that way”— maybe it’s more a matter of perspective.

It was a fun read though, because of the scene where my brother Steve came up with the idea of painting her sister Julie’s fingernails with Tabasco sauce while she slept to help cure her from chewing on them. That sounded right to me. The trouble usually begins right when Steve gets involved. I haven’t played family mediator for a while, but those skills came back just before dinner when Steve arrived. My mom made a dry comment about Steve not caring about family history when I brought up the story. Steve got insulted and walked outside. I brought the story outside to him and tried to calm things down. I thought it was pretty funny. Wendy calls herself the “flower” of the family — “the blooming idiot.” This is the role I think I usually play in my branch of the clan.

After he read the story, his first comment was “I don’t remember things quite that way.” Wendy had made a big deal about how pious Julie was. “Uh, Julie was the first person to ever show me a Playboy magazine!” Steve said. It blew him away that a girl would read Playboy, let alone share it with him. Needless to say, he was impressed. After we all had a good laugh over the story, things smoothed out. It was a happy Thanksgiving.

The road back was smooth, other than some occasional dips. The temperature on the Hackett bank sign was of a higher caliber tonight— it read 45. Passing through Harmony, Arkansas, I looked at the display board of a church. It read: “The road to Heaven is in front of you— stay straight and keep to the right.” I followed those directions and made it home. I didn’t make any more wrong turns. However, instead of taking me to Heaven, it just took me home.

There was something I’d been meaning to research, and I looked it up tonight— the history of the word dope. It didn’t surprise me that it was stolen from the Dutch— from doop (dipping, sauce, etc.) and doopen— to dip. The oldest usage seems to date to 1851, as a synonym for simpleton. Given the etymology, dipshit also makes more sense now. In 1872, it refers to a preparation, a mixture— and not much later, an unspecified drug. This helps explain the dual usage for preparations like thread dope and pipe dope as well as intoxicating substances. It doesn’t really explain to the latest rap twist on the word as being good though. Surely they’ve been following the public service announcements.

At least now I have an answer for the old anti-drug commercial: “Why do you think they call it dope?”— Because you either dip into it, or dip things in it? Or, perhaps because it is a way of getting sauced?

Yes, I confess. I am easily amused. I’m all for Luke’s movie idea. Lest anyone cares, I’m a straight dope these days.