Column: In Praise of Quirks

Jujyfruits candy as earplugs? Why not!
Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

At the sobering close of the Michigan-Michigan State game, I turned to walk out of the stadium.

“I’m sorry I was cheering so loud,” said the friendly Michigan State fan behind me.

“No problem,” I said. “I found some earplugs in my pocket.”

I then pulled back my hair and revealed the Jujyfruits candy I’d brought with me to nibble on, but decided instead to use as noise-blockers. They were pliable and non-sticky – much better than real ear plugs. In fact, I spent much of the fourth quarter wondering why the good folks at Jujyfruits don’t promote this idea.

“Quirky,” said me husband, using the word my family frequently dubs my common sense solutions to life’s little challenges.

We all think we know best, and that our way is the best way. But I insist there is always more than one right way to do anything.

“By-the-bookers” are orderly, sensible, clear-thinking people. You want such a person in charge of the school’s fall festival, your taxes, your hip replacement.

I just wish some of these straight-shooters had a little more tolerance for those of us who sometimes think outside the box.

My mother-in-law was a classic by-the-booker. I admired the orderly way she ran the house; and how there was a place for everything, and everything was in it. She was tidy, sensible, dependable.

But you could also depend on her getting agitated at the slightest sign of wayward thought.

If I used safety pins or duct tape to repair a hem – even if it was a temporary fix – she’d flash her What are you thinking? face.

I once spooned some strawberry jam on my vanilla ice cream.

“They make strawberry ice cream topping for that.”

“Same thing, basically.”

“If they were the same thing, they wouldn’t make two different products.”

I reminded her that just as there are many multi-tasking products on the market, there are products still to be discovered. But who’s going to come up with them if we’re all thinking alike?

A creative woman I know says she never takes the first idea that pops in her head because a better idea is always right behind it. If she’s going to design a new T-shirt, she automatically rejects her first image because it’s likely based on something she’s already seen, which means it may not be as original as the next idea.

“Even when I want to do something for a friend, I reject the first notion because that one’s usually what I’d want someone to do for me,” she said. “If I really put some thought into what that particularly person could use right now, I’ll come up with an idea far more fitting.”

Back in 1927, studio executive Harry Warner of Warner Brothers balked at the idea of including sound in his movies.

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” he asked.

Warner eventually opened his mind to the quirky idea of actors actually talking, a move his heirs surely appreciate to this day.

True non-conformists (a group to which I sadly but surely do not belong) seem to flock to either coast.

My brother is a musician/artist/bus driver who has never had a full-time job in his life, and is living happily ever after with his wife and daughter in a flat in San Francisco where he picks lemons from his window and steps over the drunks on his front steps. He gets a kick out of everything. His stories are hilarious. His friends are weirdos. One of the guests at his wedding (in a nightclub) was an Elvis impersonator who came in costume.

My brother couldn’t do the Midwest/mortgage/9-5 thing if his life depended on it. Which, of course, it does.

A good question to ask is: “Why not?”

If I could have my way on this one, I would remove all the furniture from our family room. Instead of couches, chairs and end tables, the room would feature a poker table, a bumper pool table, and a ping pong table. If I could find an old pinball machine that actually works, I’d have one of those, too. We’d have so much fun in that room.

But no, no, no. Such a plan is far too quirky.

So we sit.

That reminds me of the time I was waiting for a flight out of Detroit and there were no seats in the waiting area. When I noticed the shoeshine chair was unoccupied, I climbed up and onto it. (Why not?)

The view was great from up there. In fact, I was able to spot someone I recognized. I called out to her, she came over, and that’s when I learned that she was flying to Florida just for the day. And not on business.

Pat explained that the only way she can survive a Michigan winter is to get a day of sunshine every few weeks. So several times each winter, she books the earliest flight out of Metro to somewhere sunny – usually Fort Lauderdale or Phoenix. Once there, she takes a cab to a hotel, changes into something summery in the restroom, and sits on or near the beach til it’s time to take the last flight of the day back to DTW.

The ticket is a bit expensive. But she doesn’t have to pack, or check luggage, or pay for a hotel.

My grandmother was a by-the-booker who behaved as you would expect a woman her age to behave. Her older sister did what she wanted and had a lot more fun.

When I was about 13, Great Aunt Cora asked me if I’d gotten my ears pierced yet. I told her I didn’t want holes in my ears.

She then showed off the earrings dangling from her newly pierced ears.

“For the first time in my life, my earrings don’t hurt,” she said. “You better get with it, kid.”

Out-cooled by a septuagenarian. Ouch.

I eventually did pierce my ears, and it was a good – if insignificant – decision. More importantly, I learned not to so quickly reject what could be a very interesting idea.

After all: Why not?

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer. Her columns appear monthly in The Chronicle.

Section: Entertainment, Opinion

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One Comment

  1. By Cindy Overmyer
    November 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm | permalink

    Go for it, Jo! As Robert Kennedy always said “Some people see what is and ask why – other see what could be and ask why not?” Out of the box thinking might just come up with the way out of the current messes this country and our communities find ourselves in right now. Plus it’s just a more fun way to live!