Friday, March 03, 2006

My Battle with Cliff Clavin Disease

A confession: I suffer from Cliff Clavin Disease. You remember Cliff Clavin, the insufferable mail carrier played by John Ratzenberger on Cheers.

Cliff loved factoids. Even if they weren't factual. Especially if they weren't factual.

A sampling of Clavinisms:
"If you were to go back in history and take every president, you'd find that the numerical value of each letter in their name was equally divisible into the year in which they were elected. By my calculations, our next president has to be named Yellnick McWawa."

"It's a little known fact that the tan became popular in what is known as the Bronze Age."

"I wonder if you know that the harp is a predecessor of the modern day guitar. Early minstrels were much larger people. In fact, they had hands the size of small dogs."
To tell the truth, I was afflicted with Cliff's Disease before Cheers premiered in 1982. While I hope that my factoid-spouting has had a bit more credibility, I was deluging people with "little known facts" almost from the womb.

I'm sure that more than one person muttered in my direction words similar to those of Frasier Crane, another Cheers regular, who once told the Boston mailman, "Hello in there, Cliff. Tell me, what color is the sky in your world?"

It's a little known fact that Cliff Clavin Disease is genetic. And I can prove it. My grandfather, for whom I'm named, used to love clipping items from the newspaper that he found fascinating, tucking them into his wallet, and then expounding on them. When met with disbelief, he could quickly display his evidence.

But, just like Cliff, that didn't stop him from slipping in more than a little fiction with his facts. Like the times he claimed that while serving as a lowly Army NCO in Panama in the 1920s, he had seen military intelligence outlining Japanese plans for attacking Pearl Harbor.

Or his assertion that, in fact, Franklin Roosevelt had not died of a cerebral hemorrhage, but shot himself with a small pistol while posing for his portrait in Warm Springs. (When I presented this assertion as gospel truth during an elementary school history class, my teacher looked at me as though I had two heads and proceeded to correct me.)

Unfortunately, my mother may have been an enabler for my own surrender to this penchant for factoid (and fictionoid)-sharing. When I was little, she maintained a scrapbook of A.O. Leokum's "Tell Me Why" features from our local newspaper just for me. After you've wowed people with your knowledge of a few "little known facts," it becomes addicting and sometimes, you can't resist throwing in a few clinkers.

Through the years, my affliction has been both blessing and bane, mostly bane, I suppose. When the game, Trivial Pursuit, first came out, my friends were caught up in the fad and so, were eager to play. It didn't take long before they stopped the mere mention of the game in my presence, though. That's because when we did play, once it came to be my turn, that was pretty much the end of the game. People would screech at me in disbelief and disgust: "Who knows junk like that? You're not human!"

But, like Cliff and my grandfather, those clinkers--at times, big ones--have gotten thrown into my pronouncements on little known facts. When I was about eight, friends visited my family and at some point, I made an assertion about Abraham Lincoln that was wildly untrue. My parents might have let the whole thing slide had I not been so all-fired pushy about it. My mother finally pulled out an encyclopedia and showed me the facts. I paused for a second and pronounced, "They wrote the book wrong."

I'll never forget the day, back in my twenties, when I argued vehemently with a co-worker that a certain insurance company was owned by JC Penney. When she told me that she had just left a job with said insurance company and knew what she was talking about, I was in too deep, I guess. I told her that she was simply wrong.

Thankfully, in recent years, I tend to try to only assert things I know to be true. Experiences with being wrong, growing up a little, and my faith have probably all played a role in this "softening."

But, occasionally, haplessly, unintentionally, the Clavinisms slip out.

Last weekend, my wife and I went out to dinner at a local Max & Erma's with some old friends. As we waited to be seated, I saw a poster for a concert by the Chieftains. "Oh, the Chieftains," I said knowingly. (Or so I thought.) "Who are they?" one of our friends asked. "They're an Irish group," I said. (So far, so good. They do play Celtic music.) Then came the clinker: "They did that song, 'I Would Walk 500 Miles.'" "Oh."

Nothing more was said. No harm, no foul, I guess. But as articles about the Chieftains' upcoming concert in Cincinnati appeared in the local papers, no mention was made of 'I Would Walk 500 Miles.' I went to the Chieftains' web site. No mention of the song there either. So, I went to Google and learned that it wasn't the Chieftains who did this song.

Sometimes for me, it isn't a matter of "open mouth, insert foot," but of "open mouth, see what comes out."

Fortunately, I've learned that there is a cure for Cliff Clavin Disease: When you don't know what you're talking about, it's always better to keep your mouth shut!

And be prepared to be corrected when you're wrong.

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for unleashing another one of his instalanches on this site. To all visiting by way of Instapundit, feel free to roam around here for a time. You might find other interesting stuff. Thanks for dropping by!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Dr. Melissa Clouthier, whose web site is called Dr. Melissa Clouthier, has linked to this post. (She refers to me as "a guy." It's the same designation given to me by the husband of a woman whose car I hit some thirty years ago when, tired and distracted, I ran a red light. As we sat in the back seat of a police cruiser, I heard him say to his wife, "This guy probably doesn't have any insurance." I did. In spite of eliciting that bad memory, I really appreciate the link, Melissa!)

Melissa said that she laughed out loud at my post and went on to talk about her own battle with CCD. Very funny! By the way, the truly funny person in my family can be found here.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Meep Meep Meep Meep Meep and Steve Baxter of Things That Make Me Think for linking to this post!

STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: Joe Sherlock at The View Through the Windshield has linked to this post. Thanks, Joe!

AND STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: Bobby Rozzell was kind enough to link to this post. Thanks a lot!

AND STILL YET ANOTHER UPDATE: (This one being added on the evening of March 19.) Phil Gerbyshak has linked to this post. Phil challenges readers to "make it great!" Thank you, Phil.


Electronic Bubba said...

i get them instylunchs from that lil ol renoylds feller all the time! conrats!

Soccer Dad said...

If I remember correctly that "what color is the sky" remark came in response to Cliff claiming to be from the Romanov's or some royal family.
Later in Frasier, Frasier and Niles discover an heirloom that suggest that they are descendents of the Romanovs.
I enjoyed your reminisce almost as much as I enjoy eating rattlesnake, which very few people realize tastes just like chicken.

_Jon said...

I have a good friend who does this constantly - as do I. On some weekends we have spent the entire time exchanging - and expounding upon - a series of "Did you know?" comments.

While I too will throw out a whopper, he never has. I've been aware of nearly every topic he has broached and I've never found my friend to be wrong.

Kind of maddening, actually.

submandave said...

My brother and I were banned from being on the same Trivial Pursuit team after a particularly strong performance.

We were on our way out the door when some friends started to set up for a game. Checking his watch, Patrick said "OK, we've got five minutes." We left on time.

Meade said...

Charmingly human, humble, and humorous. Do I detect Richard Lawrence Cohen's artistry rubbing off on your own writings? Really, excellent.

Btw, if you missed the Chieftains last week, you really do owe it to yourself to get down to Music Hall this Sunday for The Blind Boys of Alabama.

chris smith said...

For good justice, the humor of Steven Wright takes Clavinism into another realm...

Mark Daniels said...

Bubba: Reynolds has linked here about four other times, I think. The size of his audience and the influence he has on them to go to the sites he recommends amazes me!

David: Yes. Carla tells Cliff he has a big mouth. He says, "She's right you know. The Clavins have an extra set of teeth. It's the only way we can prove that we're the rightful heirs to the Russian throne" or some such. That's when Frasier hits him with the "what color is the sky" line.

Jon: The sad thing is that most of my whoppers are unintentional. At least an intentional fibber doesn't look dumb!

Submandave: You guys are good!

Meade: I've heard the Blind Boys on the radio. Are you planning on going to the concert? They're really not my cup of tea. I'm a lowbrow rocker. I've been listening to the new Strokes CD, for example. (I can't decide whether I like it yet or not.) I've also been listening to Coldplay, Fono, U2, Bruce Cockburn, and the latest McCartney CD a lot these days.

As far as the Cohen influence, it may be there. But I'm not even worthy of using a compressed gas duster on his keyboatd!

Chris:I love Steven Wright!

Thanks to all for dropping by and for your comments!


moe berg said...

guilty as well.

read way too much arkady leokum as a kid.

S E R said...

I was reminded reading your post that it's a little known fact that most bloggers have Cliff Clavin disease. Of course the Postal Service would like you to believe that postal service is off due to email, but studies have shown that is because most postal carriers are now blogging.

Nancy said...

You know what? It's like bits of information floating around in your brain and a connection is forced when conversation is necessary, even if the information isn't necessarily connected.

The Chieftans - Celtic; The 500 Miles Song - sung by Celtic-ish guys; both music. Aha, your subconcious brain announces to your conscious brain that a connection has been made.

And - good grief - I think I'm slipping into Clavenisms now. Never mind!

Mark Daniels said...

mb, ser, and nancy: It looks to me as though we have the makings of a support group.


Melissa Clouthier said...

Mark, I have a support group for gluttonous information bloggers. Read my blog, I can help you (acquire more information). Really, come eat the candy, it's okay, it won't hurt you.

jeff said...

While not up to submandave's level, others like to have me on their Trivial Pursuit team.

And yeah, people in the Army and at school nicknamed me "Cliff."

Harrison said...

Well, use all that stuff and make it pay off. AHM used it to become a Jeopardy! champion.

XWL said...

Did you know that the word testimony comes from the greek word testes?

Yep, seems since they were afraid that people would lie about which god they hold most sacred, and as only men were allowed to bare witness in court, they smartly figured the best way to insure truthfulness was to have people swear by their 'family jewels' and henceforth swearing in court has been known as 'testimony'.

I've no idea whether eunuchs were barred along with women from 'testifying'.

(This particular 'did you know' may or may not be true, but really don't you want it to be true?)

And to assert my 'know-it'all' bona fides, I've passed the Jeopardy! test a few times (Am still waiting for the call though)

Mark Daniels said...

XWL: While I haven't spent a lot of time on it, the sources I've checked don't support that etymology, but Cliff would be proud of you!

Harrison: I'll show my ignorance. Who is AHM?

Jeff: How'd you feel about that nickname?

Dr. Melissa: I enjoyed checking out your blog.

Thanks to all of you for coming to 'Better Living' and for your comments. I hope that you'll visit and dialog again.


JZ said...

Here's a Clavinism that my daughter, a Cheers devotee, repeats: "Due to the shape of its esophagus, even if it could speak the South American llama could not pronounce the word Lasagna."

JZ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Daniels said...

JZ: Given that llamas are notoriously averse to lasagna, that's fortunate.


G. Bob said...

I once suffered from this disease (It's a little known fact that the disease started in Africa. That's why you see so many tribal people place metal rings in their lips.) Then I found the cure. Spend time with somebody who has a worse case than yours.

On Sunday nights I play a poker game where one of the regulars is like an evil cracked mirror that has cured me of this particular affliction. If it snows he'll say something along the lines of "you should be carefull dricing. A sedan only has a .32 coefficent on icy roads." or "I loved 'The Day After' because the science was so good in it'". He also firmly believes that Europe didn't know about algebra untill it was stolen from the Myans....which they used for their calender that predicted global warming.

What makes his world so much fun is his absolute inability to accept when he's wrong. After "Rome" came to HBO he became obssesed with the supremacy of Roman culture. At one point he became very insistant that the Romans invented the crossbow, and that legions were equiped with them. It being a poker game, I had enough and bet him 300 dollars that he was wrong. Going over to a computer I pulled up a research paper on the invention of the crossbow. He rejected it since "everyone knows Brown university doesn't have a good history program. They must be mistaken."

Every time I every feel a useless bit of knowledge bubbling in my skull waiting to get out, I think of Randy and the urge subsides.

Sadly, his goal in life is to be a history teacher. Is our children learning? Not once he starts teaching....then again, he's been in college for over ten years so I'm not that worried.

Meade said...

G. Bob: Great story! I have a good friend who suffers from the disease. He begins every, er, lesson with, "It's widely known that..." When you catch him on a factoid that isn't true, he responds, "I didn't say it's true. I said it's 'widely known.'"

He's never exactly wrong.

Mark Daniels said...

G. Bob: I agree with Meade. That story is classic. But then I suppose that one can't be a real Cliff Clavin without a healthy dollop of denial thrown into one's personality.

Just consider the overwhelming need CCD-sufferers can exhibit for a world that always makes sense, over which they feel they have control because they know it.

So, I take it that Randy didn't pay up on your $300 bet.


Meade said...

One night at Cheers, Cliff Clavin explained the" Buffalo Theory" to his buddy Norm: "Well ya see, Norm, it's like this. A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the
slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, use the general speed and health of the whole group keeps living by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few

Mark Daniels said...

In some circles I'm sure that Clavinism is accepted as Gospel-truth.