Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Checkered Pants

When I was young, I used to enjoy reading the tales of Paul Bunyan, the giant logger who tamed the American wilderness along with Babe the Blue Ox and Paul's colorful crew of lumberjacks. I guess they'd be sort of anti-heroes now, since chopping down trees is not cool, just in the way that Pecos Bill, Daniel Boone and bear killing Davy Crockett would be anti-heroes, though of course the latter two were actual personages.

I was just remembering the story of Sandy McNabb and his checkered pants. One of Paul's crew members, Sandy regularly wore a pair of checkered pants and was perfectly happy with these until one day when another crew member asked him whether those pants were black with white checks or white with black checks.

Well, this question got right into Sandy's head and stuck fast there. He began to ponder the thing day and night, such that it tormented him unceasingly. Indeed, were the pants black with white checks or white with black checks? How could one possibly know? How could one ever find out? One simply could not. These pants, once so natural seeming and cozy, had become an unbearable enigma, a curse, a plague, and he must walk about day by day in this indeterminate, insoluble world of doubt, with no escape from the eternal question of those pants.

Well, rather than just change the pants or buy a new pair, poor Sandy went mad, and was no more use to Paul or himself or the world. So things go in tall tales.

And sometimes in life, too. There are some questions that are just plain questions, and are happy that way. They don't come with answers. As questions, they are true enough to themselves, as clear as black and white.

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