Lazy writers short on wit and insight love to throw around Mark Twain quotes.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble,” runs a favorite Twain-ism. “It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Ain’t that the truth. None of us are as smart as we think we are and that goes double for lazy writers. Still, you don’t have to be clever or wise to know that not every tasty little trifle we pick up in conversation will pass rigorous academic review. Fact is, our brains are chock-full of fun and interesting factoids that we treasure up like buffalo nickels and spend with a generous hand when we feel the need to impress. It’s just too bad that a lot of those lovely buffaloes aren’t worth a plugged nickel. If you’re a lazy writer, stop reading here. Everyone else, prepare to be disappointed.
If you swim too soon after eating, you’ll get cramps and could drown.
Sorry, Mom, but it just ain’t so. Experts at the Mayo Clinic find no scientific validity to this old chestnut. While it’s true that digestion diverts energy from the arms and legs, it won’t impede the ability to swim any more than running the air conditioner impedes your car’s ability to drive. On the other hand, any kind of physical activity on a full stomach can be uncomfortable, so giving that sub sandwich
30 minutes to settle isn’t necessarily bad policy.
Einstein failed math.
As if! Albert Einstein mastered differential and integral calculus before the age of 15. He was, however, turned away from Zurich’s prestigious Federal Polytechnic School for botching the liberal arts section of its entrance examination. And while, by his own account, Einstein constantly bridled against the
“mechanical discipline” imposed by his teachers, from early age he never met a mathematics or physics question he couldn’t crush.
It’s dangerous to wake up a sleepwalker.
This too-common caution comes down to us from misty history. Scholars of the Middle Ages believed that a sleepwalker’s consciousness remained snug in bed while their anatomy ambled around on autopilot, and that waking someone in that cloven condition risked a permanent schism of body and soul. Nobody schooled in the science of somnambulation loses sleep about that anymore, but old notions—especially macabre ones—die hard. These days, sleep docs are united in the opinion that rousing a sleepwalker risks momentary disorientation at worst. They remain divided, however, between those who feel it’s probably nicer to just let sleepwalkers go on sleeping, and those who think that a little confusion is better than sleepwalking into traffic or a tumble down the stairs.
A penny dropped off of the Empire State Building could kill someone.
Only if it’s taped to a ham. The Empire State Building’s upper observation deck rests 1,050 feet above the sidewalk. A penny weighs 2.5 grams and has a maximum terminal velocity of 50 miles per hour. No doubt a penny falling 102 stories onto your bean would smart like a… um… it would really hurt. But it wouldn’t seriously hurt you, let alone kill you.
Napoleon was short.
Mensonges Anglais! Indeed, the Little Corporal stood 5 feet 6 inches from chaussure to chapeau, a bit above average height for a Frenchman of the 19th century. That he seems to have shrunk over time is at least in part the fault of the Brits, who took snotty delight in referring to the Europe’s Top Frog as “Little Boney.” Not helping his Big Man image, when in public view, Napoleon was at all times surrounded by an Imperial Guard composed of men well above average stature. And then there’s his autopsy, during which a French doctor recorded Napoleon’s height as 5’2” in the official French inches of the time, which were longer than English (and American) inches, which everybody inconveniently forgot, if they ever even knew it to begin with. Either way, Napoleon’s diminutive reputation doesn’t portray the true measure of the man.
You only use 10 percent of your brain
That’s 100 percent hooey. Different parts of the brain perform different functions, and while you’re probably tapping a relatively small portion of your cranial capacity at any given moment, you’ll use most of your brain, if not all of it, during the course of a typical day.
The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible to the naked eye from space.
For this oh-so-amazing piece of fiction we can probably thank the Chinese Ministry of Tourism. In fact, the Great Wall is not visible to the naked eye from space. In fact, if the Great Wall of China is a whopping 13,000 miles long, it’s only 29 feet wide on average, and just 55 feet wide at maximum, which are both less than the minimum 70 feet of pavement between the weeds on either side of your average Interstate highway, which isn’t visible from space either. In fact, even from an extra-low Earth orbit of 100 miles—the closest possible—no artifact of Man is distinctly discernible to the naked human eye, including the Great Pyramid, which sprawls 755 feet on a side. In fact, the only evidence of human occupation visible from space is the light beamed skyward from our larger towns and cities at night.
Dogs don’t see colors.
Sez hue? Human eyes are trichromatic, a 6-bit word meaning they can detect red, yellow and blue, and the various shades blended therefrom. Dog eyes are bichromatic, tuned only to the narrower yellow and blue spectrum. Dogs don’t see the same rainbow we do, but they know blue skies from bananas.
We could go on and on. And on. But we won’t, because that’s enough disillusionment for one day, and you probably get the point. We seem to know all kinds of things that just ain’t so, and, as it turns out, some of them are the immortal words of Mark Twain. According to the astute scholars at the Center for Mark Twain Studies (yes, Virginia, there is one), Twain neither penned nor pronounced the above quotation, although he did express that general sentiment more than once. In fact, as near as they can figure, the popular “just ain’t so” comment is an anonymous mash-up of kindred quips by celebrated humorists from Artemus Ward to Josh Billings, Will Rogers and, of course, Sam Clemens. If it makes you feel any better, you can think of it as “distilled wisdom.” That’s what lazy writers do.
Two more unsuccessful attempts were made to revive Tiny Town, but it wasn’t until 1987, when the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management assumed its stewardship, that Turner’s half-pint hamlet rested again upon a firm financial footing. A Realtor in previous life, Nedoma spent many a happy off-hour volunteering there, and by an unbeatable blend of ability, enthusiasm and pure affection eventually earned a shot at the best gig in town.
“I was the first woman in 85 years to become an engineer on the Tiny Town Railroad,” she smiles. “It’s still the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Today, Nedoma is loving curator to more than 100 small structures and five Lilliputian locomotives, gracious host to about 80,000 visitors a year, and the woman charged with saving a beloved survivor of devastating fire and catastrophic flood from final destruction by economic drought. If Nedoma has become expert at doing much with little, without a revenue stream, Tiny Town is fast slipping under water.
“The bills don’t stop,” she shrugs.
There’s the lease on the land, of course, and insurance to be paid, and the constant demands of groundskeeping. By far, Nedoma’s biggest expense is maintaining her famous railroad’s track and rolling stock in apple pie order, and the never-ending task of keeping Tiny Town’s abbreviated architecture tended and trim comes in a close second.
“Kids are hard on things,” Nedoma laughs, “and the weather takes a big toll, too. We normally spend April repairing the buildings and getting everything ready for summer, but this year we couldn’t do that. There’s a lot of work to do.”
Most people would say it’s worth the effort. Generations of Coloradans have spent sunny summer days exploring Tiny Town’s handcrafted history, art and whimsy, and Nedoma doesn’t intend to let one of the West’s most cherished family traditions expire on her watch. She’ll need help, though.
“The people up here have been wonderful to us,” she says, “but we’ve got a long way to go.”
The light at the end of Tiny Town & Railroad’s coronavirus tunnel is $150,000, just enough to see it safely through what’s shaping up to be its driest season in 32 years. Folks looking to help can visit tinytownrailroad.com and follow the link to its GoFundMe page. Every little bit helps, and each dollar invested will return big dividends in family fun for all the sunny summers to come.
“Tiny Town survived the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918,” says Nedoma. “I want to make sure it survives this one.”