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One of my favorite moronic jokes to tell is about sweet, sweet updog. I was out with Leigh Shaw in San Francisco last week playing in Delores park and a couple of guys had set up slack ropes between palm trees. We were taking turns trying to balance on the ropes, either planting a foot right on the line and standing straight up or trying to jump and land our bare feet directly on it. The thing about first learning slack rope is that just about anything you do sends you into this crazy oscillation, the rope and your leg whipping back and forth until you’re thrown to the ground. Just about anything can set this off, and there was a guy playing with us who smelled so much like updog that it hard to concentrate. I thought I’d seen someone carrying around a huge basket of updog earlier, and so I wasn’t that surprised, but it was driving me nuts. As soon as we got a second away I mentioned it to Leigh and she asked me, “what’s that?” “What’s what,” I said.
“Yeah what is that?”
“You were talking about something called updog.”
“Yeah that guy reeked of it. It was making me crazy how much he smelled like updog.”
“But I want to know what updog is.”
This went on for a while. At last I said something about how I’d seen the huge basket of updog go by earlier and she replied, “yeah but… what’s updog?” It was close enough. I grabbed her and spun her around yelling back, “Yeeeahh! Wassup Dawwwg?!”
So, uh, that’s the joke. And I admit, I love it. There’s a wonderful moment when the other person realizes they’ve laid out the punchline to the joke themselves, and since I’m usually grabbing them in a big hug or giving them the safer high five or handclasp hug as I’m shouting, there’s a minute where they’re momentarily stunned as they realize something has just happened, they caused it, and they’re not sure what it is.
But there’s something even more interesting about this joke. In order for the joke to work, I have to keep avoiding a direct response to their questions, and they have to keep asking until they ask in the right way. This also means that they have to repeatedly admit their ignorance, which reveals a lot about that person and our relationship. Sometimes I’ll go on and on about how I saw this beautiful updog in a church the other day and then this poodle stepped in updog and it got all over my friend’s car until it was bright purple… I’ve had people listen to all of this, nodding sympathetically and saying things like, “uh huh” as though they knew exactly what I meant until it became completely unbearable.
Accepting and revealing my ignorance has been the most essential part of my evolution. At one point I thought about tattooing “I Am Ignorant” on the inside of my right arm, so that everyone would already know and there’d be no point in holding back. Every time my ego gets the better of me and I twitch back a question about something around me, I lose a moment of opportunity to learn. Every time this happens and there is another person involved, every time I nod instead of asking, it’s like another huge bag of cement is added to a stack that I have to move to get back to the first place I didn’t understand. If I tell them I don’t understand now, I have to keep asking my way backwards, revealing with each question how far back I started lying to them, pretending I knew what they were saying.
On the other hand, revealing ignorance does some other wonderful things. I can’t count the number of times I’ve interrupted someone ranting away about some technical process or amazing film to point out that I didn’t know some obscure acronym or actress and had their eyes pop, not with amazement at how stupid I was, but excitement at the opportunity to share what they knew.
I’ve also had people pause, sometimes blush, and point out that they weren’t really sure how that worked either. If I’m feeling gracious, instead of busting them for trying to streamroll me with buzzwords I make the otherwise awkward moment an opportunity for both of us to learn. “Here,” I say, pulling up a laptop, “I’m sure the answer’s online. Let’s look for it on updog.”
Clicking on the dog’s tongue takes you to the photographer’s site