Goofus and Gallant
I’m constantly amazed that my friends can go out and function in the world like normal people, and I’m sure they feel the same way about me.
This is especially true of friends I’ve known for a long time, and am thus more familiar with their youthful antics.
I recently visited an old friend from college, and he revealed that in August he arrived in Maine for a wedding a day early, which forced him to make emergency lodging and travel plans, and call in sick so that he could attend.
“I thought the wedding was on Saturday, but it was on Sunday,” he explained. “I don’t know how I got so confused.” Then he added, “I’m only telling you this because you know me.”
My friend’s story came as no surprise to me, because, as he said, I know him.
We were housemates for two years in college, and worked on the school newspaper, and so I’m familiar with his knack for getting dates confused and neglecting certain responsibilities, like cleaning the bathroom and ensuring that the athlete of the week got in the paper. These are the sorts of minor failures that occur whenever you’re overworked and exhausted, as we often were, and my friend is a wonderful person with many talents that more than make up for his lapses.
But sometimes I can’t help but wonder: How does this guy make it to work every day? And make it home again when it’s finally over?
I had a similar thought last weekend, when I visited my college friend Ed in New York City. Ed was there on business; he has a somewhat important job and is actually quite successful.
But before I left for the weekend, I described Ed in such a way as to make him sound like a bumbling fool. When someone informed me that the clocks fell back an hour, I said, “Thanks for reminding me. Ed can barely tell time.” A harsh assessment, perhaps, but not inaccurate. When I mentioned the time change to Ed, he said, “There’s a time change this weekend?”
We shared a hotel room, and when I briefly stirred early Sunday morning, he asked, “Are you getting up, or going back to sleep?”
I glanced at the clock. “It’s only 6:30,” I said.
“6:30?” Ed said. “Isn’t it 8:30?”
“We fell back, not forward,” I explained.
And as I drifted back to sleep, I briefly wondered how Ed manages to get to all his meetings and appointments, especially when his BlackBerry remains set on Central Time.
Of course, later in the day Ed chided me for not paying any attention when we got directions, and likely thought, “How does she ever manage to get where she’s going?” And since my shoelaces kept coming untied, he probably thought it was amazing I never fell on my face and broke my nose. (“Maybe you should try double-knotting them,” Ed said.)
Ed and I can both be very incompetent, but we do understand the importance of showing up for work on time and appearing responsible. I suspect that the strain of having to act professional leads to lapses in common sense whenever we’re safely in the company of old friends who lack the power to hire, fire or otherwise evaluate us. They can laugh at us, sure, but there are worse things.
In Ed’s opinion, we both grasp some basic “adult rules,” unlike a buddy of his who agreed to join him on a weekend golf trip and then, when contacted the day before the event, said, “Wait, that’s tomorrow?” Ed might not be able to tell time, but he doesn’t usually get confused like that.
My theory is that sometimes people act like Goofus, and sometimes they act like Gallant.
Goofus and Gallant is a two-panel cartoon that appears in Highlights, a children’s magazine that I used to read in the doctor’s office whenever I got allergy shots. The strip is meant to be instructional: Goofus always does things the wrong way, while Gallant always does things the right way.
For instance, Gallant washes his dishes right after using them; Goofus lets them pile up in the sink. (For the record, I’ve got a sink full of dirty dishes at home.) Goofus gets the date of the wedding wrong, Gallant is prompt and prepared. Goofus spaces out when getting directions, Gallant pays attention and takes charge. And so on and so forth.
Whenever I fail to think or behave like an adult — to follow “adult rules,” as Ed might say — I feel a lot like Goofus.
Last week, when a friend and I were discussing what we would do if we won the lottery, I proclaimed that I would fly all of my friends to Las Vegas, so that we could see Prince perform live. (From 2006 to 2007, Prince had a residency at a Las Vegas nightclub, and I hope he resumes it when I win the lottery.) My friend said that she would use her winnings to weatherize her home and repair some cracked windows.
“I guess you’re Gallant,” I said. “And I’m Goofus.”
When I was a kid, I thought adults had access to some reservoir of knowledge, and knew implicitly how to behave in every situation, and never failed.
Now that I’m actually an adult, I can see that this is most definitely not the case.
In fact, most adults are like Goofus, stumbling blindly through their days, always in danger of breaking the adult rules and messing things up.
On Sunday afternoon, Ed and I ate lunch and watched football in the lounge at the hotel.
Ed is a little like George Clooney in the film “Up in the Air,” jetting around the country and accumulating travel points that can be used to pay for hotels and airfare; the hotel in New York City was paid for entirely with points. As Ed studied our lunch tab, I asked him whether he could pay for it using points.
“I know you think my points are amusing,” he said.
I wasn’t trying to mock Ed — his points paid for the hotel, after all — but when he said this I realized that it’s good to have old friends who mock us, who remind us of who we were before we learned all of the adult rules. Who, when we’re feeling a little too much like Gallant, remind us of our Goofus side, and bring us back to earth.
Sure, Gallant has more points. But Goofus is the one you want to be with when those points are getting used.
Points, after all, could pay for a long weekend in Las Vegas.
Should the opportunity arise.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.