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The story goes that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.
In Rosedale, Mississippi.
In exchange for musical genius.
(Tommy Johnson’s character in the film “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” is an allusion to that contract.)
What would you ask for in exchange for your soul?
Fame, fancy cars, and big cigars? To be forever young? A significant weight loss?
Or maybe six figures and a national spotlight for four years?
Would you be willing to stand in front of a hundred people, and a national television audience, and say with conviction, “All men are created equal’ has been widely misinterpreted”?
That blue is red and night is day and denial is a river in Egypt?
The ability to contour a fact into a new fact is something to behold.
In fiction it’s called “believable lies.”
I am a big believer in believable lies, but only the harmless kind.
Humor is based in rearranging commonly held beliefs.
Steven Wright said, “A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I’m afraid of widths.”
I once told a class that Monet and Manet were the same man.
Some of them believed me.
It was a reminder that people in a position of authority can convince some people of almost anything.
When I attended umpire school, I was told over and over to “sell” the call, even if I wasn’t certain.
Never, ever say, “Out?”
I had to say “Out” with the belief that I was right, no matter what.
I was never told, however, to choose sides, and influence the outcome on behalf of the team I had chosen.
It’s possible to believe in someone who is wrong most of the time, whose allegations are refutable, who does far more harm than good, and convert all of it, every speck, into a convincing defense. And to do it in the moment, extemporaneously, and to make doubters and those who question you seem like nincompoops.
It’s a sight to behold.
“Yesterday he said a 6 was a 9, and now you’re telling me that I listened to his statement when I was upside down?”
I am not sure what it would take to get me to say something that was disingenuous, that I knew was wrong-minded, might be hurtful, was intellectually broken, and make it sound like fair goods.
Someone up there wouldn’t like it.
My father. My father never misled me. He never promised me that he was going to have someone else build and pay for a swimming pool.
He never told me that he knew American history when he didn’t. He never chased skirts. He never turned his errors into triumphs, and, most of all, he was never boastful.
His kind of clarity is AWOL in America right now. I have no plans, however, to walk the streets with a lamp during the day, looking for an honest man.
I guess I am too old for that, and resigned, and exasperated.
The silver lining is this: I appreciate some people far more than I did before last November, and I appreciate some things — like good music, good art, and good literature — far more than I did before last November.
Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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