Monday, November 30, 2009

Genetics Vs Environment

Humbug provides an amazing living experiment in which to study the effects of nature versus nurture. It’s amazing to see bright eyed energetic children produced by hollow-eyed lethargic parents. Sometimes one sibling looks like an extra from the set of Deliverance while the other dresses and speaks so eloquently that you are certain he or she must be adopted. In most cases it seemed impossible for those who had never strayed more than thirty miles from Humbug to appreciate anything that hadn’t been mass produced and delivered in a box – from food to entertainment. On the other hand there were ample examples of those who, although born-and-raised Humbuggers, seemed to have eluded the pervasive cloak of ignorance so strictly enforced by local traditions.

One common scenario that highlighted these contrasts was the occurrence of the estranged sibling. There were a number of mouth-breathing families that had one offspring who, against all odds, managed to dodge all defective alleles, develop high literacy and, in most cases, lived outside of Humbug. Often these estranged Humbuggers returned to Humbug to visit for holidays, assist their illiterate siblings with tax returns, or just to help out their parents with simple household repairs. It was unfortunate that these genetically advantaged siblings so often lived outside of Humbug; thus removing their genes from the Humbug pool. The result just created a negatively reinforced loop amongst the genetically challenged. Each generation seemed to produce fewer and fewer upright waking, literate offspring.

One day a charismatic fellow stepped boldly through the door accompanied by a sharply dressed, bright eyed woman - both of them being followed by a doddering, old, ‘SUPE’ slurping hag and a disoriented little trollop who sported a greasy, farm-implements company cap. The women were his wife, mother, and sister. It was obvious that he didn’t reside in Humbug but had likely brought his wife home to visit his mother and sister and to assist with some semi-complicated chore. He seemed mostly unaware of the bizarre gait and vacant stares of his mother and sister but his wife was visibly embarrassed to be in such company.

It was Siesta Saturday and he absorbed the menu quickly, turning to suggest that they each have a Baja burrito. He was very patient in explaining to his mother that there was no ‘SUPE’ and negotiated with her until it was agreed that she would accept a serving of apple crisp. Several times during the negotiations she rasped loudly in a Humbug whisper that she didn’t want to eat in ‘this weird place’. His sister was a bit more enthusiastic and giggled like a simple minded child as she bounced in her chair at the excitement of trying ‘Mexican Foods’. The sister’s physical appearance, contrary to her demeanor, implied an age in excess of thirty years.

His wife came up to the counter and asked a few pointed questions about the food, expressing pleasure that everything had been prepared in-house. The sister just kept repeating, “We’re gonna eat some Mexican foods. We’re gonna eat some Mexican foods.” The mother just kept asking the man if he was sure there was no ‘SUPE’ and every time he told her that there wasn’t she rasped, “This place is stupid,” at a volume that could be heard throughout the entire dining area. Every time the mother rasped out another ‘this place is stupid’ while his wife was at the counter, she would apologize to me for her husband’s family. I assured her that this was by no means out of the ordinary and asked her what task her husband had been summoned home to assist with. She smirked and said, “Steam cleaning the carpets.”

Upon sampling the food, the wife told me that she really appreciated my heavy handedness with the cumin. The husband immediately noted that the cheddar was well aged and really brought out the flavours of the taco sauce and seasoned ground beef. The mother hissed, “My apple crisp is better than this fancy shmancy stuff.” The sister, obviously trying to impersonate the sophistication of her brother and sister-in-law, raised her collected fingers to her lips, flung her hand in the air and exclaimed, “Mag-knee-fee-ko!” She then asked, “Is that what they say in Mexican?” I replied, “I’m certain that that is exactly what all the Italian tourists say in Mexico.” The wife slumped in complete embarrassment but even the husband had to smirk a bit at my comment.

Often times a prodigal sister would return home and would drag a sibling into the bistro. The ‘humbugged’ sibling would rasp all the way to the counter, “I don’t want to eat here! This place isn’t NORMAL!” Usually the outsider would expound the merits of a fresh menu while the local would just whine about the absence of French fries. In these cases I usually appeased the locals with toast and sausages, assuring them that I would provide a healthy side of ketchup. One of the local siblings once complained to her sister, “This isn’t even a restaurant. They can’t even make a hamburger.”

Listening to conversations about lineage was almost more than I could handle. When the afternoon coffee rush began to thin out, often times the stragglers would begin to merge. Picking up your coffee and just moving to another table with another singleton is common practice in Humbug, and it’s considered extremely rude to be unwelcoming to such an advance. Upon joining the table the protocol was very well defined.

“FRUM?” the newly seated Humbugger would ask.

“Humbug. Hueber,” was a typical reply.

“Bauer. My mother’s mother was Bessie Hueber,” Bauer would add.

“Well my grandpa was her brother, Tom,” Hueber would reply.

“Any Bauers?”

“My mother’s father, Frank Bauer.”

“My grandpa was Ansel, his cousin.”

“Great grandpa Deiter Bauer then?”


And on and on it would go until it was determined that every grandparent was a sibling, cousin, niece or nephew. The process seemed very fulfilling to them and I began to realize why they felt so confounded with outsiders. They had no idea where they stood with outsiders because they had no idea how they were related. Some customers just couldn’t drop their ‘FRUM” inquisitions. One day, while both Jeffrey and Marty were working, one of the hicks leaned in and asked, “Where are you FRUM?”

“I don’t have a FRUM,” I replied.

His head snapped right, in a Humbug Huh. Upon being rebooted he persisted, “You must be FRUM somewhere?”

“Not in the way you want me to answer,” I insisted.

“Well where were you born?”


“Emmaton? Your parents are there?”


“Well where are they?”

“It’s really none of your business.”

“So you grew up in Emmaton?”

“Again, none of your business.”

“Well geez,” he lamented, turning to Jeffrey and asking, “Where are YOU FRUM?”

“Born and raised in Cuspidor, went to St. Mary high school,” Jeffrey quickly shot back, having experienced this line of questioning before.

“What’s your last name?”

“Wilson,” Jeffrey replied, still unbothered.

“Any relation to Bob Wilson?”

“I am not directly related to a single Wilson in Humbug,” Jeffrey replied.

“Not at all?”

“Not at all.”

“Well geez,” the hick lamented, leaning way too far over the counter in an attempt to catch Marty’s eye and continuing, “So, what’s your story? Where are you FRUM?”

“Marty Engal. I grew up twenty miles east of here but my parents moved from Calgary. Their parents moved there from Saskatchewan. I’m not related to, nor do I know, a single Engal in Humbug.”

Marty was obviously very good at this.

“Well geez. None of you are FRUM around here then?”

“EXACTLY!” we all exclaimed.

The invasive hick shot up off the counter, turned, and staggered away like he had been hit on the head with a mallet. It was just not conceivable to him that he didn’t share a single relative with any of us and didn’t even know a single one of any of our relatives. To Humbuggers such an anomaly is as strange as encountering a visitor from an alternate universe.

Even with this powerful anti-culture so well developed, there were still born-and-raised Humbuggers who could pass for educated people on the streets of any metropolitan city. Just as one mouth-breather was chuckling mindlessly at the suggestion of having a Belgian waffle for lunch, his brother – who had never left town – might pop in with a cell phone in hand and order a grande double half-caf caramel mochaccino to go. How could two such men have possibly grown up in the same household, let alone have been spawned by the same parents? It never ceased to amaze me.

Even in siblings within a year of age and both under twenty, it was possible to see one who’s mind was free and soaring like a hawk while the other’s mind was voluntarily being crushed under a yolk of ignorance. In the great debate of nature versus nurture, I had to declare the winner to be choice.