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Uncivil liberties.

I can whistle and hum at the same time. It's not a trick; it's a talent. If the master of ceremonies at an Elks Club banquet introduced me in the manner sometimes used to introduce Miss America candidates--"Mr. Trillin will now do his talent"--I would whistle and hum at the same time. I would probably whistle and hum "Stars and Stripes Forever," although I've also prepared "Buckle Down, Winsocki" in case of an encore. It's a secure feeling, knowing that you're ready if the Elks call.

I hate to use the phrase "God-given talent"--like a lot of people with God-given talent, I have always prided myself on my lack of pretense--but it's true that whistling and humming at the same time came to me naturally. I didn't work at it, the way I worked at being able to blow a hard-boiled egg out of its shell. It's more like my other talent, the ability to bark like a dog: one day I just realized I could do it. I can whistle/hum anything, but I prefer "Stars and Stripes Forever" because it's a traditional song for people doing my sort of talent. On Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, a program whose passing I lament, "Stars and Stripes Forever" was a staple. I once saw a man play it on his head with two spoons, varying the notes by how widely he opened his mouth. I suspect he had "Buckle Down, Winsocki" ready as an encore, even though they never did encores on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour. "Buckle Down, Winsocki" is also traditional.

You might think that my ability to whistle and hum at the same time has always been a matter of some pride in my family. I know the sort of scenes you're imagining. You see my wife at lunch with one of her friends. "It must be exciting being married to someone who can do a talent," the friend is saying. My wife smiles knowingly. You see my daughters as kindergarteners bringing other kids home and begging me to show little Jason and Jennifer and Dierdre how I can whistle and hum at the same time. "Do 'Stars and Stripes Forever,' Daddy," they say. "Then do 'Buckle Down, Winsocki.'" I do both. Even little Jason looks impressed. "Jesus," he says, "I thought I'd seen everything."

That's not the way it has been at all. When my daughters were kindergarteners, they never asked me to whistle and hum at the same time for their friends. Little Jason, I know for a fact, still hasn't seen everything, even though he's now 16 years old. Now that my daughters are teen-agers themselves, their response to a bit of spontaneous whistle-humming in a restaurant or an elevator tends to begin with "Daddy, please"--a harbinger, I fear, of the dread "Daddy, this is neither the time nor the place." I don't know what my wife and her friends say to each other at lunch. I have to consider the possibility that my wife rolls her eyes up toward the back of her head as her friend asks, "How's the old spoon player these days?" All of this reminds me of what used to be said about the kid in my fourth-grade class who couldn't seem to catch on to math: "He doesn't get much encouragement at home."

There are probably people who believe I'm unencouraged at home because the ability to whistle and hum at the same time is, as the intellectuals would say, no big deal--being something that would be considered completely unremarkable is done by two people. That is like saying that because a game of table tennis is unremarkable if played by two people, playing a game of table tennis alone is no big deal. As it happens, I once saw someone play a game of table tennis alone--it was an exhibition between halves of a basketball game--and I can assure you that he had God-given talent.

Some of the Big Thinkers out there are probably saying that this tells us something about our times. Big Thinkers believe that most things tell us something about our times, so why shouldn't my lack of encouragement at home? Here's a Big Thinker interpretation: Once the American people realized that the replacement for what they had dismissed as corny amateur shows was cynical sleaze like The Gong Show or Real People, they began to yearn for Ted Mack, and that's what the election was all about. What the voters envisioned when Ronald Reagan mentioned old-fashioned values was Ted Mack talking about the Wheel of Fortune and then commenting in a respectful way about how talented somebody had to be to play "Tea for Two" (also traditional) on the Venetian blinds. (Significantly, the Big Thinkers would say, my daughters, who have never heard of Ted Mack, both refer regularly to Ronald Reagan as a dumdum.) When the Democrats said that voting for Reagan was like playing roulette with the possibility of nuclear war, the voters just saw good old Ted Mack sitting in front of the Wheel of Fortune saying, "Round and round it goes, and where it stops nobody knows."

Why not? The election had to be all about someting, and as things it might have been all about go, I'd settle for this. I only hope that Ronald Reagan acts ont he mandate. For instance, public figures should be encouraged to do their talent. I am not one of those people who believes that nobody else has the God-given talent to, say, play the William Tell Overture on his teeth. I know better. I think a lot of people with God-given talent simply haven't displayed it--perhaps because they don't get much encouragement at home. I like to think that the late Gen. Charles de Gaulle could imitate a zither. I like to think that Margaret Thatcher can throw a lighted cigarette up in the air and catch it (by the unlit end) in her teeth. I think we'd all better off if she just went ahead and did it.

I see George Shultz opening up a Cabinet meeting by saying, in his own low-key and sensible way, that he can do a dynamite impression of a whippoorwill at twilight. I see an infectious air of doing your talent running through the meeting--Jim Baker doing his duck calls and Ed Meese imitating a loan shark at bay. Sooner or later, the Administration could even pressure PBS to bring back Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour. I can see the first show. I'm not it, whistling and humming "Stars and Stripes Forever." They call for an encore. I'm ready.
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Title Annotation:comparing Ted Mack's "Amateur Hour" to the 1984 election
Author:Trillin, Calvin
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Dec 15, 1984
Words:1109
Previous Article:Sovieticus.
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