Slightly Off Center


By Dennis Hinkamp

It is an old but pertinent joke. Why is there is a highway to hell, but a stairway to heaven? That should tell you something about music, life, the afterlife and the state of humor. If I can correctly recall my Catholic theology, “Limbo” would be a treadmill, which really is hell on Earth to seven out of 10 people followed closely by eight out of 10 people who think stationary bikes are an oxymoron.

My roundabout point is that one of the top three truths we choose to be self-evident is that we are list oriented. We need to rank things best to worst, shortest to longest and best shortest.  The Guinness Book of World Records has thrived on this and now actually helps people design world records. Those of you not attuned to alcohol production might not know that Guinness is also the name of a large brewing company most famous for beer so dark that black holes pale ale  in comparison.

The whole weird world record business must have gotten started by a bunch of Guinness drinkers betting on how far they could throw a pint glass—into the wind, downwind, on Tuesday, left- handed, full, empty and a thousand other variations. They then thought, “You know, Americans would really buy into this. They would probably also pay for the documentation of the top 10 places.” This story is only about 20% percent historically accurate.

We love lists. Even self-proclaimed math haters can’t resist numbers. Some numbers are trite, others are profound. There is the Texas two-step but there is also the rule of thirds. You can break through the fourth wall. Whiskey is bottled in fifths. Lucky and weird people have a sixth sense. Blues music is full of seventh son voodoo.

Seven also seems to be the number settled on by the Covey empire as the number of habits needed to become highly successful. Seven Habits of Highly Effective people has never caught my imagination, maybe because most of its proponents are so certain it works. I prefer friends who are a little more doubtful. In doubt I trust. We don’t have limitless potential; some of us, like the annoying survey question, have “exceeded expectations.” Having unlimited potential would just be too exhausting. There has to be some way to edit this down to three habits or join a master’s class to get to eight habits.

Eighth grade completion gets you into high school. The Ninth Amendment is the one that nobody understands or practices. Ten is just an X in Roman numerals and the only time you see it used is in Super Bowl promotions and depictions of Moses holding up stone tablets.

Ten wins the list of lists because, with the exception of careless carpenters, we all have 10 fingers. I know there is a plethora of 10 lists but I actually like most of Burning Man’s 10 Principles most probably because I am a sycophant, having gone 22 times. Look them up. They don’t fit on tablets.

Why is an emergency always referred to the 11th hour? Wikipedia says it is Biblical. I’ll leave it at that since I’m not in a hurry. Do 12-step addiction programs work for you or a loved one? If so, stick with it, just knowing that there are lots of detractors. Failures don’t usually write books. Could you do it in nine steps or does a dozen just feel more satisfying? Don’t put those dozen eggs in one basket. And, whatever you do, don’t do it 13 times.


Dennis Hinkamp believes he is the number one columnist in this space today.


This article was originally published on October 30, 2019.