For those of you who have been paying attention – and, due to the troll-like comments of some I know that you have been – you may have noticed that Douglas Adams is one of my favorite authors, especially of his radio-book-TV series ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’. It’s not for some, I’ll admit. It’s a bit to science-fictiony for some, a bit too absurdist for others, pure drivel for a lot of the same percentage who think ‘Bonfire Of The Vanities’ is the best book in the world. (I never got the book and I never really thought the movie would ever get off my Top 10 Worst Films Ever list.) To me, it is escape into un-reality, which is what we all need from time to time, some more than others.
I covered this rule a bit more a ways back in Rule Number 4: Be Prepared. (Again, for those of you paying attention, you already knew this.) A very good idea, and a good reason why it is the Scout Motto. Being prepared to reaction, instead and versus being always reactionary, is the best way to be, that I’ve found in life. Some may say that I’m repeating myself, but I disagree wholeheartedly. While it is fairly close in nature, I think that there is an important different between this rule and good ol’ Number 4. ‘Be Prepared’ tells you to be ready for anything. ‘Expect the Unexpected’ teaches you to be alert, inquisitive, never caught flat-footed.
Even The Guide, with all of its resplendent wisdom, does a good job explaining the importance of a situation. When the protagonists – Arthur, Ford and Zaphod (and, if you count him, Marvin the Paranoid Android) land on a planet where they can’t (at first) see anything outside of a large dark hole that appears to be hanging in the sky. (Again, you have to suspend a bit of reality to read/listen/watch this work.) Later, after the trio are separated, Arthur finds his way to the native life-forms: giant, evil-smelling birds who live in the ear of a fifteen-mile-high statue of Arthur, himself. (Again, go read something more your taste if this is too much foolishness for you.) As Arthur scans his donated copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy for help in this situation, he is left hanging – not for the first time – by the Guide’s limited knowledge of his situation. Of course, that doesn’t stop the Guide from trying…
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is an indispensable companion to all those who are keen to make sense of life in an infinitely complex and confusing universe. For though it cannot hope to be useful or informative on all matters, it does make the reassuring claim that where it is inaccurate, it is at least definitively inaccurate. In cases of major discrepancy it is always reality that’s got it wrong.
The Guide’s omissions are less easily rationalised. There is nothing on any of its pages to tell you on which planets you can expect suddenly to encounter fifteen mile high statues of yourself, nor how to react if it is immediately apparent that they have become colonies for flocks of giant, evil-smelling birds – with all the cosmetic problems that implies.
The nearest approach the Guide makes to this matter is on page seven-thousand-and-twenty-three, which includes the words “expect the unexpected.” This advice has annoyed many hitchhikers in that it is ‘A’ – glib, and ‘B’ – a contradiction in terms. In fact, the very best advice it has to offer in these situations is to be found on the cover. Where it says, in those now notoriously large and famously friendly letters, “Don’t Panic”.
– ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ (Fit the Tenth) by Douglas Adams
(Editor’s note: See Austen’s Rule Of Life #1 for more on “Don’t Panic!”)
At least, when it doesn’t know something, it always manages to go for the best information it has – right on the cover.
I have always tried to have an expectation around me, of being ready to go and not being caught flat-footed somehow.
One of my favorite television shows ever is, and will always be, Hill Street Blues. It’s not shown often in re-runs, as it was basically one straight storyline from beginning to end. You can’t really show it without running it that way, and you can’t get into the show just watching one episode and then seeing another one later on, months down the line. The characters were incredible in how they were portrayed. Steven Bochco, the executive producer, created an ensemble cast that were believable and real in a decently gritty, but not over the top, way.
Det. Mick “Dogbreath” Belker (played by Bruce Weitz), a cop who was undercover most of the time, and – in doing so – was usually dirty, sloppy, out of uniform, hauling in con artists and ex-cons, prostitutes and assorted low-lifes. He always had a good growl for someone when necessary, which was part of the charm of his character. In one of the minor story lines that happened from week to week, Det. Belker was assigned to an actor who had an upcoming gritty, real-life-as-possible series that he wanted to study for.
This one scene has stayed with me for decades, teaching me important lessons about staying alert, and expecting the unexpected: The actor is blathering on as he and the detective walk down the crowded, hot as heck street one summer day. At one point, Belker tenses up and goes into a crouch near a parked car while the actor has no clue that something has changed. When he finally realizes that his detective escort is focused on something else than his shpiel of words, he drops to the ground nearby and asks about the situation.
“What’s going on?” – Actor
“Read the street!” – Belker
“Read the street, dirtbag!”
“What does that mean?!”
(Looking and now pointing across the street)
“It’s 102 degrees and he’s wearing a coat!”
Watching a person wearing sunglasses and a long black coat from their vantage point who is looking around nervously and pouring sweat, it doesn’t take long before he works up the courage to open the coat and smash a car window with a large hammer. Belker called it correctly, and – before the actor is able to register what has just happened – he is running through mid-day, bumper-to-bumper thick city traffic as the perp realizes he’s been made and hotfoots it away. The know-it-all actor gets a lesson in real police work as a crime was unfolding a few dozen feet away from him and he would have never known about it.
Listening to those who are older and wiser than I have been as to what to look for, what mistakes to guard against, what shortcuts are best and which are sure to invite disaster, what to look for in friends (and enemies!) and how to treat them, all kinds of information that I have at times welcomed and, alternatively, treated with disdain, sometimes to my cost.
We’ve all stumbled – literally and figuratively – at times, down stairs or done something boneheaded because we were otherwise mentally engaged. Listening to those who have been-there-done-that before is something that we should consider, every time and any time the advice is there, even and especially after we’ve done something particularly stupid. It hurts like heck, but it also helps us from repeating the situation. There is always someone who has been there before us, and who – hopefully – is willing to share their wisdom with us. Whether or not we are willing to listen is another matter.
A knocked head, a stubbed toe, a poked eye, a “shouldn’t-have-had-that-ghost-pepper” stomach-in-distress later is sometimes not a good time for an “I told you so!”. If it helps us, or helps us to help someone else down the line, it is embarrassing in the short term, but helpful for all of us in the long term.
Being prepared, that’s one (very important) thing. Keeping that extra eye/ear out for trouble, even when none is expected? That’s not begging trouble. That’s doing your level best to make sure something doesn’t sneak up on you that could have been prevented.
I hope you’re not reading this on your phone or PDA or e-reader, as you should watch out for that staircase coming up in 3… 2… 1…