From grocery store to bordello, absurdities abound - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

From grocery store to bordello, absurdities abound

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow
A retired English professor, Dolly Withrow is the author of four books, including a grammar-based college textbook, titled The Confident Writer. Contact her at

“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

— Bertrand Russell

Join me, dear reader, as we embark upon a strange journey through our world of oxymorons and absurdities.

You and I are in a grocery store. We stand in front of a dairy case and see written on a milk carton the following oxymoronic phrases: “Half-and-Half/Fat-Free.” We wonder how that can be. What has replaced the natural cream inside those cartons? We wonder if saturated fat is worse for us than the replacement, which is red sea algae, according to an online statement. Our great grandparents lived on saturated fats, and heart attacks were not as prevalent as they are today, according to another online declaration by a Dr. Lundell, who has performed thousands of open-heart surgeries. Dr. Weil says butterfat is replaced with cheap-to-produce corn syrup, as well as chemicals and thickeners to simulate fat’s texture and mouth feel. An online search for the term “fat-free” or “low fat” brings up more than 3,000 products. That’s a vast array of food products in which no-fat or low-fat content is touted as a virtue. Many of them compensate for the fat’s absence with extra sugar, corn syrup or other added sweeteners.

Now, you and I have left the store. It’s evening, and we are in a funeral home. The family and other loved ones mourn, and we are sorry for their loss. We really are, but here’s a secret we’ve kept even from ourselves: In the funeral home, we have a great time chatting with old friends we haven’t seen in ages. They agree with us that the funeral home is a terrible place to meet, but we meet and chat and laugh and promise to call and get together. We never do, of course, but at the time we believe our promises. Sometimes, we share funny stories from our young world, and we laugh more. I wonder if our behavior helps to put the word “fun” in funeral. As absurd as our behavior is, it’s how we cope with death.

Tolstoy had a keen insight into human behavior and often in his short stories are some of our traits about which we have never given a thought. In his “The Death of Ivan Illych,” for example, a character walks toward the casket and approaches the widow, and he hopes he squeezes her hand just so. He thinks of himself, but believes he’s thinking of the widow.

As life zips by, one day we realize the number of our friends staying over in life is diminishing. There is a contradictory sadness and sweetness when the Grim Reaper whisks away another friend. We are sad, but it is, oh, so sweet we have survived. We would never say that aloud, but there it is.

Once upon an academic time, I had a colleague who took great pride in referring to himself as an intellectual snob. His students didn’t learn; they internalized. He said “vis-à-vis” when he meant “in relation to.” He was a handful. To call himself an intellectual snob was absurd. A true intellect is not a snob, for well-read individuals know all writers of classics abhor snobbery. Intellects know how much they don’t know, and what they don’t know far outweighs their scant knowledge in one or two fields. The intellectual snob would say “my uncle had a disease.”

If my Uncle Edwin were alive today, he would be diagnosed as having a disease because he was an alcoholic. An author, whose name I’ve forgotten, wrote a book about the absurdities of calling addictions diseases. My uncle made the decision to drink alcohol. In today’s world, he would not be faulted for his self-abusive decisions. In our absurd society, it’s always someone else’s fault. We live in a devil-made-me-do-it culture, so my uncle would not be held accountable for his decisions. And on to our next stop.

A high-class lady of the night might have the proverbial heart of gold; she might be smart, she might be beautiful; she might be witty; and she might or might not be all of these things, but she cannot be high class unless prostitution becomes legal.

I hope you have enjoyed our brief journey through the world of absurdities.
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