Reading Mark Twain to the kids, the word “jackass” came up, so for the benefit of Jared, the 11 year old, I thought to explain, “So a jackass is another word for a donkey.”
“Oh, I thought it was about the penguin,” he responded.
His older brother, my wife, and I were all incredulous, “what?!” Laughing we asked, “where did you come up with that?”
“It’s a real thing!”
“I don’t think so,” someone said.
“Look it up. I’m pretty sure.”
“I’d be surprised,” I said, “but lets see.” I typed into Google and read aloud the Wikipedia entry that appeared at the top:
“The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), also known as the jackass penguin and black-footed penguin is a species of penguin…”
After we got over laughing at that, I wondered out loud, “I wonder why they call them that?”
“Because they make a noise like a donkey does,” Jared said.
I read further, ” It is also widely known as the “jackass” penguin for its donkey-like bray.”
“Well,” I said to my son, “good job, knowing that. And not just that, but also why. I’m blown away, how the heck do you know all that?”
“Books dad. I read it in a book.”
I occasionally get to work with interesting people at the university. This year an old guy came in looking for training on the course management system. He said he’s a new part-time instructor here to teach a class in cartoons. So of course I told him I love cartoons. He said, “well it’s about all forms, editorial cartoons, animation, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, etc.” So I started talking about how I’m a fan of all those things, and it turns out for everything I mentioned, he was acquainted with the authors: Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, Pearls Before Swine, Loony Tunes (he was friends with Chuck Jones) and so on.
Suddenly I realize I know his name. He’s Pulitzer nominee Bob Englehart, a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist, and I even have one of his cartoons in my desk. It was one where he used Pac-Man and ghosts as an analogy for CT state schools, Pac-man representing one that would absorb the others. At the time of its release, I commented online with critical feedback for depicting the ghosts in their normal colors, him not realizing that they were more dangerous to Pac-Man in that state, and for the analogy to work, they should have been depicted blue, reflecting their vulnerable state. I admitted to him that said feedback came from me, though only a geek my age would know that. Anyone older than me wasn’t hanging around arcades in the 80s and anyone younger had home games better games on home systems. It’s a very small section of the population who’d even notice. He says, “well where were you when that went though editing?”
So we have a laugh and start talking details about Looney Tunes. At one point he opens up his book and asks how to spell my name. After it, he scribbles “cartoon expert” and says, “I might have to have you come speak to my class.”