Monday, February 25, 2013

Love and Shorthand, 143 Last week, I was sitting in a coffee shop next to a young man and woman. Youngish, in their early twenties, they sat down with a game of trivia challenges, each asking the other questions about assorted events in popular culture. They were sitting right next to me, I mean right next to me, close enough that I could smell their coffee, hear their questions and see the expression of sheer bewilderment on their faces in trying to come up with answers. Some of the questions were tough. Anything with history, science, literature, mathematics and geography stumped them completely. However, they nailed the stuff on popular culture which, in the case of this game, was about every other question. The first couple of popular culture questions were trivia from music and television. Since about 1980, I’ve been busy. I got a little distracted from paying attention to any of that stuff. I was going to school, raising children, and keeping my job. I am not particularly nostalgic nor do I feel that I’m out of touch, per se; popular culture just seems like a waste of time. But when one of them picked up a card and began reading, it caught my ear. I heard the question “who said his band was more popular than Jesus?”, I remember my teacher’s at St. Gertrude’s Elementary warning us that even though the Beatles were very popular, that young man John Lennon “should have been ashamed of himself.” I looked over at the young man holding the card with the question. The woman, looking toward me, was struggling for an answer. So I mouthed the words “John Lennon” to her, and she repeated them to her friend. She was pleased. He looked over his shoulder at me with a smile, saying “I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to get that one.” The next question had to do with texting. The man asked, “What does your friend mean when you’re texted the numbers “143.” I knew it immediately. It was from an article I read about Mr. Rogers a few years before he died. Mr. Rogers was six feet tall, but he only weighed 143 pounds. It was his intent, as he told the interviewer, that he keep this weight steady because the numbers “143” meant a great deal to him. He said that, when he weighs himself in the morning, that weight sent him a message. “Those numbers mean I love you. And you can see: “I” is one letter, “love” is four, and “you” is three. So every time I stand on the scale, I see “I love you. The woman immediately answered, “I love you.” I was stunned. I had no idea that these numbers had been translated into popular culture. I asked both of them how they knew of this meaning. The woman said “oh, girls have been texting that to people all the time.” I told them the nature of the saying, and they loved it. They both watched Mr. Rogers when they were kids. “But”, they said “you’ll see this all the time nowadays. This is a really popular text.” I finished my coffee and left. And I came away from this encounter with a renewed set of faith in the verities of popular culture. And as I was walking to my car, I texted my daughter the numbers “143.” When I sat down and the key, I got a text back “I love you too, Dad. It’s a little weird that you would text that, though.” I shot her back a text: “I know sweetheart. I love you, anyway. Just trying to widen my reach. So I made a mental note: “Even though 143 means “I Love You, stick with the words, “I Love You, particularly when texting your daughter.”