Pauline D. Sherrer

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David Spates
"Therefore I Am"

Published June 8, 2004

I'm left to ponder the really big questions

In journalism school, the professors taught us how to ask hard-hitting, probing questions that get to the meat of a story. One question is most important: Why? The who, what, where, when and how tend to be interchangeable details, but the why was always the eyebrow-raiser. Why do people do what they do? The why is what makes a story interesting. The why is what we want to know.

Why does a teen go on a murderous rampage? Why do men hijack airplanes and crash them into buildings? Why does a mother drown her own children? Why do military prison guards pose for photos with nude prisoners?

These days, since I traded in my reporter's fedora for the diaper bag of fatherhood three years ago, the questions I contemplate are even more pressing. I'm no longer concerned with the late-breaking headlines but rather the eternal questions that have plagued humanity since the dawn of existence.

Why do people touch computer screens?

This one has stumped me for decades, long before computers were on every desk in America. My fellow arcade rats were pressing video game screens in the late '70s and early '80s when Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders ruled our world (and gobbled our quarters). I'd be standing there doing my best to eat Blinky before he ate me, and some leering chump would slide his pizza-greased index finger all over the screen, creating a sluglike trail throughout Pac-Man's maze.

The trend continues today as adults and kids alike, for some unknown reason, feel the need to physically touch computer screens in order to call attention to something on it. They're not content to simply verbalizing what they're looking at, and pointing without actual contact doesn't satisfy their odd urges either. No, they need to feel the cool glass against their fingers. And at the end of the shift, when you shut down your desktop pal for the day, the evidence is clear -- dozens of fingerprints all over your screen. For some reason, they show up quite clearly on a dark screen.

I've seen cop shows in which the police covertly obtain a suspect's fingerprints by lifting prints from a glass, a soda can or even a cigarette. Don't waste the cola. Just sit the suspect in front of a computer for five minutes. The chances are fairly good you'll have a complete set of usable prints in a matter of moments.

Why do TV newscasters tell us who's NOT reporting the news that night?

"Good evening. I'm Dirk Magnum. Brenda Underalls has the night off. Those stories and more on Action 5 News at 11."

Does anyone care who has the night off from one newscast to the next? Why do they bother telling us this? If we see Dirk sitting alone at the desk and Brenda isn't with him, I think it's safe to assume that Brenda is elsewhere. Maybe she's at home with a sick child. Maybe she's at the movies with her hubby. Maybe she's out with the girls complaining about how she never should have married a man named Underalls. Whatever. Just read the news. Get a kindergartner to do it. I don't care.

Imagine walking into McDonald's and the cashier saying, "Hi. I'm Katherine. I'll be taking your order. Tim has the night off." Well, good for Tim. He needed some time away from the deep fryer.

I think the president should begin every speech with, "Hi. I'm George Bush. I'm running the country. Al Gore lost the election."

Why do real estate agents put their pictures on their ads?
I can't figure this out at all. It would be one thing if the agent were attractive, but sometimes the ugly ones do it, too. Here in Knoxville, there are real estate agents who even put their faces on billboards. If your face is pleasing to the eye, that's fine, but there are some people whose faces simply should not, under any circumstances, be 17 feet high.

And speaking of unnecessary pictures, why is my mugshot on this column?

It's an old newspaper tradition, but why should a columnist have his picture alongside his column? What's the point? Why shouldn't a general-assignment reporter get his picture alongside a school board story? What's fair is fair. I use my second-grade picture because it's the last photo taken of me that I really like. So there.

Why did gawkers rush Reagan's hearse over the weekend?

A legend of American politics died, and some people acted as though Kid Rock was rolling into town. I saw video of people sprinting at full speed in an effort to catch a glimpse of the hearse carrying Ronald Reagan's body to the funeral home. I respect Reagan as much as the next nonpartisan, but I cannot imagine I'd sprint to see his hearse drive by.

What do these people tell their friends the next day? "Yeah, well, we had to run the last 150 yards or so, but we saw the hearse. I think it was black." It's a hearse. That's it. Seeing the hearse carrying a great man has nothing to do with the man himself. Sprinting to gape at a car seems like inappropriate rubbernecking to me.

Why? Well, that's the most important question of all, now isn't it?

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David Spates is a Knoxville resident and Crossville Chronicle contributor whose column is published each Tuesday. He can be reached at

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