DNAism and badrappin’ the Neanderthals

It was happy hour in the Rusty Nail, but I wasn’t at all happy.

Bellied up with me and chatting like magpies were my “dates,” Joe Dadey and Jack Drury.

Jack, as expected, was raving about his motor-assist bicycle and how he never actually uses the motor, or at least not very much, cross his heart and hope to ride.

Joe, also as expected, was talking about his latest idea for increasing outdoor tourism in the Adirondacks — this time an escalator up Mount Marcy.

After about 15 minutes, they noticed I was there with them.

“What’s with you?” said Joe. “Cat get your tongue?”

“How witty,” I said.

“Whoa,” said Jack. “Feeling a bit hostile, are we?”

“Not hostile,” I said. “Gloomy.”

“Gloomy?” said Joe. “What about?”

“Lemme guess,” said Jack. “You’re downed out by the bleakness of the Void.”

His expression of boyish sincerity told me he was still poring over his dog-eared copy of “Existentialism for the Complete Idiot.” Not wanting to dignify his comment with a real answer, I just shook my head.

“OK,” said Joe. “So if it’s not this week’s mess to avoid, what is it?”

I tried to avoid an eye roll and am sure I failed.

“Winter Carnival,” I said.

“Winter Carnival?” said Jack. “It’s a half year away. What about it could possibly be bothering you now?”

“The theme,” I said. “Prehistoric Park.”

“What’s wrong with that?” said Joe. “There’s lots of things people could do. All sorts of gags, gimmicks and costumes.”

“Right,” I said. “And they’d all be a long the lines of Alley Oop or the Flintstones.”

“Sure,” he said. “That stuff is funny.”

“To you, maybe,” I said. “But not to me.”

“Why not?” he said.

“Because it’s stereotyping and marginalizing what we so condescendingly call ‘cavemen.'”

“Since when did you get so touchy about cavemen?” said Jack.

“Since last week, when I got back my DNA results,” I said.

“Yeah?” said Jack. “And what’d they tell you?”

“That I have a very high percentage of Neanderthal DNA,” I said. “Those ‘cavemen,’ as you so condescendingly refer to them, are my peeps!”

“Your peeps?” said Joe. “What do you even know about them?”

“You’re Irish, right?”

“On both sides, as far back as anyone can trace,” he said, puffing out his chest.

“And whattaya know about Ireland?” I said. “You’ve never been there, you don’t know its poets, you don’t know even three words of Irish.”

“Sure I do,” he said. “Pog’ ma thoin.”

“Ok. But you don’t know four words,” I said. “Face it, when it comes to Ireland, you don’t know the Aran Islands from a hole in the ground.”

He fell silent and looked away, obviously embarrassed.

“Yet there you are, every St. Patrick’s Day, decked out in green from head to toe, swilling Guinness and getting all weepy when you hear ‘Danny Boy,’ even though it was written by a Brit.”

“Danny Boy was written by a –“

“My point exactly,” I said, cutting him off. “So you identify as Irish, but know nothing about it.”

Bigger … and better

Then I turned my steely gaze on Jack.

“And you’re no better,” I said.

“Huh?” he said. “What’s wrong with me?”

“You’re a wasp. Got a coat of arms, drink warm beer, and your favorite spectator sport is polo,” I said. “But the only thing you know about English history is King George the Second came after King George the First. Maybe.”

“And I suppose you know all about Neanderthals?” he said, rather waspishly.

“No one does,” I said. “But I know they weren’t like the stereotypes of them. They weren’t troglodytes. But that’s exactly what a Carnival of ‘prehistoric’ will make them look like.”

“So if they weren’t like the stereotype,” said Joe, “what were they like?”

“Like us,” I said. “Those drawings in our bio books of them, with their sloping foreheads, huge jaws and expressions like they didn’t know nuthin about nuthin? Lies, all lies.”

“Really?” said Jack.

“Really,” I said. “They’re the same species as us and their brains were bigger than ours.”

“So they were smarter than us?” said Joe.

“That’s not necessarily anything to brag about,” I said. “But I think they were.”

“So why’d they die off?” he said.

“They didn’t,” I said. “They interbred with Homo Sapiens.”

“So that proves they had to look just like us,” he said.

“Either that,” I said, “or they dated and mated just like us.”

“What else made them so smart?”said Jack.

“Well, they were around for a hundred thousand years, but they never left the temperate zone. They were smart enough to stay away from The Great Frozen North … unlike us.”

“Good point,” he said.

“And I think they were better than us, too,” I said. “They were more compassionate, too.”

“Better? Compassionate?” said Jack. “How?”

“Well, one of their skeletons was an older man who’d had all kinds of injuries but survived them for years.”

“So how, exactly, does show they were better and more compassionate?” he said.

“Because,” I said, “as hard as their living conditions were, they still took care of their most vulnerable people.”

“But we take care of our most vulnerable people, too,” he said. Then he frowned and added, weakly, “Don’t we?”

We take care of our most vulnerable people too, don’t we?

Folks, if all your life you’ve been looking for the perfect rhetorical question, you need look no more.


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