One Hundred Monkeys in Texas

June 24, 2008

The two-minute warning

Filed under: Death — alancochrum @ 2:01 am

Is anybody not writing about the June 22 death of comedian George Carlin? Oh, well, why buck the trend …

One of the few things that I knew about Carlin involved his joke about the two-minute warning. The idea is that death is like football — you get a notice before the game is over. “Two minutes — get your stuff together.” Stuff, of course, was not the word he used.

My father’s business partner recently suffered a fatal stroke. Something tells me that he really didn’t get a two-minute warning. Same thing with a newspaper executive with whom I once worked. He was playing golf, and then … well, he wasn’t.

I once saw one of those desk signs with a message something to the effect that, ideally, you should skid into the afterlife with a worn-out body and a glass of champagne in one hand and exclaiming, “Woo-hoo, what a ride!” I suspect that the idea of a two-minute death warning appeals to that side in a lot of us — we’d like a head’s-up so we can indulgence in one last bowl of Chocolate Decadence ice cream — or some other pleasure, possibly even more decadent.

Here’s a thought: Why not try to live so that you don’t need a two-minute warning?

The narrator in Garrison Keillor’s humorous novel Lake Wobegon Days recalls that in a town where everyone was either Catholic or Lutheran, he grew up in a sect so small that only the members and God knew about it. So when somebody asked what he was, he simply said: Protestant. It was too much to explain, he said, like having six toes — you would rather just keep your socks on.

I have to wonder whether life doesn’t sometimes present us with situations in which it is so much simpler in the long run to act one way rather than the alternative.

I believe that I eventually will spend eternity with a lot of the people around me. Given that, it’s just a good idea to keep short accounts, to avoid wounding people unnecessarily and to go ahead and apologize if need be. I have this image of being ushered into paradise: “But first, here are a few folks who need an ‘I’m sorry’ from you. Oh, don’t worry — we’ll wait.” Right there, as the phrase goes, in front of God and everybody.

Think of it as the Ethic of Six Toes. Sometimes it is just easier to keep your socks on.


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