August 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“What if” questions seem to be a big thing on social media these days.

Like…“What if you were dying and could listen to one more song before the end—what song would it be?” 

It’s not so much the “what” that bothers me. I just avoid anything to do with “if.” 

Except, of course, Rudyard Kipling’s great poem of that very title, which begins: 

“If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you…”

But then, as wise as Kipling was, no one took his advice about invading Afghanistan—don’t. So, it’s just more evidence that folks never listen to poets. If we’d listened to Kipling…well…sorry…there’s that “if” again.

But, back to the questions at hand, here’s one that was popular for a while: “If you could have just one super power, what would it be?”

The top two answers by far are: the ability to fly and invisibility. You can tell a lot about someone by his or her choice in this category. Being invisible is a selfish, perverse, and unacceptable answer. We all know what you’d do if you were invisible. It wouldn’t be saving lives, or rescuing people, or anything unselfish. We know what you’d do, so don’t try to make up some scenario where invisibility is used for the common good. Just don’t.

Flying, on the other hand, is a noble, useful, ennobling superpower. You can swoop in and save people in all sorts of dangerous situations—like on boats drifting toward the edge of Niagara Falls. You could take deserving people on really cool vacations while avoiding embarrassing pat downs in the TSA lines at airports. You could save kittens in tall trees and be famous because of the resultant viral YouTube video. You could speed up your friend’s move from that fifth floor walk-up apartment, stuff like that.

Another posting that bothers me is, “If you could give your 12-year-old self advice, what would it be?”

Aside from the implausibility of this whole time travel scenario, I mean, what if when I was back in time looking for my 12-year-old self, I accidentally gave my grandfather some bad advice, and he invested the family fortune in Studebaker? But that aside—that and the fact that there was no “family fortune” to squander—giving advice to myself seems to be a pointless conceit. I never took any advice from anyone. The fact that my older self was offering counsel would not have made the slightest difference. Being the pubescent lad I was, I would have simply laughed, put on my lucky socks, and gone back to the baseball diamond shaking my head.

So what advice would I try to give? Simple. Don’t sign with the Cardinals. If only I had listened.

“If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would you choose?”

Lots of people say Jesus, or better yet, God. I think they’re just trying to impress. Besides stretching the definition of “historical figure,” God just wouldn’t be a good dinner companion. Think about it. What could you say that he hadn’t already heard a few billion times? And what could he say that you would understand? No. And I’m not interested in dining with Abraham Lincoln—I’ve read all his folksy jokes—or Jefferson, or Mata Hari, or King this, or Kaiser that, or any famous author—trust me, you never want to sup with a writer. 

“If” I gotta pick a historical figure with whom to have a long, conversation-filled meal, I choose my dad, Vincent Henry. He’s the bit of history I’d like to spend more time with… and…and…and maybe Mark Twain, who is way beyond the category of “writer.” Dad would understand if I brought him along.

Right, I haven’t answered the original hypothetical. “If you were dying and could listen to one more song before the end—what song would it be?”

It depends. If I’m having one of those peaceful, romantic death scenes like Garbo in Camille, then I’d want to stretch it out a bit, and I’d go for Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony. It clocks in at around 105 minutes. If we’re talking a painful, traumatic exit, well then, The Minute Waltz if you please.

But all these are just “ifs.”

And as my grandfather said, “If Grandma had had wheels, she’da been a wagon.”

Otis Twelve hosts the radio program, Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve, on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This column was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.