February 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We all “know” things.

I mean, we just believe this or are convinced of that, or we think another thing is probably true. But beyond all that, there are those things we simply “know.” They are the certainties programmed into our DNA—buried in our psyches.

We all know that the world is flat. As proof, we are all aware of people who have gone west and never come back.

We all know that lemmings go into a frenzy when the mating season tips things out of balance. We all know that the little rejected male voles, drowning in hormones, rush off in a column for the nearest cliff and follow on off the edge to their fluffy deaths on the rocks below. Millions have witnessed this phenomenon in a Max Fleischer cartoon from 1936.

We all know that the only man-made object that can be seen from space is the Great Wall of China. We heard it from a friend, who knows a guy, whose slightly tipsy aunt was told this by Buzz Aldrin at a Cold War-era cocktail party in Naples, Florida.

It is established in our heads that penguins mate for life. Never mind that none of us have ever seen a penguin engage in extra-marital egg cradling.

Napoleon Bonaparte was short. He was very short. The “little corporal” was a tiny man. We all know that this lack of stature caused the Corsican to overcompensate and prove himself the match for any “tall” man by conquering Europe. We’ve all known a short person who shares this “Napoleon Complex,” and we never invite them to our dinner parties because we don’t have booster seats handy. Randy Newman put it all into a song.

We all are certain that our mothers were right to warn us that we should not go in the water for an hour after eating. If we jump into the overcrowded municipal pool 55 minutes after the bologna with Miracle Whip sandwich, we will immediately cramp up and sink to the bottom of the over-chlorinated water and go unnoticed by the cute lifeguard who is flirting with the bad boy outside the chain link fence. We all trust our mothers.

It is simply true, and we absolutely know it to be true, that Vikings had horns on their helmets. We all saw the drawings in our history books picturing Eric the Red doing something, or Leif Erikson doing something else, and they always had horns.

It is an established historical fact (and oft-repeated) that though Mussolini was a fascist thug, he did make the trains run on time. I think that’s supposed to excuse all of his other sins.

Those are just some of the things we “know.” Of course, they are all wrong. All of them. Every single one.

The world is round. People actually return from California, even if they are not pleased with having to come back after not making it in Hollywood.

Lemmings do not blindly follow other lemmings over the edge of cliffs. I mean, it would be cool if they did, but they just don’t.

It’s actually very hard to see the Great Wall from space, but you can see I-80, or the huge San Bernardino Walmart parking lot (larger than 45 percent of incorporated towns in America) easily from the International Space Station porthole.

Penguins do not mate for life. It’s just that they all look alike and private detectives have problems tailing them when trying to catch them in flagrante delicto. “Is that Paul on the left in the tuxedo?”…“Beats the hell out of me.”

Napoleon was not short. He was 5’7”, which is one full inch taller than the average male in the era. Historians know this because they measured a lot of old clothes. Sorry, short people, you do indeed have no reason to live.

You could eat a Thanksgiving feast with all the tryptophan-laced trimmings and start your channel swim straight out of your chair. The biggest danger you would face is falling asleep, and missing the Chargers vs. Cowboys game.

Vikings did not have horns on their helmets. I don’t know why they didn’t because it would have been cool, but the whole horned helmet thing is Richard Wagner’s fault.

Finally, it turns out that Mussolini wasn’t good at anything, except making people think he got the trains to run on time. He didn’t. Plus, he was a monster.

Yep, it turns out we know less than we think. Maybe that’s a good thing. It’s hard to learn when you know too much.

All I know, I know, I know, I know…is, there ain’t no sunshine when you’re gone.

Otis XII hosts the radio program, Early Morning Classics with Otis XII, on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This column was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.