Back in school there was a kid called “Hand Job” Sherman, who had all the answers. This is not how Hand Job got his name, but he raised his hand to be called on so many times a day, for so long (when a teacher refused to let him talk) that by the end of the day he had to prop it up, holding his elbow with his non-waving hand, which in turn was resting on his desktop in such a way as to construct an isosceles triangle with the desktop. You don’t know what an isosceles triangle is? Ask Hand Job, he knows everything.
Hand Job was, of course, a good student, nothing but As, and he got these As in spite of the fact that many of his teachers were openly weary of providing their classrooms as incubators to nourish his teenage need for love and attention.
These were things he was not getting anywhere else. His future—if you believed all the adults who pretended they could predict these things because they had once had futures of their own—was golden, strictly the sky’s the limit (my own future, if you care, was strictly the third floor).
But enough nostalgia—that was high school, a long time ago. The thing is, though, all these years later I still only rarely run into adults who do not remember a Hand Job Sherman from their own school days—and in those cases when somebody can’t remember one, it usually means he or she was Hand Job himself—which begs the question, where did they go?
There have to be thousands of them out there, after all—we are not talking about good students now, but the ones who lived to be called on in class. So where are they? I can tell you this: they did not grow up to be president.
My suspicion is, the smart ones grew out of it, some faster than others. Some of them went off to Harvard or Northwestern or the University of Chicago where everybody is a valedictorian, and noticed that nobody there was applauding their brains.
Some turned to the professional life—medicine or the law, which can be an excellent place to hide a mediocre brain—and some of them turned to the arts, where they may have come to understand the difference between intelligence and talent, or, failing that, redefined the word talent to mean something that included themselves.
Only a very few ever found their way into places where somebody else hasn’t already figured out the answers.
Still, the question lingers: where are they now? Well, I found one.
His name is Michael Medved, and he has a radio show you may have listened to yourself, as he is syndicated into a lot of markets. I listen whenever I am in my truck between noon and three p.m., and I know this sounds a little weak but the truck only gets one station—770 AM—and the radio goes on by itself.
So, on comes the radio and on comes Michael Medved, and I am just in time to hear him say that he was picked for his job by God, who has him in the noon-to-three slot here in the Seattle market, Monday through Friday. And from this God-given platform Medved pimps an endless maze of products and services.
Okay, wait. This is getting ugly. Pimps isn’t really the right word. Medved takes money for personal endorsements, but that isn’t it either. He doesn’t just personally endorse, he testifies. As in Saturday night Bible thumping, or, in this case, Torah thumping (Medved goes into his religious identity daily with only the smallest provocation).
And doing so, he speaks of his faith with the same profound conviction he endorses pillows and roofers and over-the-counter arthritis drugs that have helped family and friends. He loves God and he loves his Acura.
It has apparently not occurred to Medved yet that the personal opinions he may hold and argue for are stained by the opinions he is paid for and reads on-air with the same heartfelt sincerity. For instance, he is a movie critic. A knowledgeable, predictable, humorless, completely unimaginative reviewer of films. A completely mediocre writer. Which is all his Constitutional right.
On the other hand, the question looms: if Medved is willing to take money to say he loves his Acura or his roofer or his dentist or his adult diapers—actually, I’m not sure about the adult diapers—how is he supposed to be trusted to pass judgment on a film? How much money does a good review cost?
He did an interview last week, teased as an American success story, which turned out to be a softball conversation with one of his regular sponsors, the guy who makes pillows. I do not know if the pillow man paid for the time—Medved often does commercials under the guise of interviews—but either way it is a spectacular abuse of trust.
One of the ways you know if someone is telling you the truth is what they say when they don’t know. If they pretend to have knowledge they don’t have. I am going back a long time now, to the first time I gave up on Medved. The truck was new, the radio worked, I could open the doors without setting off the alarm. It was a better world.
Mike Tyson had just bitten off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a heavyweight championship fight. Medved and a guest whose name I have forgotten agreed that the fight had been “classic good versus evil.” The fact that Medved and his guest knew nothing about boxing, nothing about Holyfield or even anything substantive about Tyson did not generate even a moment’s pause in the conversation.
They agreed together that even if Tyson’s complaints were true—that Holyfield had butted him throughout the fight—he could have called timeout to review the fouls. What matters in this is not Medved’s ignorance, but his willingness to judge two humans as classic evil and good on a half minute of a tape he did not begin to understand.
Likewise, more recently a long-winded take on quarterback Colin Kapernick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. A tirade on Kaepernick’s ineptitude based on nothing but a shallow reading of statistics and maybe somebody else’s opinion.
This is the same Medved who told a listener recently he had no footing to discuss the Quran unless he reads Arabic, and resents anyone “telling me” (Medved speaking) about Judaism who does not read Hebrew.
I’m thinking maybe I’d rather just get a new truck.