STRANGE BUT TRUE- Not happening: Some activities verboten while asleep


Q. Flying through the air, traveling back in time, talking with the dead... In dreams, it may seem like "anything goes" but it doesn't always work that way. What are some things people often have trouble doing in dreams? –S. Freud

A. Reading or writing columns of text, since whenever you look away and then peer back the words or lines will subtly shift, says Clifford Pickover in A Beginner's Guide to Immortality. In fact, this has become a leading test to determine if you're dreaming. Dream mirrors can also be bizarre: sometimes the reflection disappears entirely "or you may raise your hand and notice your reflected hand doesn't move quite as high."

A friend of Pickover said she has never been able to spend money in a dream, despite once dreaming she won the lottery. "I've never even seen a coin, dollar or any currency," she told him. Pickover says he himself has trouble making phone calls or sending computer instant messages. In one of his lucid dreams (where he was aware he was dreaming), his cell phone rang, but he realized it was not his phone's usual ringer, this being the dream world, after all. He explained this to a friend but it never occurred to him that the friend was "just a product of his imagination."

Q. Have you ever wondered why baseball team managers wear the same uniforms as players while basketball and hockey coaches wear suits and ties and football coaches don parkas and caps on the sidelines? –W. Eubank

A. Baseball was an organized sport long before the others, with no precedent about what managers should wear, says Robert Frank in The Economic Naturalist. And early uniforms were baggy enough to conceal a form well past its prime; given that baseball is not an athletically demanding sport, even some players look out of shape, so an older manager seems less conspicuous in a uniform. Plus baseball managers frequently have to enter the field of play, as when making a pitching change. A man in a business suit would seem jarringly out of place. Finally in baseball's early days, a number of managers were simultaneously active players, so uniforms made perfect sense for them. 

Now the clincher: Try to picture basketball coach Jeff Van Gundy on the sideline dressed in shorts and a tank top or football coach Bill Parcells in shoulder pads and skin- tight knickers. "Baseball managers in uniform are a far less comical spectacle than uniformed managers would be in the other major sports," Frank says.

Q. There are over 600,000 of them, four times the number in German, five times that in Russian, six times Spanish or French. This may well have been just too many, to the point where, we regret to inform you, our overburdened Thesaurus editor assumed room temperature, lay with the lilies, met Mr. Jordan, passed in his checks, permanently changed his address, slipped his cable, took the dirt nap, turned up his toes, went across the creek, bit the dust, bought the farm, breathed his last, came to the end of the road, cashed in his chips, cooled off, croaked, deep-sixed, expired, gave up the ghost, headed for the hearse, headed for the last roundup, kicked off, kicked the bucket, lay down one last time, left this mortal plain, met his maker, passed away, passed on, perished, pulled the plug, pushed up daisies, returned to dust, slipped his mortal coil, sprouted wings, took the last long count, traveled to kingdom come, went belly up, went to glory, went the way of all flesh, went to his final reward, went west. In a word,what did our overworked editor most assuredly do? –W. Shortz

A. He died, deadpans Richard Lederer in A Man of My Words, victim of the overlively multitudinousness of English synonyms, pushing our language up over 600,000 words. May the word coiners rest in peace!

Q. Hollywood aside, where are served up some truly frightful specters of corpses? –M. Shelley

A. At sea, says Kenneth V. Iserson in Death to Dust. Bodies ceremonially buried are usually weighted to keep them down, but victims of accidents or foul play will stay afloat awhile, buoyed by air trapped in clothing, then sink, only to resurface later from gas buildup and finally sink again as the gases escape.

The standard "cement boots" of organized crime will keep a corpse down, but how much weight is necessary? "In one case, a body weighted with a 145-pound cast-iron generator housing floated to the surface, despite the weight being 5 pounds heavier than the body," he writes.

A resurfacing corpse normally floats face down, the back over time often mummifying in the air while the front turns skeletal– a dreadful sight. A 19th-century ship's physician wrote of cases where bodies in deep water will float in an erect posture, head and shoulders clearly visible. "Menacing looks, gestures, and even words are supplied by the affrighted imagination," he noted.

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