Quick. How many days does April have?
I ask a simple question like this and my husband — one of the smartest people I know — starts fumbling with his knuckles. Either that or he’s mentally running through the old saying, “Thirty days hath September … April, June and … ”
“How can you not know how many days April has?” I ask him, very helpfully.
“I don’t like to memorize useless information,” he says. “Unlike you, evidently. I have more important things on my mind.”
Oh, sure. Like there’s anything more important than knowing how many days are in each month. Besides, it’s not as if I tried to memorize any of this. I just know it.
After asking a few friends (my definition of a relentless scientific endeavor), it seems to me that instinctively knowing the number of days in each month is more of a female than a male talent. But it appears to be a talent only a few, select, clearly extraordinary women have. Maybe you get it with your periods or something. Maybe, like genius or schizophrenia or color-blindedness, you’re just born with it.
But I know I cheered a few years ago when I saw Connie Chung interview that sleazy Congressman, Gary Condit, about his whereabouts when his intern friend Chandra Levy was abducted. Condit oh-so-casually mentioned something about his schedule on “April 31st.”
Trust me, you should have seen Connie Chung rise to the occasion. “There is no April 31st,” she countered.
“Well, I — ” Condit said.
“April only has 30 days,” Chung continued triumphantly, smelling a big, fat Congressional rat.
“You’re right, Connie!” I screamed at the TV. “He’s a liar!”
Anyway, I just love investigative journalism like that. I could see myself in Chung’s shoes. Sure, I’d be misled by the slightest excuses (“I just can’t remember” or “Can you ask the question again? I’ve got a migraine”). And I’d get overly wrapped up with my tendency toward extreme empathy or some kind of ridiculous naivete that makes me reluctant to believe people can look you in the eye and lie like a dog. The Watergate investigation, for example, would never have happened under my watch. (“There’s nothing to it, Mr. President? Really? Oh, all right. If you say so.”)
But alarms begin to shrill inside me when someone utters solecisms like “September 31st” or “February 30th” or “July 30, the last day of the month, you know.” The hair on the back of my neck stands up and my gut clenches and my jaw sets. You can tell me my money is safe with you, Bernie Madoff, since you have such a nice face and an air of distinction and why would anybody as successful as you lie?
But don’t tell me August only has 30 days. Because I’ll be on you like a tick, drilling for blood, as sure as November has 30 days — no more, no less.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)