We were calmly and rationally discussing art, music, politics and religion (actually, we were talking about those dog sculptures in Grand Haven, "American Idol" and high gas prices, and occasionally using the Lord's name improperly).
During our conversation, the age-old question arose: What person would you like to talk with, living or dead, if you could?
I pondered the question hard as I chewed a lump of mozzarella cheese wrapped in a thin crust with a spicy meat substance. As I washed it down with a swig of Dew, the usual names came up from our discussion: Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Elvis and Abraham Lincoln.
I thought about these iconic figures from history and then interjected why none of them would work for me. First of all, those people are dead, and dead people make horrible conversationalists. However, if I could be transported in time and speak with them while they were living, I still would not choose any of those individuals.
I wouldn't be able to understand a word that Albert Einstein would have to say because he spoke German. Even if he spoke English, I wouldn't be able to understand a word he said because the Theory of Relativity is more complicated than a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Einstein's theory states that E=mc2, or that a force has an equal or greater opposing force, or that a black hole has two sides that are equal to the remaining side. Actually, I think the Scarecrow said that on the "Wizard of Oz." And I think he was talking about an isosceles triangle. Anyway, the Scarecrow and I have nearly the same amount of brains, so I'd be better off talking to him than to Albert Einstein.
I wouldn't want to talk to Winston Churchill either because I wouldn't be able to understand a word he said, because he spoke British. Even if I could speak British, I wouldn't be able to handle all the cigar smoking Churchill would be doing. It would be rude for me to cough and shoosh smoke away from my face, so he wouldn't be my choice.
Elvis would be interesting to talk to if you caught him in the late 1950s or early '60s. By the time he died in the late '70s, he was so strung out that I imagine he spoke in mumbles like Ozzie Osborn. I'd need subtitles to understand Elvis. And being the late '70s, he'd say annoying things like, "Rock solid, baby," and "Groovy, man," and "Thank you, thank you very much."
I'd like to keep Elvis's memory alive through his music. I'd like to remember when he sang clearly on songs like "Jailhouse Rock."
I wouldn't want to talk to Abraham Lincoln either. I've seen pictures of Honest Abe, and he just looks so darn sad. I picture Lincoln as being a bit of a downer. And if I were transported back in time, I couldn't resist warning him not to go to Ford Theater that night.
Now that I've discussed some of the people I'd pass up, I'd like to talk about some people I would like to talk with. The first person to pop into my head is Jesus. However, Jesus died, rose again, and, I believe, is living still — so I talk to Him all the time. He doesn't answer back much, though.
The beauty part about Jesus is, when He does speak back to me, He always tells me exactly what I want to hear. Whenever I have a fight with my wife and I tell Him about it, He always thinks I'm right and she's wrong. But He still loves her.
And whenever I'm having trouble at work, He feels the same way about my boss as I do. And that will remain between Jesus and I.
If I were ever to go out on a charter fishing trip with my friends, I would definitely want Jesus to be there. If we were out on the Big Lake and a storm came up, Jesus could talk to the sky and it would calm. If my buddies ran out of beverages, Jesus could take a bucket of water and — poof! — turn it into wine. I'm sure if he could turn it into wine, he could turn it into beer, so — poof! — it's beer.
Jesus could tell us exactly where the fish are and tell us which side of the boat to cast from. And if we ran out of food, Jesus could take a tuna fish sandwich and turn it into basketsful of lunch.
But since I talk to Jesus on a regular basis, he wouldn't be my choice to talk with. I would want to talk to someone who I don't normally get the opportunity to chat with.
In the lunchroom, I said, "How about Garrison Keillor?" That suggestion was met with blank stares.
"Y'know, 'A Prairie Home Companion,'" I said. could hear a cricket chirp.
"He's an author." Shoulders shrugged and eyes rolled.
After that, I decided to keep my choice a secret. Until now.
I know that my choice seems shallow and frivolous, but I chose someone who is living. In fact, he's a living legend, my boyhood hero — and, as far as I know, a non-smoker. It's Joe Namath.
There, I said it.
To a 10-year old boy, there was never anyone cooler than Broadway Joe. He was cooler than James Dean, Fonzy and every surfer dude who ever caught a wave. Joe was smooth when he was tossing passes for the New York Jets in the late '60s and early '70s, and he was even smoother when he was strutting around in a full-length fur coat or making a pantyhose commercial. I even tried to grow a Fu Manchu mustache like his, but it's a real challenge for 10-year-olds to grow facial hair.
Sure, there were people who contributed more to health care, humanity, arts and sciences than Joe Willy Namath, but I'd still like to sit down at a local pub and shoot the breeze with Joe and tell him what an impact he had on a kid from Nowheresville, USA. I think Joe and I would speak the same language. I think he'd be easy to talk to.
And if I ever get to meet him, I'd go to work and tell everyone around the lunchroom table that I met Joe Namath. And they'd all say, "Who?"
— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist