Quirks, Quarks, and Banana Management

Quirks, Quarks, and Banana Management

By Gene Wilburn

“‘He said he would come in,’ the White Queen went on, ‘because he was looking for a hippopotamus. Now, as it happened, there wasn’t such a thing in the house, that morning.’ ‘Is there generally?’ Alice asked in an astonished tone. ‘Well, only on Thursdays,’ said the Queen.” ~ Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

If you’re an operational human being you have quirks, and probably not only on Thursdays. Quirks form part of our personalities and no one is exempt. Undoubtedly there are some quirks best not discussed, but most, let us hope, are harmless, like always cracking a hard-boiled egg on the pointy end, or aligning your saltine crackers so the wax lining seams are always on the top. I’m grateful that the checkout lady at the grocery last week made no comment about the six jars of natural, crunchy peanut butter on the conveyor. You don’t want to run out of peanut butter. And your next door neighbour? Could be the sort who alphabetizes his LP collection. You never know.

One quirk I’ve discovered about aging is that I talk to myself more than I used to. Not just mutterings like “where the hell do we store rye flour anyway?” but more pressing things like coaching myself through the process of shaving under my neck. “Okay, just put on the lather, there you go, now easy with the razor.” Or, “Let’s see what day of the week it is — check the pill case.” You know, tips on how to do things and coaching myself on what I should be doing instead of what I seem to be doing. My wife talks to herself a lot now too. She maintains a sprightly dialogue with her computer, much of it filled with expletives. With me being hard of hearing, I’m assuming it’s the computer she’s talking to.

One of the endearing quirks of my father-in-law, Ab, was on display whenever he and his wife Lillian went to the library to borrow books. He always checked out exactly ten books, five for each of them. In this way he could simply count to tell if he had all the returns in the bag when they came due.

Quirks reveal a lot about ourselves. Like baseball pitchers who carefully avoid stepping on the baseline when they come off the mound, most of us have little superstitions or habits that are telling. Like thinking there’s a right way and a wrong way to eat Pringles (the concave surface should rest on the tongue). I look both ways before crossing a one-way street. I’m not completely trusting that others will follow the rules, and to tell the truth, it once saved me from being hit by a driver going the wrong way. Call me experientially cautious, or that I share Hume’s view of humanity.

One of my main quirks is that words give me a buzz — especially puns. I have to suppress my tendency to make puns, out of politeness to others, though I’ve sometimes been less discreet about sharing puns on Facebook. And words just by themselves fascinate me. I love dictionaries, and I have many times opened a dictionary at random, just to read words and their definitions.

Interesting words can be found in some of the most unexpected places. Take quarks, for instance. There’s a quirky-sounding word if there ever was one, kind of what a duck with hiccups might say. Quarks are the universe’s elementary particles that combine to make composite particles, such as hadrons — the best known of which are the protons and neutrons of atomic nuclei. And deep in this world of particle physics lies a delight: the six “flavours” of known quarks have been named up, down, bottom, top, strange, and charm. It reminds me of the “flavours” of mind I go through while staring at the pantry shelves. What delicious names. The science behind this is a, um, quantum leap, for someone like me, but it’s fun to dwell on the names.

Because words are so central to my being, and because I have hearing loss, we watch videos on our TV with closed captioning turned on. It may be a quirky way to watch, but we’re now so used to it we miss it dreadfully when seeing shows that aren’t captioned. It also helps enormously with those northern accents on UK television productions, or watching an interview with a native Newfoundlander.

Everyone I’ve met has at least a few quirks they’re willing to admit to, such as running a fan in the bedroom all year round, not just in the summer. Or like having a favourite burner on your stove. Or watching sports on TV with the sound off because you can’t stand the blah-blah announcers.

One of the interesting quirks of the human mind is the ability to turn a quirk into a system. For us it’s “banana management.” We both like bananas on our morning cereal, but are particular about them not being too green or too ripe. The green ones have too solid a texture and not enough sweetness, while the too-ripe ones are fit only for banana bread. So we’ve developed the art of banana management, picking up a couple of fairly ripe bananas along with a batch of greener ones so that some are ready to eat immediately and the others have a chance to ripen before use. You have to gauge the colours just right for this to work out or you’ll have banana-less days waiting for them to ripen, or a surplus of banana bread.

I could go on and on about quirks and I’m certain that you could too. When writing longhand, I’m only comfortable with a fountain pen, black ink, and yellow legal pads. When writing on a computer I can only use text editors. Complicated menus and ribbon bars distract me. I only want to see the words I’m typing. But enough. We all have quirks, and they’re part of what make us unique. And as Margaret Mead once said, “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”

13 thoughts on “Quirks, Quarks, and Banana Management

  1. Gene,
    I can see that you have put much thought to identifying your quirks. I recognized myself in a number of yours. For us it’s not so much bananas that need management but avocados.
    We certainly use captioning when watching the likes of Shetland and Hinterland.
    Our mute button gets a workout at nearly every commercial particularly if it is for pharmaceuticals, hotel bookings, lawyers, or Huuuuge car ads.
    While you buy multiple jars of peanut butter, for me it’s Marmite. Breakfast wouldn’t be breakfast if I didn’t have Marmite on toast with my coffee.
    I could go on and on.
    Thank you Gene! I am unique just like you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a pleasant read to accompany my breakfast here while sitting in the sun in the Central mountains of Panama. It made me wonder not what my own quirks are but what others would describe as my quirks. Would the two lists line up?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice title, Gene. The phrase “quirks and quarks” is probably familiar to many Canadians because of the long running CBC radio show with that title. But you’ve certainly put your own spin on it. And managing to tie in “banana management” is masterful. No doubt I have many personal quirks as well. But I have no idea what they are, since to me they just appear to be ‘common sense.’ No doubt my wife would have a different view.

    Reminds me that the first host of Quirks and Quarks was David Suzuki. I was working at the Royal Ontario Museum in those days and had the dubious distinction of being something of a local spider expert. So one day I agreed to go over to the massive red brick pile that served at the time as the CBC’s Toronto headquarters on Jarvis St. There I was interviewed in a tiny studio by a very young David Suzuki who was still holding down his UBC professorship in genetics at the same time as he was moonlighting with the CBC. Can’t remember exactly what we discussed, but the recent discovery of the Brown Recluse spider in Ontario may well have been on the agenda.

    Quirks and Quarks has been the springboard for two other popular science journalists in Canada since then, first Jay Ingraham and more recently, Bob McDonald.

    Gee. Maybe one of my quirks is a fondness for the obscure history of popular culture?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Dave. I did indeed abscond with the title of the excellent CBC radio show. Now here’s a quirky thing: I too was interviewed once on Quirks & Quarks, on a little piece I’d penned for Rotunda called “Darwin’s Library.” By Jay. I was a librarian at the ROM at the time. Q&Q grads have to be a little quirky, non?


  5. Thanks both Gene and Thelma for those additional tales. Leads me to hazard the notion that these mini-memories, these anecdotal recollections of things past, might constitute the ‘quarks’ of history. They could be seen as the ‘elementary particles’ from which our understanding of the past is built. No doubt a quirky thought.


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