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Omaha Magazine

Not Funny: Don't Give Up, Or Else Do

Apr 20, 2020 12:34PM ● By Otis Twelve
Otis Twelve column photo

Recently the world has become a scarier, darker place. There are frightening headlines and complex crises everywhere we turn. It’s tempting to give up. It’s all too easy to slip into gloom, doom, and despair.  

Fortunately, when everything goes wrong…when the world is out of control…when the future looks bleak…we have a large supply of old maxims, mottos, and proverbs to keep us going.

“Buck up,” people say.

“But do you mean a dollar bill or a male deer?” I ask. They ignore me. It’s an important distinction, but they just think I’m a hopeless concrete thinker.

“When they give you lemons, make lemonade,” people say.

“But processed sugar isn’t good for you, and I have a few paper cuts on my fingertips,” I point out. Again, they ignore me, even though I’m right. Too much refined white sugar and my immune system takes the week off. That’s not a good thing when we’re living through the Age of Anti-immune Systems. And paper cuts, I mean, weren’t we supposed to be “paperless” by now?

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” people say.

“But where are they going exactly?” I ask. “I mean, do they run away? When things get tough do the tough take a road trip with an old friend? Do things go wrong when a gun goes off and then they drive their car over a cliff? Is Brad Pitt somewhere in there?”

Hey, life can actually imitate life, right?  That’s especially true when a cool vintage T-Bird is involved. Anyway, I have no idea where the tough went.

“Quitters never win,” people say.

“Nixon quit,” I say. They finally respond to me, “Yeah, Nixon quit and he didn’t win.”  I have to give them that one. “Okay, Nixon was a loser, but what about Pope Benedict?” This time they ignore me. No one wants to take the chance of discussing religion in mixed company.  

“The glass isn’t half empty, it’s half full,” people say.

“But isn’t it important what the glass is half full of?” I ask. They strike back, “Never end a sentence with a preposition!” I borrow Churchill’s retort, “That’s the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put.” That silences them for a moment. Hey, what’s in the damn glass is important.

“The Chinese word for crisis consists of two symbols. One means crisis and the other means opportunity,” people say.  

“Really?” I ask. “Well, I looked it up and the Chinese word for crisis does contain two symbols. They mean crisis and disturbance. So, you just made up that whole ‘opportunity’ thing.”  There is no “opportunity.” None. It’s a lie. A crisis, whether it’s Chinese or Nebraskan, is a crisis—a disturbing crisis. Sorry, to disabuse you happy people, but truth sets you free.  

And here’s some more truth. When things look bleak…when what’s in that half-full glass hits the fan…forget about that positive, optimistic outlook. Give into despair.  Lose all hope…

Just hug somebody tight.

And meet me for a whiskey when all this is over. 

Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit for more information.

This article was printed in the May 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.