The Straight Stuff
To Read the original nursery rhyme "There was a Crooked Man", click here

I know Curly Bent, the crooked man, very well. We were kids together, and even when he was little, Curly was crooked as a dog's hind leg. His arms stuck out at funny angles and his feet went every which way. His nose kind of swooped from right to left more than up and down, and when he held a finger out to point at something, it looked like the letter S on its side. The only things not crooked about him were his teeth; they were as even as the keys on a piano. But then at about the fifth grade, when the rest of us got braces, his teeth went crooked too.

Curly always looked a little crumpled, like a wad of paper, which upset his mom. She would say, "Stand up straight, Curly!" But he could only stand up crooked, which upset her even more, and she would send him straight to bed. But of course he went crooked to bed.

He didn't mind a bit being crooked. It let him do all sorts of things the rest of us couldn't do.

Ever have a terrible itch on your back, high up between your shoulder blades? Curly could scratch his back there with no strain, and even watch his fingers at work.

Ever wish you could see behind you without turning your head or peek around some tall person in front of you at the movies without stretching your neck? For Curly, it was no problem.

Best of all was when we were all tired of standing in some line, maybe waiting for lunch at school. Curly could sit down while he was still standing up. That's how crooked he was.

As we grew older, Curly was a champ at almost everything he tried. He could pitch a curve ball that no one could hit. He could weave his way through the backfield in such a crooked way that no one could keep him from throwing a crooked pass for a touchdown. And when we got old enough to start asking girls to dance, Curly never got turned down. Boy, could he dance! Legs and arms in every direction. He was really something to watch, like a big tangle of wire coat hangers hopping around in time to the music.

Once when we were still little, I asked him, "Curly, does it bother you to be crooked when all the rest of us are so regular?"

"Nah," he said. "Crooked is just what I am, and it lets me do a lot of things more regular people can't do. And anyway, a lot of you are a bit more bent and curvy than you think you are."

I thought about that for a while and began to notice ways in which I wasn't so regular, like when I curled up under the covers to go to sleep, or flopped on the couch in front of the TV, or swam with a crawl stroke, or looked for a dime I'd dropped. I was kind of bent and curvy doing those things.

Years after we had grown up and Curly had become famous as the crooked man and retired from pro football and built his beautiful little crooked house on the edge of town, I asked him, "Curly? What's with this crooked mile they say you went?"

"Well, Lance," he said, "what I learned from being crooked all my life is that while going in a straight line is usually the fastest way to get somewhere, it may not be the best way to go. If you're in a hurry, straight is okay. But if its the going you want to enjoy, a chance to look around and smell the roses, taste the air, crooked is much better."

I thought about that a lot, and I thought about Curly and his crooked cat and his crooked house, and I began to slow down some and walk and talk and hear and see and smell and taste and—well— live just a little bit more crooked myself.

And I believe crooked Curly has the straight stuff.



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