Professor fails in attempt to avoid war

Bob Huber: CNJ columnist

A learned friend of mine spent the holidays in Los Angeles and later wondered if she shoulda stood in bed. Her sad tale began when she left the comforts of her prairie home in eastern New Mexico and drove to Albuquerque to catch a plane.

Remember last month when a blizzard hit just before Christmas, snarling traffic, giving weatherpersons the flimflams, and otherwise making it impossible to get a suntan on the sparkling beaches of Oasis State Park?
As usual, snow and ice caused a truck to jackknife east of Albuquerque, tying up traffic, and my friend arrived at the Sunport too late to catch her westbound flight. That forced her to wait five hours for the next one, which was also late.

But she made it to California that night, a little bedraggled yet proud that she’d overcome stormy obstacles all by herself and finally was in the friendly land of silk and money. Alas, she overlooked the whimsical spirit of Mother Nature.

It began to rain in southern California on Christmas, which was unusual in itself. Then it rained all day and all night and continued to pour the next day. And it didn’t stop. It kept raining. In fact, they’re still bailing out.

For my friend, it was a cold and clammy holiday. In fact, doomsday prophets were talking about cubits, and folks all over southern California were looking at the sky, rending their hair, and crying, “Why, God? What did we do?”

I could go on and on about my friend’s holiday soaking, but I won’t. (At one point she even thought she was the reincarnation of Joe Pfutznik, the Al Capp character who was followed everywhere by a black cloud spouting rain and lightning.)

Instead, I’ll relate an old anecdote brought to mind by her plight. It’s best told to the refrain from “The Wizard of Oz,” and involves Dorothy muttering, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

The story highlights a world class anthropologist, a university professor who was sought by intelligentsia all over the world for his ability to predict coming events. His forecasts included the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, a dozen elections, and an occasional horse race and World Series winners.

News accounts labeled him clairvoyant. Folks who refused to believe in that sort of nonsense were more interested in his picks of odds-on favorites.

Anyhow, one day it dawned on him that Hitler’s War was about to sweep over Europe. He also figured the Japanese would soon swarm the Pacific.

He calculated further that the English, the French, and every European with a lick of sense would duke it out with Adolph, while in the Pacific the Japanese would be free to quickly take over China and some other spots like Australia, New Zealand, even the west coast of America.

He wasn’t real clear about the role of Russia in the coming conflict, but he became convinced that California would become a major battleground. Since that’s where he lived, he began looking around for a safe haven.

Originally he thought about the outback of Australia, but he was a man of books, not a rustic native. A guy could starve to death out there if he didn’t know how to fricassee lizards and dance around a fire singing, “Oog mama, oog mama.”

So he looked elsewhere, hoping to locate some blissful spot until the big wars blew over. He perused geography books day and night until finally he found the perfect hideout, an island in a remote area of the Pacific far off the east coast of New Guinea.

His proposed retreat didn’t even appear on some maps, although it had plenty of food, water and friendly natives. It was so secluded that no warring nation would give it a second glance. “Huzzah!” he cried and began packing.

So this learned man silently sailed away from America and a few weeks later was snug in his new home far from the maddening crowd. He spent his days happily pouring over his books, drinking fermented coconut milk, and ogling native girls.

Then one day the Japanese appeared and started building an airfield down the road. A little later 20,000 U.S. Marines stormed ashore and spent six months punching holes in the island until the professor’s paradise looked like a hunk of Swiss cheese.

You see, the retreat this clever man chose was a little known patch of land in the Solomon chain called Guadalcanal.

Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.