“What makes human beings different from animals,” Stuart asked.
“They have names,” I said.
“Animals have names, too,” Stuart said.
I could see that there would be no stopping the next Stuart verbal avalanche.
“So, what does separate us from the beasts?” I bit.
“When I was young, I learned that what separated us from the monkeys was that we made tools.”
“Yeah, Homo habilis. But some years later, Jane Goodall ruined that theory when she discovered chimpanzees poked sticks down termite nests to pull out a tasty gob of bugs to eat.”
“When I was in college, a stuffed-shirt teacher told me that humans were the only animals that used language.
“But now, not only are some gorillas using sign language — and more articulately than many politicians — but scientists are striving to learn the languages of dolphins and whales.”
“Whales can talk?”
“What do they say?”
“I don’t know. Maybe, ‘Here I am, come get me,’ or ‘Haven’t I seen you here before?’
“And honeybees dance to talk.”
I considered this bit of information while Stuart circled in for a landing at his main point.
“Human beings are crazy to poke sticks into the ground.”
“Look around you. There are sticks everywhere. Streetlights. Traffic signs. Mile markers.
“Go to the most godforsaken plain in North Dakota and you will see lines of fence poles stretching out to the horizons.
“We are a species mad about sticks.
“Flags on golf greens. Citronella poles in back yards. Surveyors’ stakes. Bean poles and tomato stakes. Crosses in front of churches. Maypoles.
“And it’s not just now I’m talking about. In the Bible, Aaron’s rod was stuck into the ground and sprouted. Sioux Indians had to place a pole in the ground for their Sun Dance. Hey, and digging sticks. Totem Poles. Prayer sticks…
“We travel 169,000 miles to the moon and what do we do? Plop down a flagpole and take our photo beside it.
“You can’t walk 30 yards in this town and not see some pole drilled into the dirt: street signs; business signs.
“We have turned our planet into a porcupine.”
I laughed. “But didn’t you say chimpanzees stick sticks in the ground for termites?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess I’m wrong, then. Never mind.”
But I had my own theory.
“Human beings are the only animals who use toilet paper,” I said.