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The Core

by Ken Carlson

Dry Cleaning

Hello. I would like to take a break from my standard, crass display of frivolity. There are times when it is better to delve for something in-depth, strive for more, and stop pretending that farts are funny, even though they are. Anyhow, today I would like to share a meaningful passage from one of the oldest forms of story-telling; the fable. A fable is a short story, typically with animals as characters; and at its core, a moral. Morals are nagging messages of how you should live your life that burrow through your ears in your mother’s or third grade teacher’s voice; usually something broad about how you should treat other people, like, it is better to give than receive. As opposed to something more direct, like, pick up your dry cleaning on Tuesday.

Among the best-known creators of fables was a slave named Aesop. Aesop spun his memorable tales over 500 years before Christ; even more years before Twitter. Among his works are "The Crow and the Pitcher," "The Tortoise and the Hare," and "The Lion and the Mouse.” However, for me, the work of his that conveys the most in-depth meaning, filled with pain, and angst, a moral symbolic of these difficult times, is the horrific tale, “The Boy and the old Turtle and the Owl.”

BOY: Mr. Turtle, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

MR TURTLE: I never made it without biting... ask Mr. Owl.

BOY: Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

MR OWL: Let's find out... O-one.. Tw-o-o...Th-three


MR OWL: Th-three

ANNOUNCER: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?


ANNOUNCER: The world may never know.

Yes, it’s one of Aesop’s more argued about pieces among scholars; puzzling questions abound. A boy is confused about his lollipop, so he goes to discuss the matter with an elderly turtle. The turtle, symbolic of the American healthcare system, refers him to a lollipop specialist; an owl. The owl, in a fit of betrayal, bites down on the Tootsie Pop, crushing the boy’s lollipop and dreams.

And what of the cliffhanger, the haunting message to the boy, and all those others who seek the truth. “The world may never know?” There’s deep, soul-searching message in that for all of us and most conversations I have with my wife.

WIFE:  Honey, did you take out the trash last night?

ME: Who’s to say?

WIFE: What does that even mean?

ME: The world may never know.

WIFE: Jerk.

Pundits have argued about the role played by the old turtle in the story. The boy is troubled and asks an aging figure with decades of experience and wisdom for answers? At what point in the history of this world was that an accepted practice, to ask an elder advice? Just because they’ve live longer and visited IKEA more than the rest of us doesn’t mean they know everything. It’s old people who came up with the idea of predicting weather by the behavior of animals in the wild. “Hey, you kids, want to know how long winter will last? Try shining a light on a groundhog and see if it runs back into its hole. That’s a good use of your time. Try petting the back of a fuzzy caterpillar to see how much show we’ll get. Or you could scramble into the woods and try humping a badger. Six of one, half dozen of the other…”

Aesop was clearly ahead of his time, possibly before there was time. He was one of the first to get corporate sponsors in his stories. Tootsie Roll Pops in a fable? It’s akin to reading the Holy Gospel according to Mark, Chapter 1, starting with the first verse, brought to you by Hyundai—Proud sponsor of the New Testament! Enjoy the gospels today and test drive the Hyundai Elantra to appreciate the heated seats and holy savings!

Of course, there is the moral, the core message to take away from such a sorted story; never give your lollipop to owls. Don’t do it. Owls can be total dicks about hard candies. Don’t believe me? Go to a cage filled with rabid owls and wave a sticky hard candy around. See how that works for you. Owls lie. They will always bite your candy. The tragedy is magnified. Innocence is lost.

And what else is at the core? That I’ve wasted your time recounting a 30-second drama about a kid you’ve never met and the bastard animals that ruin his dreams. Who should care about that? People do. Scientists at Purdue University and other solid scientific programs have attempted to answer the question of how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. They’ve created simulated tongues—who could call that a waste of skill and effort for the scientific community? Volunteers have been brought in to replay the savage scene in the hopes of uncovering the mystery, if not for that boy, then maybe for another son, someday.

Maybe the moral is courage, in the face of birds that eat your candy. Maybe at the core, it’s about the freedom to waste your time, thinking about a silly tale.

Maybe it’s don’t forget to pick up your dry cleaning on Tuesday.

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