- My father once had a dream in which he was staying in a Swiss pension. There was a boarding house group from several countries, and as typical in these places meals were communal, all at one table. Shortly after his arrival he discovered that the elderly German gentleman with the mustache was, in fact, Adolf Hitler. Since dream logic was in effect, the problem was not how to kill Hitler, or call the police or the army, or even berate him for his crimes. The question was: how to address him at dinner?
He couldn’t just be “Mr. Hitler”; the guy was a former head of state. “Herr Führer”, though, would imply approval of the Third Reich and his dictatorship, which can’t be done even at dinner. Finally he figured it out: “Herr Reichskanzler Hitler” [sp?]. Since that was his official elected office, it was the best choice for being introduced or asking the guy to pass the salt.
- I once saw a lecture by a psychologist whose field of expertise was the psychology of contagion. This was just a few years into the AIDS epidemic, so it was a topic of current interest. He pointed out that how people think and behave about infection and contagion is related to scientific knowledge, but separate and different. And way stupider. For example, physically handicapped people are treated the way we treat people with an infectious transmittable disease: stay away, don’t touch. The mentally handicapped, too. NIMBY arguments against group homes sometimes boil down to “I’m afraid to have this near me”, as though one could catch mental retardation or multiple sclerosis from the water supply or at the mall.
The most fascinating part of the lecture was the discussion of the contagion of clothing. People were asked a series of questions about clothing that had been worn by others. No one wanted to wear clothing that an AIDS patient had worn, even if it had been thoroughly cleaned. Many people didn’t want to wear clothing that a handicapped person had worn. And finally, the contagion of evil enters the picture when we’re talking about clothing. If some beloved figure like Mother Theresa has worn a sweater, most people responded they’d love to wear it. However, if Adolf Hitler had worn the sweater, no one wanted to wear it. And if the sweater had been worn by Adolf Hitler and then by the Dalai Lama, they still wouldn’t wear it. Some kinds of contagion can’t be purified.
So anyway that’s how I learned that you can turn into Hitler if you sit on the wrong toilet seat, and that you don’t want to stay in a hotel with the guy.