Cumberland Times-News

September 3, 2011

It’s not hard, if you know how to do it

Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— A continuing thread that runs through the “NCIS” TV series involves Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ boats. He has built at least four of them in his basement, and websites are devoted to the mystery they offer ... which is:

How does Gibbs get the boats out of his basement after he has finished them?

When one of his agents asked, “How you get the boat out?” Gibbs told him, “Break the bottle.” When another time he was asked, “How do you get the boats out of your basement?” he smiled and said nothing.

I can give you an answer to the question of how Gibbs gets the boats out of his basement, and it has nothing to do with how Gibbs gets the boats out of his basement.

Goldy’s Rule 19 comes into play here: To get the answer you need, you must ask the right question. To ask the right question, you must know most of the answer already.

Here’s an example of how that works:

I haven’t read Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” but watched the movie and enjoyed it and the furor it created. It has been denounced as an attack on the Catholic Church and for taking extreme liberties with history, religion (or at least spirituality) and science.

It chronicles how Prof. Robert Langdon uncovered the sinister Priory of Sion conspiracy, found a descendant of the marriage between Christ and Mary Magdalene (who Langdon decided is the true Holy Grail) and figured out where Mary’s tomb is located.

If none of this is fact, people ask, then how can it be what it appears to be? Others wonder if it is fact, in which case Brown must know something nobody else does.

Well, it can be what it appears to be, for the same reason that each time Kenny was killed in South Park, he returned in the next episode. It also addresses the issue of Gibbs’ boats.

How does Gibbs get his boats out of the basement? The answer is that he doesn’t have to. NCIS is a work of fiction — as are The Da Vinci Code and South Park, both of which are loosely (in South Park’s case, very loosely) based upon fact.

That same answer was provided by a contributor to a Gibbs-And-His-Boats website, who said that people who worry about such things should spend more time with their kids.

He was pilloried by others for his cynicism and lack of imagination, and properly so.

Establishing that Gibbs doesn’t have to get his boats out of the basement because NCIS is fiction actually frees us to decide how it’s done — and there are no limits on how we do that.

How poor we would be, if we let fact get completely in the way of fiction. Some fact is needed, because great fiction takes fact and runs wild with it (good writing also helps). If an element of doubt is left in our minds, so much the better.

There would have been no Star Trek and no Star Wars if science fiction writers simply accepted Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which says nothing — including spaceships — can travel faster than the speed of light.

“Gone with the Wind” didn’t have a cast of real characters, but a cast of fictional characters that were based on historical fact.

Great art is the artist’s interpretation of reality — not the reality itself. If you want reality, take a photograph (although great photography certainly involves the photographer’s interpretation of reality).

At least one of Gibbs’ boats has made it out of his basement, so we know it can be done. Now, it’s up to us to figure out how.

I am developing a theory, or at least the direction the theory will take. Like The Da Vinci Code, it is based on historic, religious (or at least spiritual) and scientific fact.

Modern people wonder how ancient people built the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge and other colossal structures — some in places that haven’t been above sea level since the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.

Most are made of stone blocks that weigh hundreds or even thousands of tons and fit so tightly that you can’t get a razor blade between them.

Modern engineers say much of this lies beyond even today’s technology. Others offer explanations that involve massive human work forces using ramps, pulleys, rollers and pits that are filled from the top with sand and drained from the bottom.

So-called ancient astronaut theorists hold that extraterrestrials who were worshiped as gods did the work, or at least supervised it.

They point to the Nazca plain in Peru, where entire mountaintops appear to have been sheared off to make room for what looks like airport runways. I’ll concede the decapitated mountaintops, but why would people who are capable of interstellar space flight use airplanes that need a runway to land and take off?

Earthlings built the pyramids. Period. Living quarters, bakeries and tool-making shops for thousands of (paid, not slave) laborers have been unearthed nearby. So have their tools and graffiti and the remains of workers who survived severe trauma after being treated in accordance with the era’s medical texts — copies of which also have been found.

And yet ... nobody can explain the Coral Castle in Florida, a bizarre assemblage of stones that weigh up to 30 tons. It was built in the 1920s and 1930s by Edward Leedskalnin, apparently by himself and without modern construction equipment, save for what was used to quarry and transport the blocks to his property.

Leedskalnin allowed no one to watch. When asked, all he would say was, “It’s not difficult if you know how.” A skilled engineer who experimented with electricity and magnetism, he hinted that he had re-discovered techniques used by the pyramid builders.

We give our distant ancestors little credit for intelligence, even though their physical brains were identical to ours. That is a mistake. Apparently lacking what we think of as modern technology, they had to use their wits.

Leedskalnin, the pyramid builders and other ancient people must have known something we don’t. We have irrefutable evidence of what they did; we just don’t know how they did it.

I strongly suspect that Gibbs has figured it out ... but he isn’t talking, either.

The other thing you must remember about fiction is that the truth can be far stranger.