The other day, as Son and Daughter and I were walking towards the bus stop, we noticed a lot of earthworms on the sidewalk.
Every step of the way, Son was yelling warnings to Daughter and me so that we wouldn’t step on them. There really were a lot of them and I jumped over each one to my please my animal loving kids. (“That’s why I don’t use worms, but bread, as a bait when we go fishing,” said Daughter). Meanwhile, the other half of my brain, the half that’s not in charge of my walking and jumping, was busy trying to come up with an answer to the question I knew was coming.
I knew I had once known the answer. More importantly, I knew I didn’t know the answer anymore, which also meant that I was probably going to have to go for a hat fact.
A hat fact: a piece of information you pull out of a hat, on the spot. It sounds factual, it sounds credible, and is very possibly true, but if you’re honest about it, you don’t really know what you’re talking about.
(I know some people like to pull things out of some other places, but I use a hat).
It’s a phrase I coined with a friend of mine a couple of years ago when we were traveling to London, and realized how much nonsense we were talking. We started to call out ourselves every time we threw out a hat fact, and my friend developed the concept further, by not only quickly saying “hat fact” as a verbal asterisk, but also tipping an imaginary hat with his hand.
Me: “I wonder what kind of kidneys they use in this steak and kidney pie?”
Leppä: “Oh, I think they use hare’s kidneys. Those look a little too small to be cow’s kidneys. Hat fact. [Tip of the hat optional].
A hat fact can be true, too. What makes it a hat fact is that you don’t really know if it’s true.
Somehow I always reach for the hat fact instead of just saying “I don’t know”. I know I’m not alone in this, according to one study, 75 percent of kids and 25 percent of adults would try to answer a question rather than say they didn’t know. And that’s with questions there is no answer to.
So, we’re skipping and we’re hopping over and around the earthworms, and I’m rattling my brain because I know I used to know. I’m considering a distraction, though, because I remember that a buddy of mine told me once that if you cut an earthworm into two halves, both ends will just keep on living, so you’d have two worms instead of one.
Then I see Daughter staring at the ground and very carefully walking around the worms, and I decide that it may not be the right thing to bring up. Also, I’m not sure if it’s even true. (It’s not, only the head survives).
I try another distraction.
“Oh, man, there goes our bus. Again. We always seem to be right here when the bus leaves the stop,” I say, and point at the blue bus, now already way on its way.
“Yeah,” says Daughter. “We’ll take the next one.”
Son has stopped giving out those warnings as we walked into the underpass that takes us to the bus stop. Daughter was skill skipping, and she was counting the number of earthworms she saw. And I’m trying to think of the answer to “why are there so many earthworms on the sidewalk after the rain?”
I know I used to know it. It had something to do with the fact that too much water was bad for them, and also that it was a bit of an illusion because we just saw all of them on the concrete because they couldn’t dig through it. And something something something, I tell myself.
We get on the bus, and just as Daughter sits down, she looks at me and says:
“Dad, why are there so many earthworms on the sidewalk after the rain?”
“Funny you should ask…,” I say, and pause.
“… because I was just thinking about that myself. I don’t know. Let me google that.”
I punch in “earthworms”, “sidewalk”, “rain”, and hit OK and I start to read:
“For years scientists seemed to think the only reason earthworms came to the soil surface after a good rain was to prevent drowning in their water-filled burrows… but soil experts now think earthworms surface during rain storms for migration purposes.”
“So, I guess we don’t really know for sure,” I say.
“OK,” she says.
“But, I think we simply see more of them because they can’t hide on the sidewalks,” I add.
And I tip my hat ever so slightly.