hen you think about it, units are simply a system of reference for any kind of measurement. For example, hundreds of years ago, a caveperson must have figured out that one can measure distances based on the length of a foot, and there you have it, you are six feet tall. The same goes for stones, a caveperson must have thought to measure weight using a bunch of regular stones he or she had in some corner of the cave, and there you go, a cave person can weigh ten stones and a mammoth can weigh a hundred stones. In all these cases, you can look at something and say, it's made up of so many feet or stones. Another way to measure something, is to have a standard maximum, like a reference point, which you call one hundred, and whatever you measure is a proportion of that maximum. For example, oxygen saturation corresponds to the amount of oxygen traveling through your body with your red blood cells. Ideally, you want to have a hundred percent oxygen-bound hemoglobin in your blood, meaning that your oxygen is being transported in your body. That's good. You need your one-hundred-percent oxygen.
As far as I am concerned, my reference point, my standard maximum, has always been my uncle. Whatever I did with him, or he did with me, was there for me to compare with anything else I did, when I was a kid, and I still use it to this day. I could give you many examples, one per type of activity, you name it, for example eating, drinking, running, driving, joking, or simply having fun. Let's talk about the subject of having fun, I think this will give you a good idea of what I mean. Summers were fun when I was a kid. It was always hot when I was a kid, but not the kind of hot in which you sweat and you want to change your shirt and you complain and you turn the air conditioning on. Air conditioning did not exist when I was a kid, though it was quite hot. It was that kind of hot when you want to have fun and jump in the waves and invent a sport that you call bodysurfing and it was not about winning or losing, but about riding the waves. And then there was my uncle who, every now and again, would show up at the beach, out of the blue. We knew that he could show up at some point, but for some reason he always came when we least expected it. He had a way to know when that moment had arrived, of being least expected. One day, he showed up directly from the sea, on a motorboat. My brother and I jumped on the boat and we drove away for what must have been a few miles, until we found a little cove on the north side of the Riviera. Only there, did my uncle tell us what the deal was. He pulled out two long wooden bars which we had no idea what they were. Water-skis, that's what they were. That's how we went waterskiing that day with my uncle. We took turns jumping in the water, putting the skis on our feet, and being pulled by the rope attached to the motor boat. Somehow, magically, we rose to the water surface and skimmed along the sea. Sometimes we went in and out of the boat's wake on purpose, and that added even more thrill to the magic. I must have been fourteen or fifteen, I remember thinking - This is solid fun, I remember I had so much fun that when I have fun even now, after so many years, I always compare any amount of fun to that waterskiing day with my uncle.
Typically, any fun activity I do these days is at best forty or fifty percent the fun I had that day, waterskiing. I could watch a movie, a fun movie like a brilliant comedy, then I come out of the movie theater thinking, that was about thirty to forty percent the fun I had that waterskiing day. I could go out for dinner with a bunch of friends, we have pizzas and drink some beer, we chat, we laugh, we stay out until late, and then I am back home, I go to bed, and I think, ok, that was sixty percent the fun I had on that waterskiing day with my uncle, at most. I could go to play tennis with a friend, I may win or lose, it does not matter that much, it's not winning or losing that matters, playing tennis per se can be fun, sure, but not as much fun as that waterskiing day with my uncle. At most, a the fun I have on a nice evening spent playing tennis sums up to about forty percent, of that waterskiing day with my uncle. Anyways, I think you get the idea. That's how I measure fun. My fun-scale.
And there are many other fun things my uncle used to do, that's for sure. I could go on forever, if I had to make a list of all the fun things my uncle used to do, it would be an infinite list that you cannot even measure in feet or in stones. And then there were the pranks. My uncle always came up with the best pranks. He had a way to come up with them when you least expected it. For example, he could fart on command. What he did, he would show me his index finger and would tell me, Paolo, my finger is jammed, could you pull on it? I would pull on it, and magically, he would fart. And every time he presented it to me in a different way, so it always worked. And it didn't matter how many times he played that trick on me, every time I fell for it, but it was a fun falling-for-it trick. It was the gold standard of all pranks. Impossible to beat, hundred percent pure prank on my prankscale. So, that's how I measure anything that comes along in life, it makes things easier to have a reference point like my uncle. It can be applied to all kinds of things and it's much more precise than the metric system.
Paolo Pergola is the author of Passaggi—avventure di un autostoppista (Rides: The Adventures of a Hitchhiker) (Exorma, 2013) and Attraverso la finestra di Snell (Through Snell’s Window) (Italo Svevo Edizione, 2019). His work has appeared in several Italian literary magazines. He is a member of OPLEPO/Opificio di Letteratura Potenziale (Workshop of Potential Literature), Italy’s equivalent of France’s OULIPO. He lives in Tuscany and works as a zoologist.