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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : features October 20, 2014

7/21/2013 6:04:00 AM
Column: Being Sherlock is harder than it looks

Casey Martin
Courier Columnist

As a kid, I grew up worshipping Sherlock Holmes. Oh, how I wanted to be him. So smart, so confident, and the only person in the world who didn't look stupid in a deerstalker hat.

I know whereof I speak. There is photographic evidence, which you, dear reader, will never see, that I once fashioned my own deerstalker hat by putting one ball cap on my head, and then placing another ballcap on top of that ballcap, but facing backwards. I didn't have a magnifying glass, so instead, I used a roll of masking tape as a makeshift glass to look through.

At that time, my powers of observation were just awful, evidenced by the fact that I thought I looked exactly like my hero when, in reality, I resembled more of a 10-year-old boy with two hats on his head looking through a roll of masking tape. My powers of observation further failed me by not noticing the camera in a family member's hand, thus permanently memorializing both my burgeoning interest in Holmes as well as my burgeoning awkwardness.

(I abandoned my makeshift deerstalker after that, and luckily, my plan to start smoking a pipe never got off the ground, though I did tell my mother that I planned to move to England - thinking that it remained the same as it was in Edwardian times - and I did admit to her that I planned to smoke a pipe, which thoroughly scandalized her).

I first watched the old Basil Rathbone shows on TV. When I was old enough, I read a few of Holmes' stories, and eventually, I had read the entire Holmes canon. I was always so pleased with myself as I turned the pages, already knowing how the mystery would unfold before the characters did, usually because I had seen the TV version before reading it.

And I remembered feeling sorry for Dr. Watson's patients, and his friends as well. Dr. Watson, loyal biographer, was a bit easy to surprise ("What! Dash it all!"), and always came across as one of the stupider people ever.

Still, I resolved to make myself like Sherlock Holmes, without the mildly stupid Dr. Watson, and would, if not solve mysteries, still improve my powers of observation by constantly focusing on minute details that Holmes himself would use to deduce the life story of people around him.

The first time I did this was at the dinner table. My father worked as a crane operator on construction jobs. He often helped build power plants, and would have to travel around the state to different work sites. That particular summer evening he had come home for a weekend, so I put my powers of observation to the test. I noticed that the left half of his face was slightly tanner than the right half.

Aha! A clue! Since the left half of his face was tanner, and since the sun's trajectory in the northern hemisphere takes it across the southern part of the sky, he must face west more often than east while in his crane! Genius!

Emboldened by my insight, I asked my dad triumphantly "So, at your job, is your crane typically pointed to the west?"

He looked puzzled. "No. I point every which way in my crane." Well, crud.

It wasn't until some 30 years later, as I write this column, that I realize that my dad's face was slightly more tan on one side because he had just driven west to come home, and that he usually opened the window instead of using the air conditioner.

Still, my interest in Holmes has continued through the years. I've watched the newest movies, the new TV show from Britain (which is a brilliant, modern-day retelling that I wholeheartedly recommend), and occasionally, still pick up a story or two. I've even read some modern authors' interpretations of Holmes' stories (Caleb Carr and Neil Gaiman both have fantastic versions), and I've recently re-read a series of books set in the Wild West called "Holmes on the Range."

And while I love the mysteries and how they proceed, I'm still jealous of Holmes' ability in every single story, book or movie to simply look at someone and instantly be able to deduce all the truths about them.

But just as the modern-day BBC Holmes was able to deduce that Dr. Watson had recently been in Afghanistan on their first meeting, simply by noting that Watson was a medical man with a military presence, a slight tan, and an injured arm, I too should be able to pull off this trick, darn it.

So, I tried it. The last person who stepped into my office, I decided to deduce at them.

"Okay, so I can tell you're educated because of your studious glare and by the fact that you wear glasses. By the tips of your fingers, it looks like you often use a keyboard, so I surmise that you must write a lot, like a dissertation or thesis, and therefore, must have an advanced degree. By looking at your tongue the brief moment that you yawned as you entered the room, I also deduce that you must have an advanced degree in Spanish, since your tongue seems slightly thicker in the middle, doubtlessly from trilling your Rs.

"I also deduce that you will soon have a birthday, that your favorite color is blue, that you're a non-smoker, and that you have four children who love their father ever-so-slightly more than they love you. How did I do?"

My subject was surprisingly unimpressed. I was right on every score, of course, but since my subject was my wife, she thought I should've already known all of that. Also, I don't think she believes that her children love their father slightly more than her.

Still, as the man himself once said, "You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles."

Which is very true. And also, Watson could've been just a guy who liked the beach and who paid for his medical education by arm-wrestling strangers in bars, hurting his arm in the process.

Nevertheless, I'll keep trying to be like Sherlock. Maybe not the cocaine-taking, difficult-to-live-with part, and probably not even the deerstalker hat and giant curvy pipe, although I'm sure you can order real ones from Amazon. But wouldn't it be nice to always be right?

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Article comment by: The Rev

Your facial hair forces me to accept your version of events but stepping on my Benedict Cumberbatch impression is unforgivable!!! (snicker, giggle, snort) Figure the reinforcement of that injury migration was by media. Dodgy arms never play well upon stage or screen.

Series 2 finale of Sherlock. Still not over those last minutes. Beautiful tragedy and then a parting crescendo. How will they improve on perfection?

Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Article comment by: Casey Martin

Actually, I just read that he was originally injured in the arm in A Study in Scarlet, but that it moved to his leg in subsequent stories.
Man. That's quite a wound, creeping down from your arm to your leg.

Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Article comment by: The Rev

John has a dodgy left leg, the arms seems fine enough. 'You look Casey but do not observe.'

8 - )

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