Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Moron at Crossroads

This post is for those of you who have ever gotten miserably lost driving in San Francisco.  If you've ever pulled out a clump of your own hair in frustration because you can't find the on ramp to the 280, you'll relate to this.

Last week, I drove from my office in the Peninsula to the eastern waterfront area of San Francisco (aka the Embarcadero) for a big, morale-building lunch with co-workers.  I came away feeling great, but that soon soured.  Despite the fact that I got myself there and despite the fact I had a GPS enabled navigating device in my hand, I got terribly lost heading back.

Consider the aggravating circumstances I was facing at that time:
  1. Three highways (the 80, 101, and 280) converging in the same area.  
  2. A maze of one way streets and general ban on left turns
  3. The beginning of rush hour.
  4. Ambiguously placed street signs indicating that perhaps one should turn left immediately in front of the sign or perhaps several blocks down the street.
  5. A full bladder
  6. The misguided belief that I am not a moron at all times.
The outcome?  I spent 10 minutes hunting for the southbound entrance of either the 101 or the 280.  I  made two U-turns,  one highly questionable left turn, and nearly ran down a pedestrian.  I soundly banged my head against the steering wheel.  But, the lowest moment came when I inadvertently ramped onto the 80 east heading to Oakland.  Because I ramped at the last exit point, I locked myself into crossing the full length of the Bay Bridge.  I spent the next 4.5 miles in gridlock wondering if my mounting frustration could provoke an early-age stroke.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The First Christmas Casualty

Last night I brought home a Christmas tree.  I bounced around the house, giddily crashing through storage boxes and ransacking my garage, to find and gather all the seasonal goodies that make my Christmas tree shiny, blinking, and beautiful.  Each time I unearthed yet another Christmas treasure buried in a closet, I squealed with pure, un-ironic delight.

I admit that, in these moments, I am completely and utterly annoying.  Did I mention that I also sing aloud with every tune that plays on the "Sleigh Ride" Pandora station that I preset on my ipod?

Perhaps, then, the Fates were justified in punishing me.  As I was rushing to grab a roll of tape from my hallway closet, I closed the closet door on my head.  The plan, of course, was to pull my head out of the closet in time for the door to safely pass by, but apparently I didn't plan well enough.   Worse yet, in such a state of unbottled enthusiasm, I am incapable of finer motor skills and instead do everything with exaggerated gusto.  So I did not just swing the door, I slammed it.

I hit myself with the door very very hard on the right side of my head.  If I were living in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, surely, a gong would have sounded and animated vibrations would appear beside my head.  The impact disoriented me momentarily, and I stumbled backwards wondering what hit me.  It is hard to accept, in the initial moments, that one could deliver a blow like that to one's own head.

I now have a red, garbonzo bean-sized bump on my right brow bone.  One small consolation: if I do say so myself, my Christmas tree looks great.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Moron Tax of Interior Design

Like most people, I keep my essential toiletries and various medicines in the bathroom cabinet.  This alone is not silly since, after all, that's what medicine cabinets are for.  In my house, however, the bathroom cabinet is installed directly over the toilet.  This arrangement breeds moron tax.  For, when you dangle your personal cleaning implements above a thing that regularly collects poo, you cannot trust fate to pass up the easy joke.

This is a list of the many things that have fallen into the toilet from my medicine cabinet:

Various Pills and Vitamins
Facial Moisturizer

To add insult to injury, each time the unlucky item tumbles from my hand and plops into the toilet, it usually sends a few drops of cold and unholy water out of the bowl and onto my leg.  The item also invariably then sinks into the deepest part of the toilet bowl where, more often than not, there is still some kind of unfortunate residue.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Morning Haze

I am not a morning person.  I don't wake up with a smile and hear the happy chirping of the birds outside my window.  Instead, I hit my snooze button at least three times in 10 minute intervals.  I don't spring from the bed, but reluctantly roll off and land with a thud on the floor.  At those times, my brain is not yet fully operational, and I am in an uncoordinated, unthinking zombie state.  I'm lucky if I don't drool as I stumble to the bathroom.

Consequently, I suffer a lot of injuries in the morning, and I tend to make the same mistakes again and again.  Frequently, I run into a bedpost.  I close the drawer on my finger.  I hit the door jamb with my shoulder on the way into the bathroom.

The most common injury I inflict on myself, however, also happens to be the most painful.  On at least four mornings of every week, I will try to close a door before I have moved my foot out of the way.  Because I have small, flat-ish feet, the door does not run into my toes but over them, scraping off my skin like a cheese grate until the door stops against the thicker part of my foot.  The pain is sudden, sharp and -- despite the fact that I do this so often -- surprising.  It always shocks me that my foot would fail to be on the same plan as the rest of my body.
"Foot!"  I yell in my own head, "How can you be so stupid?  You know that Hand was closing the door!"  
"It's your fault!" Foot whines, red and curling from the pain.  "I'm so far away, you need to check with me before closing the door."
"You need to pay more attention!" I spit back.  "The rest of the body was able to get out of the way.  You do this all the time."
And I stand there, annoyed and angry at my own appendage. 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Moron Tax Credit

My parents defy logic and law of moron tax.  They bumble through life, barely aware of their surroundings, yet they rarely sustain an injury.  They are the cute couple that you see wandering into a busy intersection because they're preoccupied looking up at some fanciful thing, like skywriting or a nest of doves.  Cars come to a screeching halt, but my parents drift through without noticing.  When they reach the other side, they are surprised to discover that I'm still on the other side of the street.  They cock their heads and shrug their shoulders at me, inquiring "What's taking you so long?  And why do you look so pale?"

My parents not only somehow survive their inattention, they often thrive on it.  Without even trying, their lapses in common sense and sound judgment often become moments of fortune.  They are those infuriating people who routinely hit on 17 in Vegas and, more often than not, get 21.

When describing my parents' mind-boggling good luck to people, I like to tell a story about my mother.  First, I say, imagine my mother, the gruff woman who has yet to keep an opinion to herself.  She's flying down the road in her flashy sports car and weaving in and out of traffic.  A police officer pulls her over and, before he has a chance to say anything, my mother says, "Officer, I know I was speeding, but I am really in a hurry because I'm late."  The Officer, whom I am sure was raising an eyebrow at this point, replies, "Where are you going that you have to be in such a hurry?"  "Officer," my mother bluntly (and, I'm sure, loudly) says, "I am late to traffic court!  I have to see the judge.  If I you give me a speeding ticket and make me late, he might double my fine!"

(I usually pause here to let the irony sink in.)   

For those of us who are subject to the laws of logic and moron tax, the Officer would then look down upon us disapprovingly, write out the speeding ticket, and then deliver a lecture on the dangers of speeding that would consume enough time such that no amount of speeding could save us from tardiness, the judge's wrath, and the doubled fine.  For my mother, the Officer responds, "Oh you are in a hurry.  Ok, I'll drive ahead and escort you to the courthouse."  My mother, of course, arrives on time.  And, as if that wasn't enough luck for the day, the judge also dismissed her ticket.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Peeling Skin

My boyfriend told me yesterday that he bought a mandoline (pictured here*).  Upon hearing the news, I involuntarily grabbed my left index finger with my right hand and shuddered for a full ten seconds.  It is amazing how deeply childhood traumas burn into one's psyche.

When I was seven or eight years old, my mother tasked me to peel a bunch of carrots for dinner while she went to the basement to gather the laundry.  I stood over the kitchen sink holding the first carrot in my left hand and the peeler in my right.  I struggled at first.  After a couple of strokes I discovered that, if I extended my index finger alongside the carrot to support it, the peeling became easier.  The task then became quite mindless, and I lost focus and began daydreaming.

I was probably thinking about unicorns when I felt the sharp pain in my finger.  I looked down and saw that, due to my inattention, I had used the peeler on my own index finger instead of the carrot.  A single, neat strip of skin now dangled from the peeling blade.  Oh, how I wanted to scream -- I could feel the scream welling at the top of my throat like pressured steam -- but I thought better of it.  I was afraid to have my mother discover that, in the short moment she left me alone, I managed to flay my own hand with a kitchen utensil.  As much as she loved me, or perhaps because she loved me so much, my mother was unforgiving of my self-inflicted injuries.  She ascribed to the theory that coddling a child in pain encouraged the behavior leading to that pain, so each bruise or cut was met with withering reproach in addition to stinging hydrogen peroxide.

I swallowed my scream, quietly disentangled my skin from the peeler, applied a band aid, and went back to peeling the carrots -- this time, with great care.   To this day, I exercise pointed caution with my peeler and every other blade in my kitchen.  Looking back, I wonder if my mother's theory on parenting might be right: if you learn a lesson the hard way, you need it only once.

*This is a picture from a mandoline for sale at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Empire of the Ants

I spent my childhood in the Midwestern suburbs where there were no mountains to climb or wild expanses to explore.  The land was so flat and developed that the county landfill was our tallest local peak and, consequently, our sole sledding destination in winter.  So I grew up without any sense of the great outdoors.  When I decided to go camping for the first time in my life in April of 2005, I had no clue what I was doing.

I did know that I needed gear.  I went to a big box sporting goods store and, on five minutes of consultation with the on-staff teenager, bought some rudimentary supplies and dried packaged foods. I then threw everything in my trunk and headed out to Joshua Tree National Park.  I did not arrive at the park until well after nightfall.  I lacked the foresight to bring a headlamp or flashlight, so I scurried around in the dark to set up my tent.  (I didn't use my car headlights to avoid disturbing my fellow campers).  I also did not think to first survey a campsite before setting my tent.  Instead, I pitched the tent exactly where it landed when I tossed it from my trunk.  Unfortunately for me, I did not notice that my tent had landed on top of a giant ant hole.

When I woke up the next morning, I saw a swarm of ants crawling on the walls of my tent -- fiery-red ants that were big enough to be seen from a distance.  From what I could tell, they were angry.  I swear I could see them looking at me, mashing their mandibles in a menacing way.  If they could curl their forefeet into fists, I'm sure they would have been shaking them at me. 

Perhaps a troop of ants might seem like a small worry for most people, but for me, it is a traumatic event.  I HATE ants.  I fear them unnecessarily.  I'm not sure what I think they will do to me, but my knees literally buckle and I shriek whenever I come across an ant hill in the sidewalk.  If I see a line of ants in my kitchen, I spend the next hour cowering under my bedcovers.  So, for me, waking up to a few hundred fiery-red ants starting down at me through my tent walls caused momentary paralysis.  Lying frozen in my sleeping bag, I thought of how the citizens of Troy must have felt waiting for the Greeks to sack their city.

It felt like hours before I was able to will myself to leave my tent.  And even then, I owed that motivation more to my desperate bladder than any shred of bravery.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Great Moments in Photography II

Often, when posing for a picture, I will tilt my head to a flattering angle, freeze my unnatural smile, then ruin it all by blinking just as the photo is taken. It happens because I can feel my eyeballs drying up as the photographer fidgets with the focus or cannot find the right button. And I think to myself, is there time for me to sneak in one or two quick blinks? How about now?

It isn't moron tax, though, to blink when another person is behind camera. After all, you can't anticipate exactly when the photographer will take the picture. But what if you're the one taking a picture of yourself and your finger is on the button?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Reaper

I am one of those people who fantasizes about having my own sustainable farm on twenty or so picturesque acres in Vermont, Colorado, or Northern California. I like to think that I can be resourceful person of the land, the kind of person who can assess the richness of soil just by picking up a handful and feeling its mealy texture between my fingers.

To this end, I have bought and read at least five gardening books. I also study books on rural living for tips on how to shelter plants during winter and can fruits and vegetables during the fall. Each spring, I buy order packets of organic seeds and comb through farmers' markets for vegetable and herb seedlings. I faithfully pot my budding plants in organic soil and place mulch on them to retain moisture. I regularly lavish compost from my worm bin to fertilize them. I give them water and sunlight. To prevent slugs and pests, I spray home brewed garlic insecticide on their leaves and place crushed egg shells around their stems.

It is all for naught. My plants all die in my care. Indoor plants and outdoor plants meet the same tragic outcome. Indeed, my dear readers, I took these photos of my plants only a few minutes ago. These are fresh kills! Imagine the condition my herb garden -- the earliest and longest suffering part of my garden -- must be in.

Looking at this depressing scene, I know I should give up on gardening as a hobby. I will likely vow that I will never pick up a garden shovel again and instead focus my energies on something more suited to my assassin hands, like Tae Kwan Do. Yet, when springs comes again, I am sure I will find myself once again browsing seed catalogs and eyeing the green pepper seedlings at the local nursery. As they say, hope springs eternal. I wish the same could be said about tomato plants.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Out of the Wild

As I mentioned in my last post, I had been planning a backcountry camping trip in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. My trip would take me from Tuolomne Meadow in Yosemite to the top of Mt. Whitney near Lone Pine, CA. To do this, I would hike about 200 miles over many mountains passes carrying a pack weighing 35-40 lbs. Also, I planned to take this trip alone.

Well, folks, I did it. On September 7th, I headed into the wilderness. Eighteen days later, I stood at the summit of the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. I felt proud. I felt fulfilled. And I smelled god-awful. (By the end, I had gone twelve days without a shower.)

Looking back on my trip, I think I did most things right. I packed enough clothes and food. I carried the right maps and guidebook. Bears did not eat me. I was never seriously lost, scared, or lonely. But, of course, being me, I could not come out of my trip completely unscathed. Even when I am the most focused and prepared, moron tax will happen.

In this case, I did something really stupid on the third day of my hike, and the consequences lasted through the entire trip. Indeed, I am still dealing with some residual side effects. What stupid thing I did was this: I did not tie my bootlaces tight enough.

It may seem like a small oversight not to properly tie your laces. But when hiking long-distances, it is a really moronic thing to do. If your boot is loose, it will rub against your heel, your toes, and the bottom of your foot. Over a short distance, the rubbing is only a minor irritation; however, over a distance of several miles + a heavy pack, the rubbing can cause terrible blisters or serious injuries to the foot.

Below are photos of my feet. These photos reflect the injuries I inflicted on my feet just after one day and sixteen miles of hiking. Please note that I took these photos more than 2 weeks after I sustained the injuries, so they show some healing.

First, note the big toe on the right foot. Because my boot was loose, my toe kept pushing into the tip of my boot, repeatedly bruising itself. To this day, I don't have any sensation in the tip of my toe.

Second, I rubbed off all the skin on the heels of both feet. For several days, the heels were very raw, and I would have to apply and reapply band-aids and moleskin throughout the day in order to be able to walk. The heels eventually healed over with new skin, but that caused intense itchiness. Even now, I wake up in the middle of night scratching violently at my heels.

Third, I rubbed so much skin off the side of my right foot that I created a penny-sized divet there. I had to regularly monitor this wound, as the band-aids and moleskin often slipped off when blood would ooze as I walked. I am pretty sure it's going to leave a scar even after it's fully healed.    * Update Post here.

Friday, September 4, 2009


As many of you know, being bloggers yourselves, maintaining and updating a blog takes a lot of work. It takes a significant amount of time and energy to think of something interesting to say, sit down to write it in an interesting way, and than nudge your friends and family to read it. So it is certainly moron tax to abandon a blog without explanation. So, my dear readers, I greatly regret that I haven't posted to my blog in quite a while. Thank you for your patience and continuing support.

Instead of posting to my blog, I have been planning a long backpacking trip. If all goes well, I will complete close to 200 miles of hiking in 2.5 weeks in the Sierra Mountain range, living almost exclusively on the contents that I carry in my backpack. To prepare for this, I had to forecast all the likely stupid things that I might do and put some appropriate measure in place. I have to, in other words, head off my moron tax at the pass. Would I accidentally burn a hole in my tent like I did three years ago? Maybe, so bring duct tape. Could I forget to turn off my headlamp all night? Yes, so pack extra batteries. Given that I am so prone to doing stupid things, this took a lot of time and a lot of planning.

I leave for my trip in a couple of days, so I'll again be absent from my blog for the next few weeks. When I return, I promise to promptly return to sharing my moron tax stories with you. While I am sure many of those stories will be harvested during my hike, I'd rather hope that everything will turn out perfectly. So, rather than remind myself of how dumb I can be, I'd rather dedicate this post to a tale of not-my-moron-tax, when I did all the rights things, but suffered for someone else's misstep.

The Engagement Ring.

A boyfriend of mine once invited me to dinner with an out-of-town friend, Carl*, and Carl's friend Angie. Although my boyfriend, Carl, and Angie were well acquainted with one another, the group dynamic was quiet, if not tense. There was no obvious reason for this, and no one had warned me of any underlying problems. In these situations, I tend to become restlessly chatty and find myself commenting on what I heard on the news that day and whatever else springs to mind. Moments after we were seated at the restaurant, I noticed that Angie was wearing a very flattering diamond solitaire ring. I seized upon the ring as an opportunity to unlock a happy and uncontroversial topic for conversation. "Oh wow, that's a beautiful ring," I said to Angie. "Are you engaged?" Looking back now, I can see my boyfriend and Carl shifting uncomfortably in their seats, and I can feel the air going out of the room -- but at that moment, I smiled at Angie, fully expecting her to gush about her wedding plans, her honeymoon, and her dashing fiance. Instead, Angie frowned at me, looked at her ring, and sighed. "My fiance died six months ago." Only then, did I recognize that her silence had been a restraint on her grieving that I had failed to respect. We spent the rest of dinner speaking awkwardly about the details of her fiance's tragic and untimely passing.

*The names "Carl" and "Angie" are not their true names.

Monday, August 17, 2009

When Moron and Golf Collide

Golf is a game of absurd precision. The rules of the game require a player to knock a tiny ball (about 1.7 inches in diameter) into a very small hole (only 4 inches in diameter) over 400 yards away using only a tool that resembles a garden hoe. In a game like this, success depends less on physical prowess but more on mental composure. You must sustain focus for long periods of time, you need the patience to think through elaborate problems, and you must stay cool under pressure. I lack all of these skills.

I prefer sports that reward explosions of brute strength or unthinking reaction. I like games that move fast, where the flow of the game doesn't require a thoughtful examination of the lawn or packing up luggage. Therefore, the only aspect of golf I can stand is the driving range. There is something so pleasurable in whacking the hell out of a tiny ball and seeing how far it can go. I love that sharp, slightly metallic, slightly hallow "ping" when you hit it just right. And I enjoy that I can do this over and over again with as little transaction time as it would take me to bend down and replenish a ball on my tee.

Many years ago, when I was home from college, I went to the driving range in my hometown. The driving range was divided into individual stalls by white wooden partitions not taller than 2 feet tall. Because it was a warm summer night, all the stalls were filled, and I could see the people on both sides of me diligently drilling their swings. In contrast, I spent my time, in my usual fashion, whacking at the golf balls one after the other with a great deal of energy but very little thought or consistency.

I was terrible, but I didn't much care. Balls flew to left and right, but as long as they went far I was pleased. After about half an hour, I made the worst golf drive of my life. I hit the ball with my club at such an odd angle, that the ball did not move forward out of the stall, but flew directly left towards the partition separating me from the next stall. I had hit the ball so hard that, instead of coming to a stop, the ball ramped up the partition, launching straight up into the air. The ball shot up eight feet from the ground. As the ball started to come back down, I covered my head with my hands and braced myself for the hit. Of course, something worse happened.

I realized, with horror, that the ball was falling on a leftward trajectory, towards my neighbor in the next stall. I looked at him and saw him standing, holding his club behind him, ready to swing at his golf ball -- his eyes were completely focused on the tee, and the crown of his head was totally exposed. I choked out a weak "Fore!" then winced as my golf ball struck the center of his head and bounced to the ground.

Judging by the way he crumpled slightly at the knees and rubbed his head with his hands, I think he felt a not insignificant amount of pain. He looked around for the culprit. It took less than a second for him to lock his gaze -- a face full of shock tinged with anger -- on me, still bent over in my wincing posture with my hands over my head. "I am so sorry," I squeaked. I started to sputter and gesture what happened then withered into shamed silence under his glare. He took five seconds, I think, to fantasize punching me or dragging me by the ear to the office. Then, wordlessly, he turned back to his swinging, and I was spared.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moron Tax Credit

Once in a while it happens -- you do something stupid, you brace for the consequences, but the moron tax doesn't come. There was the time when I accidentally knocked a cleaver off the kitchen counter, watched it tumble downward to my bare foot, and exhaled a gasp of relief when it landed less than a quarter inch from my right pinky toe.

Once in a long while, your moronic act actually improves your condition. In such cases, you come away with moron tax credit instead of moron tax. My parents have an uncanny knack for converting moron tax into moron tax credit.

Many years ago my father and I went, on a whim, to a Florida water park. We changed to our swimsuits and headed to the large wave pool in the center of the park. For most of the time, the wave pool was simply a pool where adults floated on plastic rafts and kids played Marco Polo. But every hour, on the hour, a siren would sound and you'd hear a big crash as the gears of the wave machine began to churn. Waves would begin rolling through the pool. They would start small but grow heavy enough to throw most adults off their feet.

My father and I poised ourselves at the edge of the pool as the waves began. We laughed as larger and larger waves splashed against us. Then, an enormous wave crashed over our shoulders, knocking both of us down and sucking us backwards into the pool. When I finally emerged, sputtering, from the water, I saw my father at a distance as he was also pulling himself from the water. As I walked over to him, I noticed something strange about his swimsuit.
"Dad," I asked, pointing at his shorts, "When did you change your swimsuit?"

My father looked down at himself and replied with an amazed look on his face. "The wave must have pulled it off."

Now even more puzzled, I asked, "Then, what are you wearing?"

He looked down again. "I'm wearing my underwear."

"Well, why are you wearing your underwear when you were wearing a swimsuit?"

"I forgot to take my underwear off."

I started laughing. "How could you forget to take off your underwear when you put on your swimsuit?"

With triumph on his face, he replied, "Good thing I did forget, eh?"

Friday, August 7, 2009

Backing into Disaster

There is an espresso machine like this one (pictured above*) at my workplace. I see it several times a day -- whenever I go to the restroom, whenever I wash my coffee cup, and whenever I grab some drinking water. I always know it's there, and I know exactly where it is.

And yet...

A few months ago I was washing my coffee cup at the sink, less than foot away from the espresso machine. A co-worker came up to me and politely asked if I could step aside so that he could tip his coffee into the sink. I smiled and took a step back, towards the espresso machine. In so doing, I pressed my upper arm into the "steam wand" of the espresso machine.

For those of you unfamiliar with espresso machines, the steam wand is the pointed, stainless steel valve that releases a gush of hot steam to create the milky froth required for cappuccinos and cafe lattes. It can heat a cup of milk to 150 degrees in less than 10 seconds. It gave me a sizzling second degree burn in less than 1 second of contact. The skin on my arm first became red, then bubbled up into a hot blister of the same shape as the steam wand.

According to the medical advice available on the internet, I discovered that one should go immediately to a hospital emergency room for treatment of any second degree burn larger than 3 inches in length. Looking at my arm, I estimated that it was closer to 2 inches, so I slapped on a band-aid and went back to my desk. The burn eventually healed, but I still have the scar.

* Picture courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Modern_espresso_machine.jpg

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When You Can't Take Enough Showers

This picture (above) captures the Dermacentor Variabilis, also known as the American Dog Tick. A couple of minutes ago, I pulled this one from my scalp. This is particularly disturbing because I had pulled another one from my scalp about four hours earlier. Who knows how many more of these insects might be crawling around in my hair right now. I am planning to spend the next hour in my shower.

Since I don't know how these ticks got onto my head or what I did to attract them, I admit this may not qualify as moron tax. This incident is so disgusting, however, I figure it is still worth mentioning.

You can see how lightening quick these buggers move in the video (embedded below).

Friday, July 31, 2009

Case #1: the Angry Asian Mom

There are times when I can't tell if something I did was genuinely stupid or a reasonable mistake. I don't know if the pain and humiliation I suffered in a given situation qualifies as moron tax, bad luck, or just life. In these cases, I will leave it to you, my dear readers, to decide as my jury. Tell me if you think the scenario I describe to you is a case of moron tax. Let me know your thoughts on where I went wrong, how I went wrong, and how badly I went wrong.

The Scenario:

A few years ago I had a boyfriend of another ethnicity. His mother was visiting from out of town, so I volunteered to take him and his mother out to dinner. I was anxious to make a good appearance as I had been dating my boyfriend for quite a while and he had repeatedly emphasized to me the importance of her good opinion. My boyfriend agreed to have us meet and prepared me by saying only that his mother did not speak English well.

I picked the restaurant, made reservations, dressed up, and met my boyfriend and his mother there. My boyfriend cheerfully greeted me, but his mother remained silent and appeared to look away. We went to the table, and I sat next to his mother. I tried to strike up conversation with her. She stared blankly at me, then turned her head without answer. When the food came, I tried to pass her food or serve her portions, but she did not respond. My boyfriend, in the meantime, chirped on in a happy, unconcerned way. When the dinner ended, I paid, and we parted.

Later that week, I went on another dinner with my boyfriend and his mother. Again, my boyfriend talked happily with me while his mother sat in almost unbroken silence. When dinner ended and we were ready to part, I wished them goodnight. My boyfriend's mother stood there with her head turned from me, and my boyfriend said something curtly to her (not in English). She looked at me, and I could really see, for the first time, hate pouring like lava from her eyes. She then said quietly, with protest dragging on each syllable, "Good night." At that moment, I finally got what that woman was trying to tell me this whole time: she loathed me. She loathed me because I was of another ethnicity and dating her very precious son.

I can't help but think there is some moron tax inherent to the situation here. I requested, prepared for, looked forward to, sat through, and paid for a dinner with someone who actively wished that an errant missile might hit my apartment and kill me. Also, it took TWO dinners of hissing silence from this woman for me to get the message. Finally, there is some real humiliation in the fact I tried to suck up to a woman who not only hated me, but whose hate was unjust.

What do you think? Is there moron tax here?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Weaknesses of the Flesh

I have an irrational fear of inconveniencing doctors. I worry about taking time out of their day, sucking up resources that would be better spent on more deserving people, and being caught fretting over a trivial ailment. Unless I have arterial blood shooting out of my neck, I treat my illnesses by surfing WebMD and waiting for the pain to pass. Consequently, I tend to suffer diseases longer than necessary, and they occasionally get worse before I do anything about it.

Several years ago, I had my wisdom teeth removed. The molar furthest to the back on the right side had to be cracked and then dug out of my mouth in pieces with a knife. As my mouth recovered I felt a recurring irritation, but chose to ignore it rather than revisit my dentist. Three weeks later, I pulled out of my mouth a leftover chip of the tooth that had been removed. The chip had remained stuck in the place where my tooth had been. The gum, instead of completely healing over the wound, healed around that chip. Now gone, the chip left a gaping hole in my gum. Since then, small bits of food -- such as two grains of rice -- occasionally get trapped in that hole, and I have to fish them out with the pointed tip of a chopstick or a bent paper clip.

I consulted with two dentists about the hole in my mouth. Both have informed me that the hole must be filled and can only be filled by cutting healthy gum from elsewhere in my mouth and grafting it over the hole. Each dentist assured me that the surgery would be painful, take over several hours, require weeks to fully heal, and cost approximately $1500. I have yet to do anything about it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Cost of Inertia

My moron tax usually arises from my impatience and lack of impulse control. I tear holes in my new clothes because I rip off the tag rather than take a moment to locate the scissors. I spill half a package of potato chips on the kitchen floor because I use my teeth to open it rather than take a moment to locate the scissors...

There are times, though, when moron tax accrues from my laziness, indecision, and general failure to do something. In these cases, the moron tax accrues grain by grain, day over day, without fanfare, and I don't notice any of the harm I'm doing to myself. It could be days, months, or even years before the staggering accumulation of my moron tax is revealed to me.

A couple of days ago, my boyfriend pulled out a stack of sealed boxes that had been sitting in front of a bedroom closet. He asked me what could be so valuable inside those boxes that I kept them in such an inconvenient location and yet be so inessential to my life that I never used them. Faced with the direct question, it occurred to me that I had no idea what was in those boxes. Those boxes were not even mine. They were packages addressed to the prior resident of my home. I stacked them, unopened, in my house, assuming that the rightful owner would eventually come to the house to claim them or contact me with a forwarding address. The owner certainly knew where I lived, I reasoned. And so the boxes simply sat in my bedroom and waited. Eventually, I grew accustomed to their useless, space consuming place in my life, forgot their purpose, and accepted the inconvenience. Everyday, I would look at them, move them around, or place things on top of them without thought. Each time I needed something from the closet, I'd shuffle them out of the way and then dutifully return them to their place.

"For how long?" my boyfriend asked. Nearly two years.*

* There is added moron tax in that I don't know what to do with the boxes now. If you have an idea of what I should do, vote in the poll (located in the upper right hand column of the blog). If you have additional suggestions, email me at wuisme@morontax.com.

* Update Post here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Foot in Mouth Disease, vol. 1

I say dumb things all the time, every day of my life. Sometimes they are minor -- I wish people "Good night" in broad daylight and accidentally say my private thoughts out loud. Sometimes they are spine-shiveringly bad -- someone once caught me giving myself a positive affirmation in the bathroom.*

By and large, though, these moments of misspeak usually amount to only a modest amount of moron tax. A little blushing here or there. A day or two spent avoiding the person who overheard. Over a lifetime, though, they do add up, so I thought it would be worthwhile to create a recurring post to digest some of the many stupid things that come out of my mouth.

1. I have, of course, committed the classic sin of addressing my current boyfriend by the name of my last boyfriend. He was not happy.

2. During an appearance at court, I repeatedly addressed the judge as "Sir." As anyone who watches Law & Order knows, you may only refer to a judge as "Your Honor." Each time that I said it I could feel everyone in the courtroom wince. Although I knew my mistake, the more I made it, the less able I was to stop myself.

3. At a dinner party, I repeated a story a friend had told me about a woman who had drunkenly dropped her pants so that men she did not know could draw their signatures on her butt. I later learned that the woman in that story was a guest at that dinner party. (This story still makes me want to curl up and die a little).

4. For my French conversation class, I had to record myself discussing my favorite foods, my favorite books, etc..and then submit that cassette to the teacher for grading. The day after I turned the cassette in, I realized that I had repeatedly mispronounced the phrase "J'aime" (I like) as "Je t'aime" (I love you). Good golly. The teacher gave me an "A" but could never look me in the eye again.

5. My misspeaking is not limited to verbal communications. In college I took a course in American Sign Language (ASL). The sign for the word "special" happens to be quite similar to the sign for "oral sex." I did not realize my mistake until the teaching assistant publicly corrected me.

*I had never before or since that incident made a positive affirmation. As anyone who knows me can tell you, self-laceration is more my style.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Burning Money

When I was 26 years old, I moved from my hometown in the Midwest to Los Angeles for my first real job. By all social measures, I was an independently functioning adult. I had a freshly minted graduate degree and at least three credit cards in my name. I had reasonably informed political opinions and could, on occasion, produce a bon mot. But, when it came to the practical management of my life -- what to do when you lock your keys in the car, when to call 911, and how to avoid axe-murders -- I was clueless. Up to that point, my whole life had been under the stewardship of my overly-involved parents. I would be lucky to survive a few days, much less several years, with only myself as a guide.

It took me only two months in Los Angeles to rack up nearly a thousand dollars of moron tax.

When I moved into my apartment, the city was undergoing a heatwave, and my apartment was unbearably hot. For the first couple weeks, I kept my windows open and tried to be patient with the weather. When the heatwave passed, my apartment remained stifling even when the outside air was cool. I figured that the apartment was trapping heat during the day, so I bought three large fans and installed them in the windows. I ran the fans all day while I was at work so that the fans would blow the hot air outside. When I came home from work, the apartment was mildly cooler, but still uncomfortably warm. At a loss as what to do next, I concluded that I would simply have to wait for summer to pass. Then, my electric bill arrived.

My jaw dropped when I saw the bill for more than $800.* That was more than 20x any previous electric bill and more than half of my rent. How could it be so much? And how was I going to afford my future bills at this rate? I called the electric company in desperate tears. The customer service representative listened, with pity, to my sobbing. "Honey, did you leave your oven on?" (No, it's a gas oven). "Maybe you left your air conditioner on?" (Can't be, I don't have one). She paused, then gingerly asked, "Did you check your thermostat?"

Oh my god, the thermostat! I had not thought to check it because there was no need to turn on the heater in the summer. I ran over to the thermostat on the wall. Sure enough, it was cranked to the toasty setting of 87 degrees. I thought of my fans blowing 24 hours each day for several weeks and closed my eyes in defeat. "I don't understand," I moaned, "where are the heating vents or the radiator?" "Honey," the customer representative explained, "in California we have radiant heat. The heat comes from coils embedded in the ceilings. You won't know they're on unless you look at the thermostat." Indeed not.

* The next electric bill was also quite high -- more than $200 -- because I did not receive the first electric bill until more than week into the next billing cycle. So the total moron tax accrued is approximately $1000.

Monday, July 13, 2009

When Whimsy Attacks

As I was going through old photographs, I found evidence of some vintage moron tax.

I spent a year in England during college. During that time, some friends and I visited a pretty park that overlooked the famed Dover Cliffs. The park itself was made of small rolling hills covered with lush, green grass. While strolling there, my Swedish friend Lotta and I became seized with the desire to logroll down one of the hills, as we remembered we did as kids back home. I think we imagined that we'd emerge at the bottom giggling and renewed with sweet memories of our youth.

Reality, of course, trumps nostalgia. And the reality is that a body rolls down a hill faster than one would think. Also, one's feet and legs roll quite a lot faster than one's shoulders so that a person doesn't roll in a linear direction as much as swivel awkwardly around the torso. Despite the short length of the slope, Lotta and I had to reposition and relaunch our rolling at least twice. There is also the matter of the head which is not stable or supported. In fact, it bounces against the ground with a thunk thunk for every rotation.

My friend Kevin -- who was always smarter than the rest of us -- predicted what was going to happen. As Lotta and I took our positions at the top of the hill, he waited at the bottom with his camera.

Kevin snapped this picture (below) shortly after we started our descent.

Kevin took this picture (below) when I finally came to a rest -- dizzy, bruised and moaning. I had to lie there for several minutes before I could stand without vomiting.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Brave v. Stupid

There are many times in my life when I do not know if I am being brave or stupid. Is the person charging outside with a baseball bat when she hears the backyard gate open a titan of fearlessness or a potential Darwin Award winner? Or what about the female jogger who gives the middle finger (with both hands) to the two evidently-drunk men hurling sexual comments?

This Fourth of July I decided to do a three day backpacking trip to an alpine lake situated about ten miles into a national forest. I also decided to do the trip alone. Several friends tried to dissuade me, encouraging me to postpone the hike until I could find a partner. I, however, felt adamant that I did not want to waste long weekend of beautiful weather at home, on my couch, watching reruns of Sex in the City.

I drove about five hours on the highway and another one and a half on an unmaintained country road to reach the trailhead to my hike. I put on my heavy backpack and started walking up the long switchbacks toward the mountain pass. When I reached a small meadow at the top of the mountain, I stopped to camp for the night. I pitched my tent below a tree canopy. The ground all all around me was covered with twigs that crunched beneath each step. I placed my plastic bear canister containing all my food about fifty feet away from my tent and settled in for the night.

At about eleven o'clock, I bolted awake to the sound of banging plastic. Oh my god, is it a bear? My heart thumped hard against my rib cage. The night was completely dark, and I could not see past my tent walls. I had no idea what was out there. I froze, listening. I could hear twigs crunching not far from tent and in the direction of the bear canister. Then, appallingly, the crunching came closer. Something was walking towards me. I held my breath. The crunching came to a stop just outside the entrance of my tent. The animal was so close to me, I could hear it sniffing the ground. I almost peed in my sleeping bag.

In a full throttled panic, I grabbed my headlamp, turned it on, and frantically flashed its light in all directions within my tent. A couple of years ago I had come up with the unsupported and until-now-untested theory that wild animals would not attack a person with a headlamp. A mountain lion, as the theory goes, would conclude that the food it commonly eats, such as deer, does not typically emit artificial light. Of course, I failed to consider the possibility that a wild animal suddenly frighted might attack rather than flee.

Luckily, the animal outside my tent was startled by the light and swiftly ran from the spot. I was feeling victorious and almost proud of my quick thinking until I noticed a familiar-sounding metal jangle as the animal moved away. I poked my head out of the tent and, to my embarrassment, saw a large dog jogging back to its owners who had just arrived at the meadow to set up their own camp. They stood only a few yards away and must have witnessed my bizarre light show. Though it was dark, I was sure I could see them suppressing some laughter.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Bathroom Follies

I treat my visits to public bathrooms like NASCAR pit stops. I tend to sprint into the bathroom at the last moment (though it occasionally costs me moron tax) and have a inside-the-stall procedure that maximizes efficiency. I stick to the basics -- pants come down, pants come up -- I don't spend time checking myself in the mirror or adjusting my clothes. My typical bathroom visit clocks in at less than two minutes.

Once in a while, a small error in my bathroom routine occurs. And, because I am usually in such a hurry, I don't catch it until I am out the door. Here's an example from a few months ago:

It was a hot, sunny afternoon, and I took a stroll around the office. When I got back to the office, I went to the bathroom. I laid the toilet seat cover on the toilet, did my business, and dressed. Unfortunately, I did not notice that I was a little sweaty from my walk. I also failed to notice that much of the toilet seat cover had consequently stuck to my skin, rather than follow its destiny down the toilet. When I pulled up my pants, I pushed up the toilet seat cover, scrunching it up to (and slightly past) my waistband. I did not notice this either. It was not until an hour later that I noticed a light crunching sound when I walked but that stopped when I stopped. I paused, reached to scratch my back, and felt rumpled paper. Confused, I tugged at the paper. While standing in the hallway, I pulled out the full length of the toilet set cover which unfolded like an accordian in my hands.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Veal in Flight

I do my best to avoid taking airlines that do not pre-book seats but instead force you to anxiously line up at the airport gate like coiled sprinters at the starting line. I also avoid airlines that do not assign you a seat until check-in, for then I have to be poised at my computer exactly 24 hours before my flight in order to avoid getting stuck with a seat that does not recline or is wedged near the bathroom. I believe, with moral force, that a person who buys a ticket early merits a better seat choice.

Several months ago, I purchased a ticket on a cross country flight to New York to attend a wedding. The ticket was expensive, in part because I had booked the ticket so far in advance. Tonight, I will be boarding this flight. Less than 10 minutes ago, I discovered that Virgin America is one of those airlines that does not assign seats at purchase. Virgin America hadn't alerted me to its abnormal practice, and I (moron that I am) had not noticed until now that my itinerary did not state a seat assignment. By now, all the hipsters heading to New York on this flight (for Virgin America, with its soft neon groove lights and disco welcome music, specifically caters to hipsters) have already checked in on their Virgin America iphone app and nabbed the choicest seats. The only seat left -- my seat -- is 16B. Middle seat. Did I mention this is a fully-booked, six-hour red-eye?

In a fury, I started to draft an email to Virgin America on its complaint website: "Dear Virgin America, you should in the future please notify your patrons that you do not assign seats at the time of purchase. Because of your practice, which is not inline with airlines of comparable price and quality, I am now forced to sit in the middle seat of a cross country flight on your low-class, stupid freaking @#$%@#$..." at which point, I slammed my fists down on the keyboard in exploded frustration and accidentally sent the email off. Ah well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wardrobe Malfunction

I can be both a sentimental and lazy person. This personality combination yields a home packed with the debris of a mundane life. Open any closet and you'll find jars of loose change, childhood toys, used books, novelty mugs, empty binders, travel sized bottles of shampoo, and electronic accessories for gadgets I no longer own -- items that really won't come in handy one day.

I find it particularly difficult to part with clothing that I have enjoyed wearing but no longer suits me. Sometimes the issue is that the clothing is laughably dated (pleated jeans). At other times, the clothing no longer fits. The top button of my pants once popped off while I was speaking to my secretary. I hoped she hadn't noticed until she handed me a baby pin and winked. Most often, however, I fail to throw out clothing that is so worn that it is no longer structurally sound. This lack of discipline inevitably leads to moron tax.

A few weeks ago, I pulled out a western style shirt I had not worn in a long time. It was dark blue with a tasteful flower print and pearly snap buttons down the front. I put it on and was pleased to see it not only fit well, but was flattering to my figure. I briefly wondered why I had tucked it so far in the back of my closet, but dismissed it as oversight and went off to work. That morning, a co-worker came into my office to share gossip. During the conversation I got excited over a point I was trying to make. To emphasize the firmness my opinion, I put my hands on my hips and threw back my shoulders as I stated it. Just at that moment, the structural defect of my shirt revealed itself. The middle snap on my shirt -- the one at the chest -- burst open to reveal my bra and its contents.

Through years of wearing the shirt, I had pulled apart the snaps so often that they were no longer sufficiently resistant. The slightest tug on the fabric undid the snaps. I must have concluded this a while ago when I placed the shirt so far back into my closet. Of course, when I first discovered the shirt's flaw I should have discarded it. Instead, my hoarding tendencies got the better of my judgment, and the old shirt became a ticking time bomb of moron tax for my future, forgetful self.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

FEATURED POST by Angela Chien

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the moron tax that I've suffered as a dog-owner. The post inspired my friend Angela, the dedicated owner of Fiver, to send me a representative sample of her own doggie-related moron tax. The stories are hilarious and are evidence of Angela's bottomless love and sense of humor. Thanks to Angela for letting me share those stories here as my second Featured Post!

Canine-Induced Moron Tax
  • One of the things I hate most in the world is moving. I considered buying my current apartment so that I wouldn't have to move out of it. Even so, I have subjected myself to not one, but TWO trans-Atlantic moves, in large part to keep my dog happy. What can I say, he likes going to work with me, and the first dog-friendly job I found was in Europe, and the second one was in California.
  • My dog and I used to play Tag in my little 1BR apartment in Manhattan. He understood the concept of "base," which for him was his bed, and for me was the couch. I was running at full speed through my apartment, chased by a Chihuahua, and took a flying leap across half the room to get on base. My hand whacked the arm of the couch, bending the thumb too far and putting that thumb out of commission for a few weeks. Even worse, I did the exact same thing a couple days later, with the other thumb, so I was essentially thumbless for a few weeks because I was so intent on not losing a game of Tag to my dog.
  • My dog has a nervous stomach when he's stressed. I took him apartment-hunting shortly after moving here, and we got into the realtor's car, where he sat on my lap like a good boy. Until he suddenly and without warning started vomiting copiously on my leg. I had nothing to wipe it up with, and didn't want it to get all over her car, so I frantically caught the puke in my hand and smeared it into my jeans as quickly as possible. Yes, I made a big effort to get dog puke on my hands, and then rubbed it all over myself. I smelled like dog puke for the entire day we spent looking at apartments.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Love and Torture

If you are a dog owner, you know this truth: Nothing can drive a person crazier than his or her dog. As dogs owners, we routinely come home to tipped over garbage cans, their half-rotten contents scattered over the kitchen floor. We find our favorite shoes irreparably chewed through and slobbered on. We step into little piles of poo surreptitiously deposited behind large furniture. And always, we discover our four-legged friend at the scene of crime, looking at us and wagging his tail with heart-bursting joy. You're tempted to yell, but you can see in his eyes that the memory of his transgression has already slipped from his mind, even as his mouth is still wrapped around your shoe. You can't really know exasperation until that moment.

Dogs, being dogs, cannot be expected to flawlessly live according to human conventions. The destructive habits of dogs are really our fault and therefore count towards our moron tax.

Teabiscuit, my dog, has cost me a lifetime* of moron tax. Memorable instances include:
  1. He once dragged a used baby diaper out of the bathroom garbage can and chewed it open in the middle of my living room. He ate half of the diaper and smeared the other half on my white rug. I found him with a diaper tag stuck on his face and brown stain around his mouth.
  2. By pulling at the curls of the carpet with his teeth, Teabiscuit unraveled approximately a 3x2 square foot area of my carpet.
  3. While I was putting on my favorite jeans, Teabiscuit jumped at me. On the descent, he managed to nip a piece of my jeans between his teeth and pulled down a strip of fabric from my thigh down to my knee.
  4. He has eaten a pair of wire frame glasses and a ceramic plate. To this day, I have no idea how he managed to break both those items into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Teabiscuit once nipped the end of the toilet paper roll in his mouth and ran into the living room streaming the toilet paper behind him like a ribbon. He managed to unroll about a quarter of the toilet roll before I discovered and stopped his antic.
* Teabiscuit has also given me a lifetime of love and fulfilment that makes all the rest worthwhile.

Friday, June 12, 2009

FEATURED POST by Kevin O'Leary

Today's Featured Post is from my good friend Kevin. Kevin lives life at the intersection of comedy, bravery, and heart. He embraces the bizarre circumstances (see the photo) that crash into his life, and he owns up to all his quirks and hapless mistakes with brutal honesty and witty flair. Rather than cover up a 1 square foot drool stain that he left on his bedsheet, he would take photos and share them. Kevin is a man you fervently admire, even as you're chuckling at his latest life fumble. Many thanks to Kevin for being the first contributor to my blog.

Six Moronic Things I Do on a Constant Basis

I like to open a door til it's just slightly ajar, poke my head in to ask a quick question, then close the door while my head is still there.

Alternately, I will do the above but be asking a question FOR someone. So while my head is in the ajar door, I snap my chin towards my shoulder to relay back the answer -- thus smacking my face against the wall. It's great.

Sleep offers no respite from being a moron. I will have dreams where I am waiting in line. Or having a detailed staff meeting. A well-worn favorite is the one where I am in an unfamiliar house and the phone rings and I have to leave a message but "gosh!" there's no pen/paper. So I scurry, sick to my stomach thinking of how they will hang up. Once a year I have the dream where I have to leave a post-it for someone but it won't stick. I cannot stress enough how exhausting these dreams are.

When I go to work in the morning, I like to leave as many things as possible in the corner furthest from the door out of my apartment, then go back to retrieve them one by one. "Oh, my wallet" Back to door. "Oh my cell." Back to door. This way, I can waste a lot of time. It's most effective if you put your shoes on -- adds that "gotcha" guilt factor of walking on the wood floors.

I like to spend a lot of time fretting over what books to bring on a long flight. Read a lot of first pages so I don't get a lemon. Get real serious about it. Then get on the plane, cross my arms, and sleep almost the whole way.

I get songs in my head and I sing them aloud and don't realize I'm doing it. I once broke out into the Martha and the Vandellas song "Heatwave" during my U.S Intellectual History class.

* Kevin is the tallest man in the photo -- the guy without green hair.
** If you'd like your story to be a Featured Post, please email me at wuisme@morontax.com.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Cuteness Factor: Or, The Dumb Things I Do for Furry Creatures

I am a born sucker, and I am especially a sucker for furry creatures. I once found a baby opossum on the curb beside my car. It was no more than 3 inches long and was so young it seemed unable to move on its own power. When I approached it hissed so loudly and ferociously that its little body shuddered from the effort. I had to admire the gumption.

All practical sensibility told me to leave the little furball alone. What do I know about raising an opossum? I don't think my dog would welcome the rodent as a playmate, and how would I explain it to the neighbors? Also, opossums can carry the hanta virus (which causes bubonic plague) and rabies.

I looked up at the crows gathered on the nearby light pole. It would only be a few moments before one of them would investigate the pathetic hissing at my feet and sweep in for a mid-morning snack. I sighed, swept the little opossum up in my hand, and jumped in my car.

I started cursing myself as soon as I closed the door. In my care, this little furball was as doomed as if I had left it for the crows. The difference now was that its death would be my fault, my act of cruelty. And what if it thrived? How ethical is it to keep an opossum inside a two-bedroom apartment for the rest of its life? Could it be happy hanging from my light fixtures?

I brought the little furball home. For the next several hours, I searched Google for answers on how to be a proper parent to an opossum. I learned that opossums like Gatorade and Pedialyte. They are lactose intolerant (which is perhaps the one thing we had in common). They need to be gently squeezed in order to pee and poo. Anxiety about the opossum's welfare consumed me for two days. At one point, I even lost track of the little furball and spent a frantic hour upturning my apartment and scouring my dog's mouth for signs of dog-on-opossum violence.

My good friend Kevin came to my rescue by locating a opossum rehabilitation center (who knew?) that was willing to take in my furry ward. I wrapped the little furball in an old sweatshirt, stuffed it into my most presentable basket, and drove fifty miles to the center where I dropped it off on the porch. I also left $40 of guilt money to defray some of the center's costs. As I drove away, I was overcome with the same selfish, gushing joy I felt when, as a child, I tossed a hot potato to the kid beside me just as the music stopped.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

When Planning Backfires

There is a trail in the Zion National Park in Utah that travels 16 miles down the Virgin River. The trail is the river itself, and it winds down the deep canyons of red desert rock. It's a hiking trail of imposing and thrilling beauty.

For years I had dreamt of hiking this trail, and it was not until August of 2007, that I finally got the chance. I secured a campsite and coveted hiking permit. I drove eight hours to Zion National Park. I threw down my gear and, in my excitement, only slept a few hours before I got up at 5am to meet the shuttle that I had paid a handsome fee to drive me to the trailhead.

While on the shuttle, I took an antibiotic. At this time in my life, I was sometimes visited by a minor, but irritating ailment. Because I did not want anything to spoil my trip, I took the pill as a precaution. It is, of course, a stupid thing to take a pill when you're not sick. It was an even more stupid thing to take that pill on a completely empty stomach. I'm not quite sure what to make of the fact that I furthermore ingested a pill that was at least one year past its expiration date.

I first vomited on the shuttle ride up to the trailhead. I vomited again about three miles into the hike. I vomited for a third time about six miles in the hike. I vomited for the last time about ten miles into the hike. Each occasion was painful, heaving, and pathetic. I had no food in my stomach, so my body struggled and convulsed to expel whatever it could. I could, at most, cough up a few unsatisfying mouthfuls of bile, spit, and red-koolaid. I would be sweating from the effort after each occasion.

What was supposed to be a wondrous life experience was now a suffering, potentially life-threatening situation. I had to cover 16 miles of difficult trail before sundown. For most of the time, the water level was anywhere from ankle- to waist-deep. The air temperature was also brutally hot (about 100 degrees). At the same time, the intense nausea did not permit me to eat or drink water, and I could only walk at a much slower pace. When I was not vomiting, I was trying not to vomit. There was, moreover, no other human within miles of me. I was a prime candidate for an untimely death by dehydration, exposure, and self-loathing.

The nausea subsided after eight hours. I completed the trail in twelve hours and climbed out of the water just as the sun started to set. I would not be able to eat again until the next afternoon.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hurricane Wu

To the casual eye, my parents are sweet and easy-going people. They stroll wherever they go. They pleasantly banter. Their favorite pasttime is deciding on the next place to eat, and they both fall asleep on car rides longer than five minutes. In practical reality, my parents are a powerful, game-changing phenomenon known to lawyers, meteorologists, and the French as a force majeure.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines force majeure as (1) a superior or irresistable force; or (2) an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled.* Force majeure describes hurricanes, earthquakes, invasions by space aliens, global thermal nuclear war, and all other events that are wildly unpredictable, hugely destructive, and impossible to contain. It also aptly describes a visit from my parents.

One summer, my parents decided to meet me in San Francisco for a tour the Bay Area. I picked them up from the airport and drove to our seaside hotel where our balcony overlooked a pretty patch of land with a walking trail. I had barely finished squeezing their luggage into the room before my parents strolled out the door to explore the trail.

The trail lead to the top of a high sandy dune overlooking the ocean. We paused to admire the view. Standing at the edge, my father noticed a small cliff below that jutted further out over the ocean. He pointed toward the cliff and asked, "Hey Wen, what do you think if we go down to get a better view?" I took a long look at the steep, gravel slope leading to the lower cliff and at the soft, leather loafers on my father's feet. "I don't think that's a good idea, Dad. It's too dangerous to go off the trail." I turned away to snap a picture of the coast. I had only taken my eyes off my father for a few seconds when I heard my mother call out, "No...no...don't go..." I whipped around just in time to see my father walk over the edge of the dune.

He started running down the slope and, for a moment, he looked as though he was doing so with purpose. But then, his upper body started to tilt past his feet, and it became obvious that he was actually falling and his feet were only running to catch up to the rest of his body. He tilted further and further until he looked like a goose about to take flight. When his upper body became parallel to the ground, his left foot turned on the gravel, his torso neatly swiveled at the waist, and he landed with a crunch on his right side.

I bolted down the slope. My father had landed beside a sofa-sized boulder at the base of the cliff, and I thought with terror that he might have hit his head. I could hear him groan in pain. When I arrived at his side, he sat up, looked up at me, and said, "Boy, that slope was steep."

He hadn't hit his head. My father did, however, break one of his ribs. At that point, my parents' visit was not yet three hours old. We would spend the next several hours searching for and waiting at a local emergency room.

*see Merriam Webster's website: http://mw1.m-w.com/dictionary/force%20majeure
**In case you're wondering, I made it safely down the slope because I have some hiking experience my father did not have and was able to identify a safer way down. Also, the desperate desire to attend a loved one in pain sometimes lends you powers you don't normally have. With parents like mine, I call upon those powers often.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Blowback of Impatience

I am an impatient person. When facing a problem, the use of brute force is always the first, usually my preferred, and sometimes the only solution that comes to mind. Wires tangled together? Yank on one until it's freed. Luggage won't close? Jump on it. Can't get a package open? Tear it with your teeth if necessary.

Unfortunately, brute force is rarely the most effective solution (though the most satisfying). More often than not, it causes more trouble that it's worth.

A few weeks ago, I was attempting to secure a bike rack on my car. I had trouble wriggling one of the hooks into the crevice between the trunk of my car and my rear brake light. A person with disciplined mind would have simply opened the trunk, arranged the hook properly, and then closed the trunk to secure the hook. I, on the other hand, tried to mash the hook in with my fingers. When that didn't work, I hit it with the palm of my hand. The hook did not move, and I hurt my hand. Frustrated with myself and the pain in my hand, I then kicked the hook with the bottom of my foot with full force.

I cracked my rear brake light casing. I also smashed the light bulb. The hook, of course, still didn't move.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Workplace Indignities

Perhaps you're like me and sometimes find yourself day dreaming of being flawlessly competent at work. I like to picture myself as that woman who strides into a room and can inspire, by virtue of her posture alone, respect and a little awe. Unflappable, dignified, self-assured -- the woman who needs only a tense moment of deliberation to conjure the right answer to any crisis.

Alas, I am not her. I am in a galaxy far, far away from her. I am the woman who hits the door jamb with her shoulder on the way into a room. I am that woman who breaks out in a sweat at the approach of conflict. When it comes to the workplace, I am a bumbling ball of moron tax. I am Don Knotts.

Here are a few instances:

1. I have a black dress that has a side zipper that begins just below my armpit and ends at my hip. Today, I wore that dress to work, but forgot to close the zipper. When I finally noticed and zipped it up, my manager commented, "Oh, I thought you had decided to wear a very daring dress today." Shudder.

2. When I was an intern at a law firm, I called one of the head partners at the firm to ask a simple question. The partner didn't answer, and I was directed to voicemail. I started to talk, but stuttered, so I pressed a button to scuttle and re-record my message. Instead, the button I pressed sent my garbled message as-is to the partner. The partner laughed at me a few weeks later.

3. At the end of a job interview, I walked over to the coatrack to put on my coat and retrieve my purse. Unbeknownst to me, the interviewer followed behind me to walk me out. When I swung my purse over my shoulder, I hit her with my purse...in the face.

4. I overflowed a toilet at work that I did not realize was malfunctioning. I don't need to say more. It was disgusting and horrifying.

5. One summer, I interned at a posh magazine company. Part of my duties was to relieve the receptionist during lunch; however, the phone was a complex machine with numerous lines and extensions and I had difficulty transferring calls to the right place. One day, my father called me at the office just as another call came in. I attempted to put my father on hold, but accidentally transferred him to the editor-in-chief. The editor-in-chief was a man of such reserved and imposing eminence that you wondered if there really could be a Priory of Sion. According to my father, the conversation went like this:

Scary Editor Guy: "Hello, this is Scary Editor Guy."
My dad: "Yah, where's Wendy? Can I talk to Wendy?"
Scary Editor Guy: "Excuse me, Sir. I'm afraid, I don't know to whom you are referring."
My dad: "My daughter? She's the one that works in your office for no pay."
Scary Editor Guy: "Sir, I don't understand."
My dad: "Hello, Wendy? Wendy?"

My dad assured me that he repeated my name several times to the editor. "Yah, sure, he knows your name now. You can thank your dad for that."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pieces of Me (Part II)

WARNING: This posting continues my story of a self-inflicted injury (see Pieces of Me (Part I)). If you are squeamish about pain and blood, you might want to skip this posting and revisit the blog later. I promise the next posting will be gore-free.

When I arrived at the nurse's office, the nurse was chatting on the phone. She glanced at me and casually waved for me to sit down on the waiting bench. Exhausted, now, from my panic, I slumped onto the bench without any protest, cradled my injured hand, and waited.

The nurse soon noticed the small pool of blood congealing at my feet. She lept up, grabbed my wrist, and, with surprising strength pulled me over to the sink. Before I could even brace for the pain I knew would be coming, she turned on the faucet and plunged my finger under cold water. It hurt just as much the second time around.

The nurse dried my hand and methodically wrapped my finger in a voluminous amount of gauze. If you had passed by me then and caught a glimpse of my finger out of the corner of your eye, you couldn't be faulted for thinking that I might be holding a stick of cotton candy. The nurse patted me on the head and sent me back to my classroom. When I returned to class, I was mortified to see the janitor mopping up my blood.

Later that night, I was cowering in my bedroom when my parents came home from work. My parents are loving people, but they ascribe to a discipline of tough love. As a rule, injury that I brought upon myself -- tripping over my feet, falling down stairs, walking into doors -- would be met with criticism about my carelessness rather than kisses on my boo-boos. So, having just inflicted upon myself an injury far greater in magnitude than anything I had previously done, I was very afraid of what would happen when they unveiled my wound.

My parents immediately called me down the kitchen. I stood, closed my eyes, offered up my finger, and quietly wimpered as they unwound the thick layer of gauze. When they finished unraveling, I could hear them hold their breath as they grasped the extent of the damage I had done. My father asked sternly, "Where is the fingertip? Did you bring the fingertip back?" I started to explain that I had not thought to preserve it. He demanded again, "Could we find the fingertip? If we went back do you know where we could get it?" Until this moment, it hadn't occurred to me that such a thing could be reattached. I started to cry.

My parents began whispering to each other in Mandarin. I took this to be a very bad sign. As a household, we mostly spoke in Taiwanese. My parents reserved Mandarin for only the most serious topics, like finances and whether or not to put down the family pet. As I didn't understand the language well, the best I could grasp was that there was another problem in addition to the fact that I was missing a fingertip.

My mother went to the cupboard and pulled out a bowl, into which she poured a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. My father, in the meantime, reexamined my finger and tugged lightly at the gauze still around my finger. I was about to ask why they hadn't fully removed the gauze, when I looked again at my finger. And then I understood the problem.

When the nurse wrapped my finger in gauze, she placed the gauze directly onto my muscle without any padding. My finger had continued to bleed, and the blood had seeped through the first few layers of gauze. The blood then hardened into a stiff, thick clot, sealing the gauze against my muscle. To prevent infection, the gauze had to be removed.

We were all silent now. My parents led me to the bathroom where the sink was closer to my reach. My mother placed the bowl of peroxide beside the sink, drew me close, and clenched her hands over mine so that only my injured finger protruded from her grasp. My father grabbed the ends of the gauze firmly. My parents looked at each other and, with the slightest nod between them, my father jerked the gauze, yanking the clot free from my finger. My mother then swiftly dipped my finger into the bowl of peroxide.

I remember hearing the sizzling of the peroxide as it came into contact with my reopened wound. I don't remember much else after that moment as I might have blacked out from the pain. In any case, it's safe to assume that my parents likely washed my finger in the sink under cold water for the third time that day.

**This posting is continuing a story from an earlier posting.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pieces of Me (Part I)

WARNING: This posting is a detailed account of a painful injury I that I inflicted on my hand. If you cringe easily at the mention of blood, you might want to skip this posting.

If you look closely at my left index finger, you can see a white splotch about the size of a pencil eraser. This splotch is a scar -- one so thick that I can no longer feel sensation with the tip of my finger. Once, while sewing, I accidentally pushed a needle into my fingertip and did not notice until I looked down upon my hand.

This is the story about how I got that scar; how, one day, I went to school and sliced off my entire fingertip as neatly and as cleanly as you'd slice the top off a ripe strawberry.

One morning when I was in fifth grade, a large box arrived on my family's porch. Looking for goodies, I picked up the box and tore into it. Inside, I found a variety of stainless steel scissors with orange handles. I picked out the smallest pair and made a few quick snips through the air. As the metal ends opened and slid back together, they made a bright and satisfying "zing." I loved it. I stuffed the scissors into my backpack and dashed to school.

That day, the class project was to cut shapes from sheets of paper that we would use to decorate the classroom. I excitedly took out my new pair of scissors. I took a sheet in my left hand and held it with my thumb on the top side and the forefinger was underneath. I started snipping.

I only knew I had cut myself when I felt the cold steel brush against the skin. The scissors were so sharp that I hadn't felt any resistance in the handles. The metal edges sliced through my finger with no more effort than it took to cut through the paper. Zing. I looked down and saw the round, peach colored fingertip where it landed on my desk. The blood drained from my face. I looked at my hand.

I had sheared off so much skin, I exposed the bright, red muscle of my finger. My muscle twitched, like it was bewildered by the light it should never see. Blood began to seep out and run over the thick rim of skin around the muscle. I screamed and ran to the class sink to wash the wound. This was a mistake. The cold water on my raw muscle caused excruciating pain, and I shook my hand, sending droplets of blood splattering in the sink, on the walls, on the floor, and on myself.

From the sink I ran to my teacher to ask for a pass to the nurse's office. One would think my teacher might have prepared one during this time or commanded me to run there right away; however, though a lovely, well-meaning woman, she was not a person of decisive action. I stood there at least a minute and a half, dripping blood onto my shoes, as she fumbled with her desk to find one and fill it out. Pass in hand, I sprinted down the stairs and down the hall to the school nurse.

I hoped as I ran, that the school nurse would be the end of the ordeal -- that she'd hear my frantic footfalls and meet me at the door, ready to leap to action with anesthetics and bandages in hand. Of course, it didn't happen that way. The avalanche of moron tax that I set in motion when I picked up those scissors was still gaining speed.

to be continued...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Suffering for Beauty

It's fair to say that I have no idea how to dress up properly. I can button shirts and pants with reasonable accuracy, but I am at a loss with formal attire. Half my wardrobe is made of fleece, and I tuck in my shirt no more than twice a year. I haven't worn pantyhose for over 5 years.

My brother's wedding was one of the rare times that I did dress up. For the occasion, I decided to splurge on a pair of gold, high-heeled sandals. The shoes were fashionable and even sexy, but they were also far out of my league. The shoes were no more than a few thin straps glued to a short plank with a pencil for a heel. You needed the balance of a mountain goat to wear those things. When I wore them, I tottered like a new-born calf missing two of its legs.

When it came time, then, to walk down the stairs of the church to join the wedding ceremony, I can honestly say that I had a good idea what was going to happen. I was only surprised that I didn't trip until I was four steps down from the top. On the fourth step, my left heel skidded under me just as I shifted my weight to that foot. I crashed down on my left side, awkwardly bending my left foot beneath me. I heard something pop and people gasp. Momentum (+ gravity) carried me down the remaining stairs. As those were the only shoes I had with me, I had to put them back on and wear them for the rest of the wedding and the reception afterward.

The photo is a picture of my injured foot after several hours of standing on it. At this point, it had swollen so much that it could not longer comfortably fit into those gold heels. If you look closely, you can see where the straps of the shoes pressed into my foot