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

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, "'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:
**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.