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

* 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.