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

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.