Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Many Faults of Douglas Whaley
Looking over my blog entries I notice that I seem to come out on top in far too many of the posts. Hmm. I suppose that’s natural enough for someone writing his own history, but it now seems time to confess some (but certainly not all) of my personal flaws.
1. Clumsiness. I’m not good at most physical tasks twelve-year olds can accomplish without thinking. For example, it should be illegal for me to touch tools given that a huge percentage of my past experiences ended with, say, blood and screaming. Consider two recent examples from a long ugly list.
“Doug and the Shelf.” I decided last year to put up a small shelf in my washer/dryer room. How hard could that be? Well, it took two days of steady effort and three trips to Lowe’s hardware store before the shelf was up, fastened firmly to the wall, and painted. Okay, I’d put it too low to operate the dryer without bending down and peering under the shelf to adjust the start dial, but I had no intention of taking it down and starting over—let the next owner of the house look at it and wonder what kind of idiot would put a shelf there. Even worse, the next time I was in the laundry room I dropped something on the floor, bent over to get it, and wacked my nose on the corner of the shelf (which is where blood comes into this sad tale). My friends all shook their heads sadly on hearing this all too typical incident. Knowing I would likely encounter that prominent sharp corner edge again, I called my good friend Tom, told him I’d decided to cut off the offending corner, and asked if he had a jigsaw that would do the job. Since he well knows my history with tools, he said warily, “Well, yes, Doug, but I think I’ll want you to first sign a waiver of liability.” “No,” I replied, “you misunderstand. I have no intention of using the jigsaw myself—I was hoping to talk you into doing it for me.” Good friend that he is, he promptly came over and had the corner sawed off in five minutes. I’m proud to say I was then able to paint the rounded edge without injuring myself in any way, and I remain ridiculously proud of that stupid shelf, admiring it whenever I pass by (to appreciate its beauty for yourself, see photo).
“Doug and the Scales.” My heart-care regimen requires me to weigh myself every day, and since my existing (and almost never used) scales were so old that the read-out displayed Roman numerals, I bought a fancy new one. I put it down on a chosen spot in the bathroom, carefully telling myself to be aware of its location (the old one had lived in the cabinet under the sink, covered in dust). Then, looking around the bathroom, I realized I needed to fetch a box of tissue paper, so I walked to the laundry room where such things are kept (on my new shelf!), picked up a box, walked back into the bathroom, and immediately tripped over the scales. It hadn’t been a full minute.
2. Lack of Visual Appreciation. I simply can’t care about visual things, and have no talent for making visual decisions. This means a number of unfortunate things. Firstly, I have absolutely no taste, and for decades have depended on the kindness of others to help me select clothes, furnish the condo, buy a car. Left on my own I always end up with some version of Charley Brown’s Christmas Tree, which I proudly show off to friends, only to have them shake their heads in despair. When I direct plays for the local community theaters I make sure to have first rate people designing the sets and costumes lest when the curtain goes up the audience gasp in horror before the actors say a word.
It also means that I have no interest in purely visual experiences, which is regrettable. I can’t enjoy art museums, ballet, or any other cultural experience that is purely right-brained, having no left-brained content to speak of. Most people travel happily to see beautiful sites and strange places. Well, due to my nomadic upbringing as an Air Force brat, plus being a sailor in the Navy, and a professional traveler all over the country for the last forty years, I’m done with travel for travel’s sake. Show me the travelogue video of, say, Victoria Falls, and I’ll comment sincerely, “It’s impressive.” If I went there physically, I would observe it and also comment, “It’s impressive.” I don’t need to travel to see something I wouldn’t appreciate, beyond noting its obvious beauty, that I could have seen on my TV with my feet up, drink in hand. When I do venture out into the world for pleasure it’s to do things: play bridge in tournaments, go to the theater in New York, gamble in Las Vegas, etc. Such activities have an intellectual content and I much enjoy myself (well, that’s assuming my bridge isn’t crummy, the show a turkey, or my gambling luck eating painfully into my entertainment budget).
3. Borderline Innumeracy. Okay, I can do simple math just fine sitting in my office before class. But let me get into the classroom teaching something that involves figures (such as the computation of damages for a breach of contract), and my math anxiety kicks into panic mode so that I stumble embarrassingly doing even basic arithmetic. One way I alleviate this is to confess to the class this flaw before we start into any math-containing issue, and that frequently helps. At least they’re warned. There was a bad episode last month when I was substitute teaching for a faculty member who’d broken his leg. The answer given by the book’s authors to a problem posed in the day’s assignment was $40, but it worked out to $30 under the formula I’d told the students to use, and I insisted on that number. There were protests that I was wrong, but I confidently beat them back, only to think it over later that night and finally realize I’d made an ass of myself again; even under my own formula it was $40. So I apologized the next day, clad in sackcloth, covered with ashes. At one similar debacle twenty years ago, it happened that the answer I gave was right and I knew it was right but couldn’t seem to explain why. Students kept raising hands and pointing out my supposed error. Frustrated, I finally asked the class if any of them agreed I was right and could explain the answer better than my bumbling attempts. One student raised his hand and said, “You are right, Profressor. The explanation is simple, but do you mind if I use the blackboard to demonstrate?” I happily invited him up the front of the room and his lucid explanation then closed down all protest and we moved on.
4. There are many more Douglas Whaley flaws, but one more should be mentioned: hedonism. I inherited this one from my father, who was also a champion hedonist. The problem is the inability to practice moderation. If there is plate near me of twelve doughnuts and I must spend the day in their presence, all twelve will be gone by the time the sun sets. I cannot (and neither could Dad) eat just one. “If Doug wants it, Doug ought to have it,” appears to be the nutty operating principle. On the other hand, I am very good with rules. I can have NO doughnuts without it being a trial, but that has to be my firm assumption before I ever see them. I was on the Atkins Diet for seven years, lost 50 pounds and kept it off for that period, rigidly sticking to the diet’s rules until I got tired of the blandness and difficulty of it all—essentially you weren’t allowed to eat anything. I’ve still not gained back much of that weight; my heart trouble of the last decade was a major incentive to be careful. Now that I have a new heart, the current incentive is not to waste the precious gift of life given to me by the donor and his wonderful family.
Thus ends this current confession, but next blog I’ll talk about my final two formal confessions made to priests inside actual confessionals. It will be entitled “Catholicism and Me (Part Two).” Should you care to read it, Part One was posted on March 13th of this year.
"Life's Little (But Important) Rules," April 23, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013