Saturday, February 06, 2010

King of the silver lining

Please ignore the dark clouds

As a completely rational man, I do not countenance superstitious behavior. For me, “knock on wood” is just a jocular expression. Spilling salt doesn't bother me (except for the mess it might leave). I'll pet a black cat any old time (assuming it's not hissing at me).

But sometimes I wonder. I appear to be the master of mitigated bad luck. A few examples will demonstrate my outlier status on the coincidence curve.

On the afternoon of the day before the start of the new semester at my school, I decided on impulse to run an errand. I jumped into my car and headed toward town.

Thup, thup, thup.

Not a normal car noise. I pulled over and checked out my vehicle. The right rear tire was almost flat.


And on the day before school starts, too. However, I was close to the Big O Tires where I had purchased the rubber I use to meet the road. I therefore risked thupping a few blocks more, where the automotive mechanic popped off the tire, fixed it, and had me back on the road in half an hour.

No charge.

By no stretch of the imagination is a flat tire good news. However, had I not discovered the flat that afternoon, I would have discovered it early in the morning when leaving (or trying to leave) for the first day of school. Not good. I might have been late for the first session of my first class of the day. Definitely not good.

One more thing: Had I been traveling in a different direction, I would probably have pulled into the car dealership where I sometimes get my vehicle serviced. I would have gotten the tire fixed, but certainly not comped.

See what I mean about silver linings?

Several years ago, driving north on Highway 99 on Washington's Birthday, I heard an unpleasant noise from under the hood of my car. The fan clutch had seized up and apparently didn't want to die alone. It took out the water pump and the radiator in its death throes. My car and I ended up by the side of the road, over a hundred miles from my destination.

Rotten luck, no?

Yes, but not entirely rotten. In those pre-cell-phone days, I was pleased to find that I was within easy walking distance of a gas station with a pay phone. The AAA tow-truck service was soon hauling me and my disabled vehicle into the nearest town. Not only that, we were deposited at an auto shop (open despite the holiday) that sat directly opposite the street from the bus station. The one daily bus up to Sacramento was due to arrive within the hour. Barely sixty minutes after my car's misadventure, I was on a Continental Trailways bus, traveling toward the state capital again. I had called ahead to notify a friend of my plight. He picked me up at the station and drove me home.

Of course, a couple of days later I had to take the bus back down to the auto shop to collect my repaired car—which was a bit of a nuisance—but it feels petty to complain about it. As mishaps go, it was pretty thoroughly mitigated.

Perhaps you're not impressed by those two trivial automotive examples, but I can cite other instances that do not involve vehicles.

Education of Hard Knocks

Consider my grave misfortune in not completing my Ph.D. in math when I was first enrolled in a doctoral program. The department chair had prevailed upon me to accept a teaching assignment despite my reluctance. I thought I should concentrate on my graduate studies, but he pointed out that teaching assistants were often assigned lecture responsibilities and that he had a calculus class that needed an instructor. I taught the class and loved the experience. I never turned down another teaching assignment. I also never graduated, running out the clock on my eligibility for grad school without ever doing any research and never advancing to candidacy. (I passed all my classes and all of the written qualifying exams, but a Ph.D. is a research degree and I was found wanting.)

Disaster, right?

But that experience placed me on the road to the job I have today, a full-time teaching job which is the best job I've ever had.

Sweet. I could have ended up as one of those California State University faculty members now suffering from reduced pay and furloughs (which are worse than the cutbacks at many community colleges).

And there was that time between teaching gigs when I worked for a state agency in Sacramento. Everything was fine until the musical chairs that characterize the top management level of state service brought a thoroughly unqualified political appointee into the agency's executive position. One might think it would be fun to work for a legislator's mistress—but not so much. (And, to be fair, the legislator's divorce had come through before his paramour became our boss, so she was married to him by then.) She turned the workplace into a snakepit, but she also helped give me the courage to accept the temporary faculty appointment that later turned into a tenured position at my college. (Thanks, bitch.)

So perhaps her arrival on the scene wasn't such bad luck after all. (She was fired the year after I left, too.)

Old Man Gut Pain

The incidents keep piling up. Just the other evening, lounging comfortably with a book in my recliner, I sat up and felt a sharp pain in my abdomen. Ouch! I moved about gingerly. Ouch!

No doubt I was about to die from acute appendicitis.

I'm not really a hypochondriac. The pain was not sharp enough or persistent enough to make me drive to the local emergency room. It certainly wasn't bad enough to call 9-1-1. A Google search reassured me a little. I calmly went to bed and managed to fall asleep before long.

In the morning I woke up feeling better. No pain. I started to get up. Ouch!


As it happened, I had no early morning classes that day. (Wouldn't you know it?) I called my doctor's office. As it happened, he had had a cancellation and he could see me immediately as the first patient of the day.

See what I mean?

He checked me out and informed me that it was merely muscle pain. No intervention was indicated (except, perhaps, ibuprofen). The bad news, such as it was, was that the pain might linger for quite a while, but eventually it should go away. It's not an unusual condition in men my age.

So I guess I have “Old Man Gut Pain.”

I'd rather not have it, of course. But, come to think of it, I haven't felt it in a few days. Maybe it's gone away already.

My life is charmed—in a very peculiar way.


Ray said...

Oh Mr. Z, how can you be so blind? Isn't it obvious that the Good Lord has been watching over you? How else could you possibly explain all of this? Coincidence? Cherry-picking your life events? I rather think not!! :-)

Zeno said...

I know, Ray It's the only possible explanation. Of course, it would seem hubristic to come right out and say that I am God's chosen one.

João said...

Did you contact your mum in any of these occasions? I'm sure Our Lady of Fátima has something to do with it...

P.S.-Nice work on the PZ adventures in Ca :)

ods15 said...

My worst luck I think has been my below-medicore high school education. Most importantly, I had completely missed out on many opportunities I didn't know even existed, as my school never offered them, such as completing a degree during high school.
I am doing my degree now, at age 23, and am so much happier for it, as it makes so much more sense now that I'm more mature, and can relate to people my own age at uni. So I am happy I missed those opportunities, as they would have made my life actually worse.

Another plight I had was not being accepted to any high-level tech-ish section in the 3-year mandatory army service. I ended in a rather obscure, yet still programming position. It also turned out much for the best, as any of those other positions would have required signing on to the army for additional mandatory years, which I today know would have made me completely miserable. Army years are truly a grueling experience when compared to the freedom I have today with my high-tech full-time job (not to mention the ~5 times larger salary!). Also the less prestigious position I had made it possible for me to even start working while still in the army, which was a great experience.

So, whatever curse it is you have Zeno, I think I share it with you, and am happier for it :)

mndean said...

Continental Trailways? Geez, how long ago was this? They've been gone for a decade or two.

Zeno said...

Indeed. But three decades ago they were definitely around.

Miki Z. said...

I think that plight you suffer from is called a 'positive outlook'.

It seems to be in the same category as the difference between the student who says "I flunked this quiz, which will impact my grade in a tiny tiny amount, but I'd like to understand the material. Here is the work I've done, can you clear up this point that I am not understanding?"

Rather than "I flunked this quiz 3 weeks ago, and several more besides, and now I've flunked my midterm. I stopped coming to class out of frustration. Why do you hate me?!?"

wv: tundin -- what the second student should have dun with their homewuk.

Zeno said...

Hey, Miki, I know that second student. She was in my algebra class last year.

Miki Z. said...

I think I read about her here. She sure does take a lot of classes at a lot of schools. Sometimes she's even a guy.

Karen said...

I think it takes some effort sometimes to see the silver linings. But life is much, much better if you're attuned to them!

Eric TF Bat said...

The universe seems to behave as if what you expect is more likely that what you don't expect. So if you're an optimist, you'll be right more often, and if you're a pessimist, you'll also be right more often but you won't like it as much.

I don't think it's a matter of a Jewish zombie who was his own father (ie "God") obeying the requests you telepathically send him (ie "prayer"), but merely a side-effect of the old adage that we make our own luck.

Miki Z. said...

I think of this as a random walk with drift.

I should probably get out more often.

trog69 said...

I am a nonbelieving, un-flag waving person of Irish descent who has been unbelievably lucky almost my entire life, yet I remain a hopeless pessimist. It could be the depression that does that, though. Fortunately, I am disabled with a union pension* and SS, and with the economy we have now, I really haven't a thing to complain about. Glad I'm not the only one who see's the good things overshadow the occasional "bad".

*-My union is heavily involved in refineries, power-houses, nukes, etc, so our members have had relatively steady work throughout this downturn, and prospects look good into the near future.