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Post Day Fifteen Post

August 24, 2007

Since the fifteen-day mark has passed I thought I’d stick in an interlude on the day-by-day vacation discussion and mention something else. I’ll get back to days three, four, and five in upcoming posts so for those who are repeatedly clicking their browser’s refresh button to view the next “Wanna see my vacation slides” entry and sobbing that day three has yet to be posted, don’t despair. For now, though, back to the post-day-fifteen post.

Sha’ Chi or Si Chi, bad karma, bad luck, I really don’t know which it might be. Maybe I need to rearrange the furniture, maybe I did something really evil in a past life, or more likely it’s just that there are millions and millions and millions of folks in the world so some are going to land on the statistical far right of the luck curve and win the lottery, others on the far left get struck by lightning, and some hang more in the middle. This post is for those of us who tend to spend our time just left of center on the curve. It’s certainly not a bad life; those who live downhill from us are much more deserving of sympathy. I don’t think I can really complain all that much being where I am, but for we folk who do hang here it is a pain in the ass at times.

See, we’re the folks who buy the new mattress the weekend before the big sale, who win the homemade fruitcake instead of the ten speed bicycle in the church raffle (*Note one below), who are the fifth caller when the station is looking for caller number six, or who have our freezer go out two days after taking advantage of the grocer’s sale by buying an entire beef sirloin and one day after leaving on a week-long trip. Oh, we occasionally have something exciting happen, such as being customer number one-million-and-one at the electronic store and are seen standing in the background in the newspaper photo of the millionth customer receiving the big screen flat panel TV, but usually it’s just day to day getting the rock to the windshield, ordering dinner just after they ran out of the daily special we came for, and so on. Basically we who spend life always just short of making it over the hump – we can see the top from here, we just never seem able to reach it.

There are those in this group who continually work to make it over that hump, to move to the easy life, to achieve comfort, to “get ahead.” For years I was one of those and let me tell you, it’s a frustrating existence. Maybe if you work just a little harder, maybe put a few bucks into a business and pour all your spare time there, try over achieving in your job, study everything about getting ahead you can find, listen to motivational programs, find something that will help you make that final little bit of a climb and allow you the opportunity to coast a bit. When that doesn’t work, you try even a little more, and a little more, and more, and more, and more. Soon you’re overextended in all phases of life: working too hard, emotionally drained, physically unhealthy, can’t sleep, convinced the world is against you, and you are starting to get desperate. If you are in that group, let me help you: STOP. See, again, whether Sha’ Chi or Si Chi, bad karma, or just bad luck from being on the wrong side of the curve, the world is against you. Accept it and life gets much easier.

I’ll give you an example. Recently (day fourteen of the post portion of the fifteen-day pre/post window, but I’ll get back to that in a bit) I went out one Sunday night to go fill my car up with gas for the coming week. I normally leave for work a little before five in the morning, and since I hate to set the 4:15 alarm any earlier I didn’t want to wait until morning to make the refueling stop. But when I went out that Sunday night the car wouldn’t crank, wouldn’t even turn over. It had been sitting there since coming home from work the previous Friday night, so I assumed I had left a light on or something, and ran the battery down. I pushed the car back (okay, Number One Son pushed it back and I sat inside and steered) to where I could get to the battery and then jumped-started it. I let it run for twenty minutes and then drove to get gas. When I shut off the car, it wouldn’t crank back up. Dead as could be. (*Note two below)

I called in reinforcements (Number One Daughter and Boyfriend) from home and, of course, this time it wouldn’t jump-start. I tried several times, then sent them back for the Big Black Blunderbuss (1994 Trooper); it’s what I had jumped it off with the first time and I thought, maybe, it had a stronger starting capacity than Number One Daughter’s Traveling Dumpster. No joy here, either. I finally pushed it to the side and left it for the night. On the brighter side (*Note three below), I did get to sleep late the next morning. Since I figured I’d pay overtime fees to get a tow truck prior to seven or eight o’clock, I planned to wait until then. So I slept until six, a luxurious treat on a Monday morning.

Bright and reasonably early next day, SWMBO made the suggestion that we try and jump it off one more time before calling a tow service. We drove over, hooked up, and darned if it didn’t crank. Now comes decision time. I can either drive it to a shop to be looked at or drive it to one of the auto parts places where they will check for a bad battery and replace it if need be, with no extra charge for them doing the work of replacing it. I was certain the problem was the battery and replacing it would fix the problem — but this is where a left-side paradigm shift is critically important, where the acceptance of being on the left side of the luck curve comes into play.

If I drive to the auto parts house to have the battery checked, the problem is going to be something other than the battery. I will turn the car off, have them check the battery, and have them tell me the battery is fine. At this point, no effort will get the car to crank so I will need both a tow to the shop and then significant work. But what I’ve learned over the years is a modified Schrödinger’s Cat principle: until the decision is made the results are unformed. By deciding to go to the auto parts store, I would have cemented the problem to being more than the battery. But if instead I accept the inevitable trip to the shop, I can leave open the possibility of the battery being the problem. Once you learn this approach you can begin to mitigate the damage of living left of center. So I immediately drove to the closest dealer and had them check it out: bad battery. Forty minutes and a hundred and five bucks later, I’m on the road again. The fates rewarded my acceptance of living left of center by allowing the problem to just be the battery. You may be thinking that I spent an extra fifty or so, but instead I saved a tow, the cost of, say, replacing the starter (much more than a battery), plus the need to leave the car in the shop for at least a day or two.

What I’m trying to do here for those of you who, like me, are just slightly left of center on the luck curve, is to get you to understand that, once accepted, it’s all about mitigation of the damages. I’ve come to realize over the years that, whether Sha’ Chi or Si Chi, bad karma, or (most likely) just bad luck, once accepted you can appease the fates of life by this acceptance and mitigate the costs, both financially and emotionally. Since life’s gonna slap you from time to time, just roll your head with the slap and it hurts a lot less. I used to fight it, used to think I could win, but a glance at this picture and you’ll see what lies just below the surface of those who follow that path; I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Mr. Munch spent his life just to the left of center on the luck curve. I have found it’s much easier to accept and then plan for the inevitable. (*Note four below)

All of this brings me to the title of this post, the “Post Day Fifteen” part. We left for vacation on August 1st and returned on August 5th; add fifteen days and you have the 20th of August, which marked the fifteen days post-vacation point. Subtract fifteen days from the day we left, and you have July 17th. This is the fifteen-day pre/post zone, and something that I have to plan for on any vacation. It’s like this: whenever we decide to go on vacation, there will be extra costs. No, not the clothes that inevitably must be bought for vacation, the extra, unplanned money spent while on vacation, or such. I know we hemorrhage money when we take a trip and of course that’s built into the vacation budget. But, heck, many on the other side of the curve can state that claim. What my fifteen-day rule is about is the left-of-center situation that I face.

Anytime we plan a vacation, there are going to be unrelated expenses that occur sometime during the fifteen-day pre/post window. Basically, I budget an extra thousand dollars to try and cover those. Sometimes it’s enough, sometimes it’s not, but at least once I cross the fifteen-day point I know the damage. In a good year, it’s only a few hundred to replace a dishwasher (happened twice). Other years, it’s worse news, such as the year of the air conditioner (over five grand, all told), but that was before planning for such to occur.

This year it was more than just the battery example above; that was just the final item in the plus/minus fifteen-day window. Altogether, it was plumbing and automotive problems totaling just under three grand – yep, a tough year and doesn’t even include our cost in Number One Son’s new car (as opposed to putting $1,800 into his old one). I’d have much rather installed a third dishwasher, but you get what you get. (I could mention that the battery, at $105, would have been 100% covered under the car’s 36K mile warranty had it occurred the week before, but this sort of stuff goes without saying when you live on the left side of the curve.) Even though it was a large chunk, I can now breath a sigh of relief as the fifteen-day pre/post vacation window has closed. Oh, other things will occur, but at least it won’t happen because we decided to take a vacation. We had already pushed our luck by SWMBO’s suggestion early on that we could pull this vacation off inexpensively, and that’s the most likely reason the fates hit us as hard as they did. But at least the window is now closed.

Hopefully this post has been instructive to some of you out there who, like me, live just left of center on the luck curve. Acceptance is the ticket to live with this problem, mitigation is the key to smoothing the face in the portrait above. Just remember, once accepted, life is good even from the left side of the curve. So for those left of center like me, take it easy . . . and, hey, good luck (insert whimsical smile here) to you! (*Notes five & six below)

Note one: No, winning the homemade fruitcake isn’t good luck, it’s much worse than not winning anything. Fruitcake sucks, and being homemade, it was made by some nice church lady who is going to ask you how you liked it. You will be in church when she asks. You will lie. In church. This is bad. 

Note two: I know what you’re thinking: driving to the gas station and shutting off the car was a foolish mistake. Smarter would have been to circle the block a few times, then go home, cut it off, and see if it would crank. That way, when it didn’t crank, you are at least home where you can work the problem and not stranded at a busy gas pump in front of a Wal*Mart Supercenter. But that’s “right side of the luck curve” thinking. If you go home to try shutting down and restarting the car and it would crank right up . . . but would have bit you later. Accept it: you are going to be stranded somewhere, so you might as well get it over with while near home. Otherwise it’ll happen in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night in the middle of a pouring rain. 

Note three: When you live left-center of the luck curve, look for bright sides wherever you can. 

Note four: Don’t think of this as giving up. Would you tell a quadriplegic that if he doesn’t just jump out of that wheel chair and get on with life, he’s giving up? Of course not. Instead, you are impressed by what many handicapped individuals are able to achieve in spite of what life dealt them. In the case of the left-of-center luck curve folks, it’s the same; not nearly as debilitating a condition to be sure, but as it’s a foregone conclusion where their luck lies, be impressed with the mitigation plan. 

Note five: Is this tongue in cheek? Of course; life should be lived tongue in cheek. 

Note six: Wow. I had a lot of footnotes in this post. 

From → Ramblings

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