Posts Tagged ‘Humor’

The Thirteenth Option

The other day my wife and I decided to go out for a dinner at the local Lone Star Steakhouse. This was the first time in quite a while we had been tempted to go to that particular place. There were several reasons for our absence, but since the recent revamping of their menu, and quasi-update to the decor, we decided to give it another shot.  There were quite a few very interesting new things to try, the prices were better and overall it was a very enjoyable meal out on the town.  We were finishing our dinner and the glasses of tea were getting very nearly empty when something happened that I found completely derailing to my inane dinnertime banter. It kicked off a bit of self psychoanalysis that completely preempted our crucial discussion of whatever our cat was doing just prior to leaving the house.

A waitress (not our own) was passing by, carrying a stainless steel pitcher. She stopped by our table, gesturing with the pitcher towards my one-third filled glass of tea in the universal gesture of “would you like a refill?”. She supplemented her motion with the fairly simple question “you had regular tea, right?” 
Believe it or not, I froze for a moment while I had to process her question. I verbally stumbled for a moment, and then replied in a way that she didn’t understand at all.  But before I get into that, I need to supply a little back-story.

Unbeknown to me previous to this fated evening, Lone Star had augmented their menu of drinks to include several fancy flavored iced teas.  As our waiter was running through the list of flavors, I practically pounced when his list reached “Blackberry”. I didn’t really care what else was on the list, I would float away on a river of blackberry iced tea and would be unnaturally happy for doing so. On hearing the list of flavors, my wife, also pleased by the options, changed her drink order from water to Prickly Pear Iced Tea. I will freely admit, prickly pear cactus as a flavor was quite intriguing to me, but not enough for me to change my order. Besides, it would be very simple just to try a little of my dinner-mate’s drink without losing any precious blackberry.

As dinner went on, I was provided with an additional glass of my chosen beverage before even half of my wife’s was gone. By the time the meal arrived, hers was also ready for a refill. A manager that brought the meal noticed the empty prickly pear glass and said she’d get it filled right away. However, our waiter efficiently noticed the same thing as well and in no time at all, my wife had two new glasses of prickly pear iced tea that she could never possibly finish. Being the chivalrous gentleman that I am, I kindly offered to help with one glass and we both spent the remainder of the meal happily sipping on the cactus flavored goodness. 

This brings us back to my moment of mental incapacitation. When the kind waitress stopped by to pose her question and fill my glass with tea, my brain tried to determine what the correct answer was and it had an hour-glass moment. The simple question of “you had regular tea, right?” shouldn’t really be that difficult to answer, but I might as well have had a “Loading…” sign over my head like a lagging computer.
Ahhh, Vacation! by Chris O'Brien - Ellipsis-Imagery, on Flickr
I ordered blackberry tea, so that is technically what I had. But, I switched and was now drinking my wife’s extra prickly pear tea. I never really ordered it and our waiter didn’t know I switched, and she wasn’t our waitress. How were either of them to know? On the other hand, I could have just had her fill it up with regular tea at this point and drank that instead.  In reality, this girl didn’t really care what I ordered, she saw an empty glass and thought she had the right stuff, so she was going to fill it.
Why was I hesitating?
Trying to pick the “correct answer” was more difficult than I anticipated. So what were my options here?

  1. Answer directly: “No, thanks though!”

  2. Answer directly but tell her what I actually had ordered: “No thanks, I ordered blackberry tea””

  3. Answer directly but tell her what was in my glass: “No thanks, I have prickly pear tea””

  4. Answer her implied question of “do you want me to pour this in your glass?”: “Yes thanks!””

  5. Answer her implied question, but explain anyway: “Yes! I had a different flavor, but regular is fine.””

  6. Answer the larger question if I actually wanted any more to drink: “No thanks, I’ve had enough””

So there are six options…and each one could have led with a positive or a negative response, so that’s twelve.  The way my brain works, I had to pick the “correct” one. I had to pick the one answer that was the most precise.  The problem was, they were all fairly similar, if spoken correctly.
She stood there patiently as the gears of my mental engine clicked, sputtered and coughed. I turned the key and cranked the cranial starter again and again as the minutes ticked by, the poor girl’s arm weakening and lowering from the weight of holding the full pitcher as I stumbled through my intellectual stall.   Ok. It wasn’t really that bad, but it is pretty crazy how long a couple seconds can feel in that kind of scenario.

Of course what really happened is that I paused thoughtfully for a moment, selected the right answer and calmly replied.
Nope. I panicked.
“Uhmmm……” I eloquently replied, “I had the cactus one”
“The what?!”
At that moment, I realized that it was very possible that this poor girl probably had no idea that prickly pear was supposed to be a cactus flavor instead of some sweet tree fruit.
I had fumbled, but I tried to recover.
“The prickly cactus tea…”
Blank stare. Another fumble.
“Err…the prickly pear cactus tea”
She paused, very bewildered, clearly wondering what I was really drinking.
“Um…I don’t know what that is…”
She sheepishly shuffled away.

If I hadn’t been a complete socially inept buffoon and had I selected any of the other twelve answers, we could have avoided some unpleasant awkwardness, and we both could have gone on happily with our respective days.  Somehow though, I had managed to pick the thirteenth option from the list…the one that makes practically no sense at all. A mild case of internal panic kept me from just being conversational and answering a simple question.

I know others can relate to that feeling as well, but I seem to have a close personal relationship with the awkward, paralytic pause over the inconsequential. 
I need time to process! 
Is it a matter of being slow? 
Is my cpu missing a core or duo? 
Or am I just getting old?
Actually I know it’s not age since I have been this way ever since I can remember. I remember thoughtfully filling out long essay questions on tests with simply six or seven words.  Each word carefully chosen to say exactly enough to be correct, but not an extra word more. 
Precision should be efficient! 

Precision in conversation though can be quite annoying. The pause for thought breaks up the flow and can be awkward. For some reason, I feel the need to divine exactly the correct words. Typically I don’t find them, so it comes out awkward anyway! You’d think at some point I’d try to give up on precision and just say stuff. You might think that is what I’m doing here by writing this, but, no. You’d actually be laughing at how long ago “the other day” (from the start of this story) has turned into….so, I won’t tell you. I’ll give you a hint though, it wasn’t this week.

One day I hope to master this thing you humans call “conversation”. 
Clearly I still have a bit to learn. 
Latest lesson: when someone offers to refill your tea, just say “yes”.

The Fallacy of Fruit

Certainly you’ve heard the expression about comparing apples to apples, and perhaps also the one about comparing them ineffectually to oranges. What I have to share instead is a fruit-based illustration involving a completely different citrus altogether.
Let me explain…


My family and I were hypothetically standing around in an open field, discussing our upcoming theoretic existence together…a metaphysical plain of sorts. It was a bright and sunny day and fairly early on in things, as I recall. We had a lovely time being with each other but had come to a lull in our conversation because we were at a bit of a loss as to what should come next. It was at that point we were joined by another who looked every bit the part of one that might have the answers – quite possibly all of them – but not likely to share.  The newcomer to our group appeared to have news.


     “Hi there!”
     “That’s Life,” one of the more knowledgeable of us said to the rest of the group.
     “Say, I’m just going around providing a bundle of some basic things for folks out here and I have some other stuff with me that I’m going to just give away,” Life announced casually while reaching out to hand us something. “I’ve got a whole bunch of these,” Life continued, “and you were all just hanging out right here, so…here ya go!”

I looked down at what was in my hands. A small pile of Lemons.

     “What are we supposed to do with these?” said one. His query came quickly but was far too late; Life had already moved on. Some other souls in different parts of the field were even now looking into their hands, wondering what to make of their own existential handout.
We looked around at each other, holding our little piles of yellow and befuddlement, wondering what were possibly supposed to do.
Clearly they were meant as a gift, but what kind of a gift are Lemons?
Most of us were thinking much the same thing;  “I’m pretty sure I didn’t really want to have Lemons, ever.”  That sentiment played on mentally for some time before anyone spoke.
     “I bet we could probably pass them off to somebody,” some body said.
     “We should try to figure out what to do with them. We are kinda stuck with them…” I said to everyone, and no one in particular.
     Others said, “Screw that! I don’t want Lemons, I want Apples!”Apples and Lemons by Ellipsis-Imagery on Flickr
     “I do too!” I replied. “That would be very nice, but we don’t have any, so we’ll need to make the best of it. You do have Lemons right there in your hands!”
     “No. I don’t think so.  I want Apples and I’m going to go get some. I think I see an Apple tree way down in that valley. You coming with?”
     “I really don’t think that’s an Apple tree.   What if you get out there and it’s just a small Oak?”
     “Well, then we will have Acorns. We’re going!” they said, dropping a few of their Lemons on the ground, but somewhat incongruously keeping the rest.


I watched them stride away towards the indeterminate speck of a tree while others stayed with me.  I spent some time looking over my Lemons.  None of the citrus were in great shape.  They were small, a little soft, and a couple appeared to have bruises.  I was still pondering my situation when I noticed a big chunk of the remaining souls had wandered off aimlessly, practically tripping over Lemons spilled all over the ground. They appeared to be quite optically bothered. They were sniffling and mumbling to themselves incoherently, but they could barely be heard over their petulance.
No time to worry about them.
The others who kept their Lemons were already trying to find a way to relieve them of their tart juices.  I watched for a while to evaluate their process, but didn’t really learn a great deal.  There wasn’t much of a process. Just smash the things and collect the juice.  Before I knew it, there were other people coming by to offer suggestions, and containers full of the stuff were everywhere in no time at all. They were madly mixing and shaking and stirring, and spilling a little here or there. It all seemed quite promising, but it looked like that method was pretty well covered.  There had to be a better way.


Going off on my own a ways, I put my Lemons in a little pile and sat there evaluating them and the most precise way to create something worthwhile. I was setting my mind to extracting the most glorious possible thing that could come from this sour pile.  Who knows how much time passed, but after several promising, albeit ultimately faulty ideas, I finally had a plan, and it was a good one.   I kept to myself, took my time and very carefully manipulated the fruit, using only the most precise tools I could locate. I kept my focus on the task in front of me. I was very careful to not spill a drop as I collected flawless, pulp-free juice in crystal carafes.  After painstakingly collecting, I experimented with the extract to create the most perfect Lemonade possible.  It was far from easy, but in time, I had a stunning nectar with the perfect balance of sweet versus tart, a hint of blackberry essence, a whiff of fresh mint and perfect wedge of Lemon on the frosted glass with just a sprinkle of coarse sugar.  I was so proud and couldn’t wait to share my creation with any soul that I came across.


When I looked up from my creations, so much had changed. Everything was very different.
On one side, I saw a large industrial warehouse bustling with activity.  People were serving customers and stacking crates. Trucks were loaded and unloaded and new ones were arriving every few minutes.  A huge sign along the path to the warehouse advertised Lemon flavored drink mix and Lemon juice by the barrel.
To the other side I saw a massive orchard covering the whole valley, with a stream of people coming and going, picking Apples, making Applesauce and happily eating fresh Apple pie.


I watched for a while, marveling at the industries that were sprouting in the field around me, but I started to feel like I was missing out. I had this beautiful drink that I created and I was sure people would love it, but instead, they were flocking everywhere except to where I was.  Standing there with my pretty Lemonade in my hand, I wondered  why I hadn’t done something different with my Lemons or hunted down Apples when I had the chance.  I didn’t understand where I could have missed these other, clearly superior, options.  Who knows how much time passed as I pondered the people, the paths, the future and the fruit.  Well after the “right” time, I looked down at the drink in my hand and I made a decision.  The weather had changed by the time this decision came, but it arrived nonetheless.


*   *   *


The air is cold and the rain is losing its fight against the snow.  This precipitation battle doesn’t deter the delivery trucks on one side, or the steady stream of people on the other.  The smell of spices and crackling wood is wafting now from the direction of the Apples…hot cider still brings a crowd!  Cinching my scarf up tight, I pull my hat down a little further and hunker down by my own little fire.  It’s too late to change events; it isn’t a season for Lemonade now. When was the last time you saw a Lemonade stand at Christmas?  What they want is something inviting, something comforting, something cozy. I watch the crowds of people scurry by on their way to the welcoming promise of warm pie and cider, the vision of happiness practically projecting over their heads in a soft haloic gleam.   I put my feet up to warm by the fire and I bash my straw against the minty crust of ice forming on the top of my drink every few minutes.   Now and then I take slow careful sips of my Lemony liquid, savoring the complex flavor as it melts.

Waiting patiently…
…for summer to finally return.

On Inappropriate Ingenuity

This isn’t a recent story, but even though it is just a little old, I thought it would be a good thing to share as a cautionary, yet humorous tale.

It was summer, and my wife an I traveled down to Peoria Illinois for my brother’s medical school graduation. It was a great day and I was very proud of my formerly little brother on his big day. He had worked very hard for years to get through medical school, and it was great to see him pass this significant milestone. After the graduation ceremonies, the family spent time in the hotel restaurant and lounge area talking, eating and having a generally great time. In the middle of our evening, a tornado warning interrupted our celebration and the hotel staff whisked us off to a conference room to wait out the demon wind. In the end, the storms came and passed with lots of bark, and luckily, not much bite. All the excitement from the celebration and predicted doom of storm was more than we could possibly handle, and figured it was time we adjourned for the evening to spend time with our beloved sleep.

Back in our room, we began unpacking all of the things that we pretend to be a necessity for an arduous two-day journey 110 miles from home. Creature comforts that we, never quite successfully, attempt to transport from from our home-life and inject into the fabricated reality of a hotel room. After making as much of a temporary home as possible out of 350 square feet, I turned my attention to the very practiced art of the bedtime routine. Of course, this routine relies heavily on the not-so-artful practice of packing with foresight. Very quickly, an error in the forethought process was uncovered: a missing container for my contact lenses. Normally this wouldn’t be much of an issue except for the detail that the contact container was for my Clear Care lens solution.

If you are not a contact wearer, the name of this solution may mean nothing to you, but allow me to explain. One type of contact cleaning method uses two solutions. Step number one uses a mix of chemicals that remove enzymes on the lenses, and the second step uses another solution to rinse and neutralize the harsh cleaning chemicals that you use in step one. Clear Care is a one-step hydrogen peroxide based liquid that reacts in a special container over 6 hours to clean the lenses and, in the process, break down the hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water. I’m sure you noticed the choice of the words “special container”.

Yes, it is THAT special container that I had so brilliantly left out of my “packing with foresight”. But, being the prepared, resourceful and ingenuous Eagle Scout that I am…no hold on, that should actually be Dr. Eagle Scout…and perhaps more important, it is not actually me, but my freshly graduated brother. So to rephrase with even more accuracy: being the tired, unprepared former b-average college science major that I am, I started to formulate a plan for getting this contact solution to work without it’s so-called special container!

Step one, figure out how this solution works. Here was how my brain broke it down: Clear Care is based on a low percentage solution of hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is sensitive to exposure to light and oxygen and will break down quickly when in the presence of one or both. So, therefore if this is a low percentage solution, and it is exposed to air overnight and then sunlight in the morning, it should break down some of its potency and should have a similar effect as using the special container…right?

Let me state at this point, that I’m normally not prone to this type of dangerous experimentation, but exhaustion was creeping in quickly, and I just wanted sleep. I wasn’t really thinking about how smart this was, and I wasn’t really thinking about…well I can stop there…I wasn’t really thinking. I pondered the wisdom of my idea for only a moment or two and then spent a significantly longer amount of time than that mumbling aloud about how silly it was to forget an item so simple. No matter, on to step two. I grabbed a clean hotel glass, squirted in an eighth inch of Clear Care liquid, and dropped in my sight-saving discs. This whole process took a frighteningly short amount of time to clumsily rush through. At this point, it was easy to stumble on to step three: collapse on the bed and fall asleep to whatever fascinating, albeit mildly blurry program that was playing on the History Channel.

After sleeping in for a sufficient amount of time to clear a foggy thought process, we awoke to a bright and sunny morning. It was at this point where I began to question the wisdom of my eye care plan of the previous evening. I rehashed the logic in my mind, and I had a nagging doubt if this was going to work correctly. However, I had convinced myself the night before and I was not dissuaded so easily. I approached my contacts with only slightly hesitant confidence. I fished the first disc out of the crystal clear liquid in the drinking glass where it had been lazily floating all night. I placed the contact on the tip of my finger as I stood in front of the mirror and paused a moment. “Well, here it goes!” I placed it in my eye.

It is a little difficult to describe what happened next since the descriptive timing is very skewed compared to how much time actually elapsed. It seemed as though about 10 seconds passed as I waited for my vision to adjust to the contact, but in actuality it was more like a tenth of a second before I started to feel that something may be wrong. And when I say that I could feel that something “may” be wrong, I mean that I became very disturbed by the sort of hyena-type howl filling the hotel room, while simultaneously feeling as though I had somehow managed to place only my left eye in the path of a shooting jet of molten lava. I concede that it would be very difficult to imagine what the searing pain of a volcano vomiting directly into your eye could feel like, but I still contend that it would be about as equally comfortable as what I was feeling at that moment as I hopped up and down in front of the bathroom mirror.

I believe a total of 2 seconds of jumping and howling had passed before I started frantically clawing at my eye to attempt removal of the shard of flame sticking in my cornea. At first I could not overcome my eye’s seemingly sensible instinct to clamp the eyelid shut to protect itself, but it was too late for protecting and was now just in the way, it had to come out! I finally managed to pry my eye open through the pain, but now I had difficulty actually holding still long enough to stick my fingers in to pull out the contact. Removal attempt one failed miserably, more hopping ensued. Attempt two failed, as did attempts three through ten. It seemed as though it was not only sticking on and melting my eyeball, but was burning a hole right through my head to the back of my skull.

After many painful attempts, I was finally able to wrest the offending circle of silicone from my eye and I practically threw it onto the counter expecting some sort of relief. In more ways than one, I was sorely disappointed. I did know that one of the worst things to do was rub my eye, but the temptation was impossible to resist, and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t think at the time that It’d do much more damage than a magma bath. I was conscious enough to stop rubbing and remember that the best thing to help in this case was an eye wash. A little luck! The hotel had one of those high arc faucets in the small, cramped counter space that passed for a kitchenette. This gave me just enough room to stick my head in the sink and have my eye directly under the flow of water. Although the wash provided some abatement in the pain, having my body doubled over the counter with my head under a running faucet was far from my ideal way to start the day.

After about ten minutes of running water directly on my eyeball, I felt safe to retreat from the sink. At this point I felt immensely relieved, but far from comfortable. My eye was sore and throbbing a strange combination of numbness from the cold water and menthol-like burning from the caustic liquid. I could feel the veins in my eye bulging and rubbing against my eyelids, which were tender from some twenty minutes of prying, and now the whole side of my head was wet and dripping cold water down my shirt.

Then, I looked in the mirror. What I saw looking back at me was a little frightening. There was no “white” of my eye anymore, it was now completely red. I don’t mean “ow, I got an eyelash stuck in my eye and now I need some Visene” red. I mean full-on “oh my God call a priest, we have a total Exorcist possession and I can see Satan glowing in his eyes!” red.
Really…it was freaky.

I was still hurting, but after a quick trip to Wal-mart for an eye wash kit, and some more rinsing under the handy-dandy hotel room faucet, the danger was gone. The rest of the day was spent trying to hide my eye by holding it closed, wearing a baseball hat down low, wearing dark sunglasses, anything to shield my satan-eye. I had to tell the whole story several times to the rest of the family…which fortunately for me, contains several health care professionals. A couple of examinations inevitably ensued to ensure that there was no serious damage…after which everyone was free to laugh at the situation. Other than my bruised ego, there was no long term damage.

Every now and then I look back on this experience and seriously question my sanity. The packaging of Clear Care is now a little more jarring in its warnings about how to NOT use their product, and it is possible that it may have helped me avoid that painful experience. But I have to be completely honest, it’s also possible that I would have done the exact same thing. It is a little hard to say, but my little bout of ingenuity might have even over-powered the bolder and stronger warnings of impending liquid doom.
And there is where the moral of the story arises.
Even if you’re not using a Red Ryder bb gun, be careful, you can still shoot your eye out!

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