Quitting Bitching When You’re Ahead

I grew up learning about the world in the harsh, vindictive Scots-Irish tradition.  Some of it was articulated — e.g., pride goeth before a fall.  Some of it was implicit in the fundamental attitude we live in a hard, unforgiving world, where an implacable, Old Testament fury would exact payment for any lightheartedness or happiness.

No wonder all these feel-good churches are propagating like sex bunnies in our 21st-century world.  Who needs all that Scots-Irish negativity when you can be deliriously thrilled with yourself, your cup running over with self-esteem?

Still, try unloading your childhood lessons.  It doesn’t always work (and I do have the undying belief that all the wrong people in the world are the ones with an excess of self-esteem; see Palin, Sarah).

All of which is to say I wasn’t entirely surprised when my luck started to go bad.  After all, my husband and I had just had a great time in New York, we’d both sold books, our kids were doing fine.  Who was I kidding?  Someone would have to pay for all that good luck — and God knows, it wouldn’t be my husband, who’d been reared in a guilt-free, laissez les bons temps rouler Episcopalian household.  It would be me.

First, it was my debit card, getting hacked to the tune of $1,500 by some assholes in Helsinki.  Then our kitchen ceiling developed a leak directly below our upstairs shower.

“I’m beginning to feel like Job,” I told my husband.

He told me to get some perspective.  “Job didn’t have indoor plumbing,” he said.

Our new plumber came and went, returning with a small army of workers.  Sure enough, our shower pan needed to be replaced.  The house rattled and echoed with the sounds of hammers and saws and occasional thuds.

“I’ve never worked on a shower this old,” one of the workers said.  “The old pan was made of lead, man.”

Figures.  My husband and I have the bad habit of falling for old, charming houses; show us a disaster with no central air and heat and we’re in love.  We see only the possibilities — the good possibilities, I mean.

The hammering and whacking continued and I got an email from my credit card company that my card had been compromised.  But, so what?  The new card was en route.

The new card showed up and I called the 800 number to activate it.  Then the guy on the other end of the line told me to forget it: the new card number had already been used in Brazil, for God’s sake.

“I need to destroy the new card?” I said.  “Are you kidding?”

No, he was not kidding, probably because he had no sense of humor.  But then, by this time, neither did I.

Oh, so shit happens and life frays and you get hacked and flayed — but at least I could do something positive by continuing to exercise, right?  Yes, I could — but I slipped and fell this morning on the path leading to the local hike-and-bike trail, badly skinning my knee.

I limped to the nearby water fountain, cleaning off my leg while the blood streamed down.  Like your usual disaster site, I attracted a fair amount of attention.  One runner told me how he’d once tried to get a pebble out of his shoe with an icepick and managed to slice his hand open.

Then I ran into my friends Paula and Carol, both veteran mothers, both bossy.  “You need to go to one of those clinics,” Paula said.  “I know.  I have three sons.  We were there all the time.  Tell them I said hi.”

“Definitely a clinic,” Carol said.  “You didn’t skin your knee, so stop saying that.  You have a hole in your knee.”

So Carol drove me to one of those doc-in-a-box joints, where I got a big white bandage and antibiotics, which I paid for with one of my few remaining, unhacked credit cards.  Then I went home to hear that the wallpaper had to come down in the bathroom and the sheetrock replaced on the kitchen ceiling, and this extra attention would cost almost as much as the Finns’ whooping it up in Helsinki.

But, indoor plumbing or not, my Job delusions had departed.  I’d listened to Paula tell me her blood counts were raised a little after her recent bout with cancer, and I could recall precisely what she was feeling — that icy terror in her gut.  I’d gotten Scots-Irish indoctrination as a child and, better, a decent sense of perspective (as well as cancer) as an adult.  Both phases of my life were ganging up on me, telling me to shut the fuck up and remember how lucky I am.  Jesus, who would have thought the Scots-Irish could swear like that?

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about my tough gang of ancestors

25 comments… add one
  • You and your hubby make me laugh: “Job didn’t have indoor plumbing.” Best line, for sure.
    Well, all I have to say is that if you’re Job, then I’m not sure what that makes me with all that’s been going on here for the last year.

  • I, too, laughed at your husband’s line – hilarious! How can you live with such humor day after day?!
    Bad things do seem to come in groups, but good things do too. Surely, it won’t get worse than this!

  • Shit always arrives by the bucketful, in my experience. And I’m quite sure that if Job had had indoor plumbing, it would have backed up on him, infecting his plague of boils. But then it all passes, and you wonder what all the sturm and drang was about.
    Are your credit and debit card losses covered by the bank/credit card company, as they are here?

  • Loved this.  As an Irish, English, Norwegian Lutheran mutt raised in Lake Wobegon, I know guilt.  You have nailed that perspective perfectly, especially the last paragraph about your language!  I can’t get the words out of my mouth or my fingers.  Hopefully things will soon be better-but not too much.

  • Cindy A Link

    Shit happens so you can write about it!

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    We’re protected from financial loss, fortunately.  What I really hate, though, is having to change these long numbers on every automatic payment I’ve set up.

  • Yay!  Hel may sinki but your bank balance didn’t.

  • Oh, no. At least you and your husband can keep a sense of humor despite all these pesky annoyances (or can you?). Hopefully you can put this way behind you and enter a new day without any mishaps along the way!

  • It is always a complete tragedy to me when I have to get a new credit card # (ours have been hacked too). I used to know the number so I could blithely type it in when I wanted to buy something. Now I mutter obscenities at the thieves every time I have to fish my card out of my wallet to pay online.

    I hope things are looking up soon. At least you get to buy new wallpaper  – any excuse (well almost) to redecorate is a good one.

    I’ve got a Scots-Irish father, so I know whereof you speak.

  • A credit card hacked before you’ve even activated it? Wow, that must be some kind of record.

  • You had the right kind of problems for humor.  Plumbing failure, de0corating fiascoes, credit card trouble, even not too major personal injury all can be played with.  But, as you say, cancer isn’t funny, and neither would be a kid in trouble or a lost pet.  So your misfortunes were fortunately chosen, or chosen for you by those Scots-Irish deities.  You must not have offended them too seriously.  Not that I don’t sympathize.  It sounds like a big lot of bother.

  • Ruth, your view on life and its ups and downs just delights me. I can particularly relate to the guilt. But this made me laugh out loud: “(…I do have the undying belief that all the wrong people in the world are the ones with an excess of self-esteem; see Palin, Sarah).” When does your book come out?

  • You’re awesome as always, Ruth.  You nailed it.  Scots-Irish on my mother’s side.  I can relate to all those opposing feelings.
    I also inherited their huge potato picking hands.  When I was younger, I tried to hide my hands.  Now, they’re quite useful when I’m in traffic and need to flip somebody off.
    But…dang…I really am sorry about your run of bad luck.  You’re starting to make the rest of us look lucky (and that’s no easy task).  A hole in the knee sounds so painful.  I hope it’s feeling better.

  • I’m so sorry to admit that I’m giggling while I type this…I grew up in much the same general environment. I understand your thinking.
    I checked in at a hotel once and the new person hung on to my card. Later I realized that he didn’t give it back and went to the front desk asking for it. They said it was put in the safe and would call the mgr to fetch it for me. Go back to my room and fear not. Several hours later I learned that the front desk called AMEX and said they “found” my card. AMEX said, “Destroy it.” Amex had no idea that I was STAYING at the hotel and the stupid asses at the front desk never bothered to CALL MY ROOM to tell me they had my card. What a NIGHTMARE! I only had one card and that was it. AMEX charged me 25 bucks for the fedex delivery of a new card (w/new number) and then all my auto payments were screwed up.
    I closed the acct and never used AMEX again–on principle. And I never used the hotel chain again either.

  • When I have one of those weeks where everything seems to be going wrong at once, I hear that Scarlett O’Hara line in my head “tomorrow is another day…” but I’ll say “Next week is another week….” it makes me feel less despairing to feel there’s another chance to get it right!

  • I’m still laughing about Job and the indoor plumbing. But sad that your friend Paula is going through those scary health problems. I don’t know… It’s hard NOT to bitch. But it’s so true that in the larger scheme of things we are so so lucky.

  • Tell your husband if Job did have indoor plumbing, crafty ol’ Satan would have given Job a shower stall kit. He then would have whispered to Job, “Install it yourself and save money,”  and handed him a video of the first half of “Lucy and Viv Install a Shower” as an instruction guide.  Poor Job would have had plaster raining from his kitchen ceiling, too.

  • All I have to say is this: I’d love to spend the day with you and your husband!

  • Stephie Smith Link

    I’m with Anne Gilbert, though, like you, Ruth, I would still be complaining.  Every day I recite the affirmation “I look for more reasons to appreciate” but unfortunately, I can only come up with things like appreciating the fact that I found only the lizard poop on my freshly laundered sheets and not the lizard itself (though undoubtedly it’s hiding out somewhere and we will eventually meet, though I hope not eye to eye).  Still, humor only comes from misadventures and bad luck and since I love to laugh, I guess I’ve learned to appreciate those too.

  • So I guess I can’t complain to you about our water heater going kaputt and leaving some of our boxes soaked while we were in the midst of moving into a new house? We were able to save almost everything–I had an old copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology that didn’t make it. I have to say I found that somewhat ironic–my old college freshman textbook survived no problem, but the tales of Greek tragedies watered down past recognition. I have noticed crazy times tend to come in piles versus occasional outbreaks.

  • I think your luck is about to turn. It’s weird. I was feeling kinda the same way this week, and I had a really similar thing cause me to put it all in perspective. Great post. I really enjoyed reading it.

  • Hilarious, and misery loves company: Got a call from the credit card company this week to tell me someone was trying to buy hundreds of dollars of stuff on an ebay-like site I’d never heard of with my card!
    It’s gone now too. Thanks for the heads up about how the NEW card may be tainted before it even arrives. Oy!

  • Brilliant post.  And, since you are a writer to your bones, I reckon it was at least worth the credit cards, the plumbing, the knee hole, maybe more.

    On the other hand (since you are a writer to your bones), you probably could have still amused us with a good deal less inconvenience to yourself.

  • Susan Link

    Yikes! Sounds like you’ve had a really rough spell there. Hopefully that means that your luck is on the upswing again.

  • A writer to my bones?  What a wonderful thing to say, Duchess.  I’m going to treasure that.

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