Tag Archives: people are stupid

Hammer Time (or: a Scientific Study in How Dumb You Can Be)


You never fully realize quite how dumb you are as when you’re unintentionally inflicting bodily harm on yourself. Needless to say, after I hit my hand with a hammer yesterday, I’ve been spinning out inside my own head.

I mean, we’re not exactly talking about a difficult job here. I was building a set of stairs for our upcoming production, and *bam*. A straight shot to the karate-chop end of my hand right below the pinky. Didn’t glance the nail, didn’t take my eye off the target; just took a bad swing. Whammo.

And I feel *so, so dumb*. Here’s a task where you know people make mistakes all the time. Carpenters — good ones, ones good enough to build a career on it! — hit their thumbs with hammers, maybe not every day, but at least often enough that if you see one with a blackened thumbnail, you don’t have to ask them what happened. You know! Driving nails is a task where the mistake is not only possible, but given enough time and enough reps, *inescapable*. So if anything, extra care should be given to the task.

Worse still: consider the location of the injury. I wasn’t holding the nail between thumb and forefinger, the classic position for the smashing of a thumb. The nail was already partly driven; I was leaning over the lumber, my hand twisted around to keep the whole wobbling structure steady. Trying to assert leverage where leverage was not leverageable. A dangerous activity in a precarious position: that calls for over-the-top ultimate doubletime caution.

Worst of all: I was demonstrating to a student who had never attempted the task how to drive nails. (Why, at 17 years old in a drama class, a student was having his first brush with driving nails is an issue I’ll leave for another time.) The “teachable moment”, a moment where I know the pressure is on and a student is more likely to remember things that happen than usual, when I’m taking on the aforementioned delicate task. A situation which demands unyielding, double-bagged-for-your-protection caution.

In other words, I looked like an idiot (to my student) while looking like an idiot (attempting the job with, let’s just say, sub-optimal methodology) while looking like an idiot (screwing up the job in the first place).

That’s stupidity cubed. That’s dumb as the proverbial bag of hammers (a cliched simile that hurts me particularly, today, to employ) to the 3rd power.

That, in other words, is very, very dumb.

And if I can be so very dumb in a situation that calls so explicitly for care, caution and attention to detail three levels deep, then how dumb am I acting in other areas of my life, where I don’t give a second thought to the possible consequences?

It’s something to think about; something to feel seriously humble about. And it’s something I’ll be reminded of again and again in the coming days, every time I reach my hand into my pocket (ouch) or try to lift anything with my left hand (yikes) or even lightly rest my hand on a tabletop (yep that hurts too). Or, y’know, when I return to the shop to finish building the aforementioned set of stairs, cuz THAT AIN’T DONE EITHER.

So now I’m curious: what acts of stupidity have made your own idiocy fully apparent to you? What deeds of dumbness have dropped the drapes of false confidence from your eyes? (I’d say I’m doing research but mostly I just want to feel better about myself.)

Related reading: the “You Are Not So Smart” Podcast.

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Watch Out — There’s Girls Driving


We’re in the supermarket. It’s a weekday evening, and I dunno about you, but where I live, that means the grocery store is absolutely idiotic. Overcrowded, understaffed. People stalking you in their cars in hopes of a good parking spot, even though there are perfectly good spots at the end of the lot, which, if they’d just suck it up, park out there, and walk, would get them into the store and on with their idiotic days sooner. This one person — I swear to goodness — gets a cart in the front vestibule, moves through the doorway at an angle, then stops — blocking the entire entry/exit door — to root in her purse for something. It’s as if people have radar for the most inconvenient things they could possibly do, and then they do them, for the sheer hedonistic joy of blissful oblivion. Maybe they subconsciously feed on the pissoffs they’re sowing in the people all around them. (Man, that’s a good story idea. A semi-sentient lifeform who derives life energy, not from consuming or harming, but from irritating other creatures.)

Where was I? Right, the supermarket. On a weekday. *involuntary shudder*

We’re weaving our way through the aisles. Both of our kids are in the buggy, in that little plastic car thing that they bolt on to a normal shopping cart to give the kids the illusion of driving. My son is really too big for the cart, but that doesn’t matter — with the store as crowded as it is, letting the munchkins run free only makes us part of the problem, and we try whenever possible not to be part of the problem. Anyway, my kids are seated side-by-side in the pretend car, not screaming at each other (for once!).

We take the corner and almost mow down a kid who looks to be about three (plenty small enough to be in the cart, you know, NOT being part of the problem), with an open bag of goldfish in his grubby fingers and stains all over his shirt.

I don’t begrudge the stained shirt or the bag of goldfish straight off the shelf. I’m a parent too; I get it. But I heartily begrudge the kid running free and making me feel like a jerk for nearly running down a kid next to the canned corn. That’s on mom.

The kid stomps and stumbles to a halt as I put the brakes on the cart. The kid dashes around us as mom calls out, “careful kiddo, there’s girls driving!”

I had to stop breathing to stop my natural reaction. I dead-eyed and white-knuckled it down a couple of aisles before I started venting at my wife. Let’s just say you were dangerously close to reading about this incident on the police blotter instead of my humble internet abode.

“Careful. There’s girls driving.”

Where to begin?

First of all, she obviously mistook my son for a girl, which is, well, special. Usually it’s my daughter getting mistaken for a boy. Or maybe she mistook me for a girl — you know, my bald-on-top-hairy-everywhere-else self.

But more importantly, we’re just gonna go ahead and make the horrible joke that girls are bad drivers — even here when the girl is just pretend driving the car. Okay, that’s great.

And finally — she’s a woman. Making the no-thought-required, loaded-on-the-tip-of-the-tongue automatic joke that women can’t drive. To her son. Who is just on the threshold of understanding language itself. Sure, let’s go ahead and start filling his head with tired old stereotypes that will form the basis of his understanding of the world and the people in it. And just cap that with the mind-boggle that his own mother is debasing her own gender. In public. To strangers.

Just one more reason we usually shop on Sunday morning at eight AM.

Because everybody else is either at home or at church, and I can grab some cornflakes in peace.

 


Becoming the Curmudgeon


I’ve always joked that I’m going to become that old guy. You know the one. Pants a little too high on the waist. Hair in wispy explosions behind the ears. Gravelly, phlegmy voice. Shouting at the neighborhood kids, warning them off his lawn.

I hate everything, so this is a natural outgrowth, but I fear it may be closer than I anticipated.

And ironically, what’s bringing it out of me the most is day care.

I know; there’s nothing more suburban and yuppie than kvetching about your kids’ day care. To be fair, though, it’s not the day care that I have a problem with; it’s the other parents.

Our “school” hosts about fifty kids. It’s not huge, by any stretch. So it’s a comfy little building with a tiny little parking lot; about twenty spots or so, with a “pickup lane” running the gap right in front of the door.

Now, look. I’m going to preface all this by owning and acknowledging how 1st world this particular issue is, but I think, like most things, this is a microcosm for bigger problems.

This parking lot, then, of twenty spaces or so, means that there really isn’t a bad spot in the lot. At worst, you have to walk maybe fifty feet to the front door; a not at all unreasonable distance to rid yourself of your kids in the wee hours of the morning. But there’s also that pickup lane.

Now, the pickup lane is there, presumably, for people to keep their cars idling while they hop in to pick up or drop off the kids. Well and good. But at our day care, people don’t just use the pickup lane. They park right in front of the goldfingered door. So I, and anybody else unlucky enough to arrive at the same time as these hapless, bumbling SOBs, have to detour around their cars, sucking up their exhaust, just to get into the building.

And this is bullsharknado. I pay the same weekly fee as these people. My son and daughter come home with the germs that these people’s kids bring to school. My wife and I (okay, mostly my wife) bring in extra donations when the pre-k teachers send home flyers begging for them. (Seriously, my wife sent in two full-sized pumpkins. WHO DOES THAT?!) But no, I have to detour around their oversized cars for the privilege of using the front door.

Never mind that there are perfectly good parking spaces — dozens of them! — not ten feet away. Never mind that in addition to disrupting the walking traffic, I’ve seen these knuckle sandwiches align themselves like poorly-placed Tetris blocks, stopping even the other jerk stores from passing through the pickup lane until they’ve done their business inside (and they’re never walking in a hurry, either, let me point out). No, these monsters have to park right in front of the doorright across the middle of the crosswalk, and to hell with anybody who’s inconvenienced.

I mean, we’re living in a society, aren’t we? Enough people live in these cramped cities of ours that, even if you hate people like I do, you surely understand that we’re better off if we occasionally look out for each others’ well being and convenience than if we only look out for our own.

These are the people who will drive past the backup at the on-ramp, then nose in at the last possible second. The ones who will angle their shopping cart to stop and obstruct the entire derping aisle at the grocery store while they compare nutrition labels on store-brand and name-brand Cheez-its. Speaking of the grocery store, these are the ones who will blithely pay for a hundred-dollar order with a jarful of change with five customers lined up behind them, or who will stalk you in the parking lot for your space that’s fifteen feet closer to the door than the space that’s wide open a bit further down. (Man, I have a lot of rage centered on the grocery store.)

Well, I’ve had it. I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m no longer content swallowing my displeasure in favor of good manners. I thought for a bit about making up a bunch of passive-aggressive notes to stick on their windshields, but there’s something cowardly in that, and I also think that if you’re being an arsehole, you need somebody to point it out to you to your face for it to really sink in.

So, when I see these people now, I’m calling them on it.

Politely. Self-deprecatingly. But directly. “Hey. I’m not trying to be rude, but this is a crosswalk you’ve parked on.”

I say it, and I can feel that siren’s song in my gut when I do it. Get off my lawn.

I’ve done it twice, now. As nicely as I can stand. And you know what I’ve seen in the faces of the two people I’ve tried out this societal intolerance on? Confusion. They were surprised that I was saying anything to them in the first place, but more than that, they legitimately had no idea they were doing anything anybody would find objectionable. Double-takes to their cars and the crosswalk. Uneasy shuffling. To say nothing of my blood pressure shooting through the roof — me, the ever-avoider of conflict, getting face-to-face to call somebody on their stupid.

But you know what else?

They aren’t parking in front of the door anymore. And that feels good. But I know I’m also paying a price for it. The price of being disliked and grumbled about after the fact. Then again, that may be a price I’m happy to pay.

Is this my first step towards becoming the King Jerk of my neighborhood?

 


Wasted Time… Like a Leaky Faucet


Time.

I’m a little bit obsessed with it. So much so that I’m one of those dinks that actually still wears a wristwatch that’s functional, rather than a fashion accessory.

It’s eternal and unchanging, unless of course you happen to be traveling at the speed of light, or taking up residence within the jurisdiction of a black hole. Then again, if that applies to you, you’re probably not here reading my drivel.

But for all that time is eternal, we, sadly, are not. We get only so much time to operate with, and as miraculous as modern medicine is, it can do nothing to stretch that time out. (I just heard a story on This American Life about a cryonics experiment that went… horrifyingly wrong, all because people are determined to extend their time on this mortal coil. It ain’t happening yet.) Which means that it’s up to each of us to make the most of this non-renewable resource that’s been allotted to us.

So why — why, why, why? — are so many people determined to waste their precious time?

I’m not talking about relaxing after a tough day at work, or watching a few reruns of Seinfeld with your wife. Time spent relaxing, to a point, is not wasted time.

No, I’m talking about the in-between moments, the moments not specifically spoken for but bridging the gap between moments that matter. Driving your car. Walking from one place to another. Shuffling zombielike through the aisles of the grocery store. Moments you don’t even consider, but that end up swallowing up so many minutes — or even hours! — of your day.

I’m a teacher, so I see this one every day: students have five minutes to get from one class to another, and they lurch at the slowest pace possible from Biology to Math II. That I can understand, to a point — you’re not looking forward to sitting through another drone about the Pythagorean Theorem — but still. You eat up every possible moment getting from A to B, then you have to take extra time to get your business together, get your head right for sitting through another class… in short, you end up slowing everybody down since you wasted time on what? dragging your feet?

But that’s a student. That’s a kid. Who doesn’t properly understand the significance of the time he’s wasting.

How about this? You’re in the grocery store, waiting to check out, all your precious foodstuffs on the belt, and the person in front of you is watching the groceries go into the bag, or watching the numbers on the display tick slowly up… and then the cashier tells them, that’ll be entirely too much money, please. This isn’t even an old person, most of the time. It’s a thirty-something guy who looks perfectly ordinary, you know, not like an idiot. Or a twenty-something woman texting on her cell phone. Anyway, the cashier tells them, you know, it’s time to pay, and THAT’S when they reach for their purse or their wallet. As if it was a total shock to them that there was input required from them in this transaction. As if you’ve never been to a grocery store in your life, and you never thought that you’d have to lift a finger to get the food to your house so you can cram it down your beak.

How can you not be prepared for this? Sure, it’s a few seconds, but those seconds add up, and they’re not just your seconds, either — those seconds of your own hesitation get pawned off on everybody in line behind you.

I’m at the soccer match the other night. Match scheduled to start at 5:30. It’s 5:25. Teams are both on-hand, warmed up, ready. Officials are on-site and ready. Scoreboard is set for the start of the match. And everybody is standing around looking at one another. 5:30; nothing happens. 5:35; more milling about on the sidelines. 5:40; finally the teams line up to have their starters announced. 5:45, the match finally starts. Fifteen minutes late. For no reason! The fault could lie anywhere — maybe one of the coaches had to run to his car, maybe the on-site administrator had to deal with an issue and wanted the start of the game held, whatever. But that’s 15 minutes that a stadium full of parents and friends, two teams of players, an additional two teams who play after, can’t get back. For nothing!

We live in a society where, for better or worse, everybody overlaps with everybody else. I cut you off in traffic, you take it out on your husband later that day. You don’t notice the light changing and cost me the traffic light, I assign extra homework for the 90 students I teach. The repercussions of our every action echo outward like ripples in a pond. Yet again and again, I come across these people letting their time — AND MINE — dribble out the corner of their mouths like so much drool. Distracted with something else. Not paying attention. Just not at all motivated to put any pep in their step.

I want to grab them by their collars, shake them until their bleary eyes snap into focus. Impress upon them, somehow, the fact that while they shuffle through the hallways, while they blunder through the aisles, while they dodder at the stoplights, their time, like sands through the hourglass, is slipping irretrievably into the past.

It only takes a half second to look up from whatever’s right in front of you and remember that your actions impact the world all around you. Is it so much to ask that we do so? In fact, if you are alert and aware and moving through your life with purpose and vigor, you actually gain time… what would have been wasted can then be applied to other, more important things. Is it ridiculous, then, to expect the people around us to act with a little urgency, to behave as if time matters to them?

And at what point would one become a total jerkstore for demanding that they do so?


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