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Paying tuition in the classroom of life

January 2, 2009
By Bob Seidenstein,

We all know the small things ultimately make up the good things in life. But did you ever consider how they can make up the miserable things as well?

Well, if you didn't, then let me tell you about one wing-ding of a day last week.

It started simply but annoyingly enough, with my fist sip of coffee of the day.

The coffee itself was fine - the problem was the milk. It was typical bachelor's refrigerator fare - the stuff had gone as sour as a forgotten child star. All my fault, though, since I didn't give it the sniff test before I'd sloshed it in my mug.

Ever the backwoods Buddha, I figured, OK, it is what it is, and I drank it black. I mean, how important is a stomach lining anyway?

Finally, fully caffeinated and colicky, I was ready to greet the day warmly. Unfortunately, the day greeted me frostily: So much snow had fallen, I had to dig my way out to the stairs before I could even start digging out the driveway.

It didn't get me down, though. I figured, hey, this was a perfect outlet for my now raging Adirondack Bean-To buzz. So with a song in my heart and a shovel in my hand, I started my Adirondack version of Lift That Barge and Tote That Bale, tossing snow everywhichway, and suddenly I heard a loud "Pop!"

Actually, I didn't hear that pop, so much as I felt it, as something in my gluteus maximus snapped like a banjo string plucked by some hopped-up hillbilly, This was accompanied by a high-pitched yelp, which took me a moment to realize had come from me.

So there I stood, shovel in one hand, my tuchis in the other, trying to knead out the cramp, when the snowplow roared by, spewing at least six inches of slush across the driveway.

For sure, my patience was triedbut it wasn't found wanting: Once the pain in my butt was reduced to a minor agony, I got back to my labors. And while I did, an odd semantic question came to me, namely, was "buttocks" a plural noun? And if so, was there a singular noun, "buttock," referring to each cheek of one's buttocks? It made sense. Then again, "scissors" is a plural noun, but each blade is not a "scissor," since there's no singular noun "scissor."

Then, that semantic question was followed by a chronological one: Just how long was it going to take me to shovel the driveway now that 50 percent of my buttocks were hors de combat? I could shovel, but couldn't throw the snow very well, because every time I hefted the shovel it felt like someone had driven a white-hot railroad spike into my bum. And since I was meeting friends at the Blue Moon at 9, I didn't want to keep them waiting.

I checked my watch: 8:30. Plenty of time to clear the snoweven if I was hobbling about like Granpappy Amos. I cut back on both my pace and load-per-shovel, and by the time I'd finished the driveway, the hot railroad spike in my bum was gonereplaced by a warm ice pick.

I checked my watch again and it was still 8:30. Or more exactly, the watch still SAID it was 8:30. Obviously, the battery had given up its voltaic ghost.

Down the drain

I limped into the house and looked at the kitchen clock - 10:15. Next, I looked at my answering machine, which had three new messages. It came as no surprise they were from my friends at the Blue Moon, telling me: 1) They were about to order and wondered where I was; 2) They were getting served and hoped I hadn't forgotten, and 3) They'd finished, it was delicious, and maybe we'd have breakfast together sometimeif I remembered to show up when I said I would.

Quite frankly, at that point my legendary pluck and aplomb started to desert me. So what to do? What I always do in crisis situations - eat.

I fried up a bunch of eggs and cheese, toasted bread aplenty, slathered it in butter, and washed it all down with excessive amounts of orange juice, all of which lifted my spirits, as it always does.

Ah, yes, I told myself, things were indeed looking up.

And in the midst of my post-gluttony high, as I was merrily washing the dishes, I noticed an odd clicking sound. Actually, it wasn't exactly a click, more like a "plip." But it was nonstop and perfectly regular - regular as clockwork, in fact.

I looked at the clock and it was clicking, all right, but its "clicks" clearly weren't "plips."

I listened some more, trying to figure out where they were coming from. Then I walked around the kitchen, playing that old kids' game of "Warmer/Colder," with myself till I got to "Hottest." And when I did, I was standing in front of the sink.

"Plipplipplip," went the sound.

"Oh no," went I, thinking I knew what it was.

I opened the cabinet door under the sink and took a look.

"Oh no!" went I again, now knowing what it was, namely a leaking drainpipe.

After mopping up the mess, I checked out the pipe. It looked fine - the leak was from a rotted metal collar. In theory, all I had to do was unscrew the collar and the piping it was connected to, get a new collar and then replace the whole shmeer. It's ridiculously easy to doon paper. But in reality, who knows?

Of course I had only one way to find out. So I got out my handy Stilson wrench and started cranking away. Luckily, what was supposed to come off, came off, and what was supposed to stay attached, stayed attached. That, alone, was a major victory.

Now all I had to do was go to town, get the replacement collar, reattach it, and everything would be tickety-boo.

And that's exactly what happened.

and up the morale

Ah-HA! I thought, when I'd finished: There I'd been, feeling oppressed and sorry for myself, focusing on all the things that'd gone wrong today, but here was a big thing that went right. It was an omen, I told myself, a sure sign that things were now on the way up.

A huge weight had been lifted from my frail shoulders. The defeatism I'd felt mere minutes ago was now gone, replaced by joy and delight. Then, figuring the least I could do was share my good vibe with my fellows, I drove back to town, to shmooze and amuse one and all.

A couple of hours later, after I'd lifted the collective spirit of My Home Town, I returned home, vowing never again to let all the minor hassles get to me. Instead, I'd accept them and learn from them, for they are life lessons and I am a Student of Life.

I didn't have to wait for a chance to try out my new philosophy: When I walked into my living room, I noticed something on the floor that hadn't been there before. To be exact, it was a box, a box of raisin bran. And to be even more exact, it was an empty box of raisin bran.

When I'd left the house, it'd been a completely full box of raisin bran. It'd also been sitting on the kitchen counter.

So how did the box get in the living room and get emptied so fast?

The answer to both questions is the same, namely Brother Phineas, the Pug Thug, and his faithful hound companion, Shaky Jake - both now lying on the couch with baleful mugs and bloated bellies.

I was marvelously philosophic about the whole incident, a Student of Life, learning one more life lesson.

In this case, the lesson was that a whole lot of roughage will clean out the innards of man and dog with equal thoroughness.

And I learned the lesson well, as it got repeated over and over again for the next two-and-a-half days.



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