On being a terrible listener (or blacking out on the phone)

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Sometimes I’m a terrible listener. There. I said it.

Yeah, I know. If there’s a silver rule behind the golden rule of loving your neighbor, it’s listening. Listen to your mom and dad. Listen to your teachers. Listen to the bus driver when she tells you to stop. Listen to your Sunday school teachers. Listen to your heart (isn’t that a song?). Listen to your boss. Listen. Listen. Listen.

Sometimes though, I just don’t want to listen. This happens a lot when I’m on the phone. Very poor timing since listening is essential to a phone conversation. But there’s just something about holding a box that a person’s voice comes out of to my ear that makes me angry.

Today, for example, I had a phone call with my boss and I was done after the initial hellos. He wasn’t. First, let me say that I like him a lot. Ok, now I can say anything I want since I prefaced it with that, right?

Ten minutes into the conversation, I screamed.

“What happened!” my boss asked.

“Oh, paper cut,” I replied.

What had really happened was my dog bit me in the middle of our game of tug of war.

Five minutes later, my boss screamed. Well, he didn’t scream. He just said my name very loudly.

“Huh?” I asked.

“Did you hear what I asked?” he said.

“No. I’m sorry. Bad ear,” I replied. I really do have a bad ear. My left. Unfortunately, I can only use that excuse once per phone call.

Three minutes later (this phone call was going much too long), a long bout of silence shook me out of my reverie. If there’s anything worse than your boss screaming, it’s him being completely silent. I knew I had really done it now.

“Yes, I agree,” I ventured. Really grasping for straws here.

“How about you call me back when it’s more convenient for you?”

Ouch. The call ended.

I definitely wasn’t trying my best here. People’s time is important. However, I would like to take a stand against the silver rule of listening.

We’re all human. Sometimes, we have a lot going on and we need to be honest instead of feeling like we have to go along with whatever was scheduled. It’s on the calendar. It’s set in stone! No. One click of the delete button and it’s gone. Easy.

My problem today was that I had a take-home exam due in 2 hours and my wifi decided to quit. Panic! I didn’t need to listen, I needed a Time Warner repairman (yeah, I was screwed). When I told this to my boss after the nightmare phone call he was fine. “Why didn’t you just tell me before!”

Right? Why didn’t I just tell him before! Instead of being so caught up in going along with the plan and not ruffling feathers, I just needed to be honest. Stuff happens. He would have been fine with rescheduling.

After all, honesty is always the best policy. I learned that by listening intently to my Sunday school teachers.

On puking all the damn time

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puking guy

This is not an exaggeration. I puke ALL THE DAMN TIME. It’s usually when I’m nervous, but sometimes even I don’t know why it happens. Afterwards, everything is perfect. My body just needs a little jolt: “Zach, what the hell are you doing?” and for 30 seconds I’m incapacitated. But then I’m in the zone. I can’t imagine not puking before a big moment.

It all started when I played competitive junior tennis. Before a match, I would regrip my racquet, make sure my shoes were tied tight, go over my game plan, and run to the bathroom and vomit. “I’m all set!” I’d tell my mom with a smile and a thumbs up before stepping onto the court.

In 5th and 6th grade I did musicals with the local children’s theater. To ensure I did not puke while going in for the kiss with Cinderella, I would just sneak a little trip to the bathroom in during intermission. Thank God we were 10 year olds so they didn’t expect me to French her.

One of the most vomit-inducing activities I did during my childhood was my church’s Bible Bowl. Wow, I’m sounding cooler and cooler the more this post progresses. In case you haven’t already guessed, I was not popular. Anyway, the Bible Bowl was the greatest thing ever. You formed a team with 3 of your friends, studied a designated book (or books) of The Bible, and then tried to kick the other teams’ asses with your immense knowledge of the Scriptures. To be honest, I did not care how my team did at all. I wanted to win the Top Individual Score.

In the 6th grade, I made it through 5 rounds (100 questions) without missing a single one. Before the 6th and final round, I was so focused on getting all 120 questions right I would not speak to anyone. My youth pastor came over to wish me luck and give me a high-five; I gave him the most annoyed look I’ve ever mustered in my life and did not say one word or move my hand. How dare he try to break my concentration? Idiot. Halfway through the round, I missed a question. I sprinted off the stage when it was over and barely made it to the bathroom to hurl. I still got 1st place, but I was pissed.

Serena Williams has caused me to puke twice in my life (and do other unspeakably embarrassing things when she loses, but those are stories for another post). Last summer, I decided to take an extended lunch break in the cafeteria at work to watch her 4th Round match at Wimbledon. “This will be a fun, stress-free hour or so,” I thought. I was wrong. I probably did some irreparable damage to my reputation while talking to several co-workers while she was losing the third set. I can only imagine how I treated them. Actually, I deliberately try not to imagine it because it will make me puke. I don’t even need to finish this story because yeah, when Sabine Lisicki’s last forehand went past her on match point I ran to the bathroom and barfed.

In 2001, when the Williams sisters faced each other for the first time in a Grand Slam final at the US Open, I could not contain myself. I faked food poisoning when I was out to dinner with my family so they had to bring me home in time for the first serve. “False alarm!” I screamed (about the food poisoning) while jumping out of the car and running to the TV. Venus was just preparing to serve the first ball when it happened. The power went out. Frantically, I grabbed the remote and pushed every button innumerable times, muttering “Nononononononono” while shaking it incessantly and eventually throwing it to the ground with a shriek. My mom remembers seriously considering counseling while watching me at that moment. My efforts were futile. What was there left to do? Puke. “Oh, honey, I thought you said the food poisoning was a false alarm,” my mom said concernedly through the bathroom door. (In case you were wondering, my dad had decided to play a funny prank and switched off the circuit breaker. Not cool, dad. Not cool.)

The week before I quit my job, I was given the honor (sarcasm) of leading focus groups with men to talk about shaving. In true P&G fashion, it was a fire drill. We NEEDED to talk to these guys within a week or else disaster would befall us all. So, in three days I set everything up (these sorts of things usually take weeks) and everything was fine and dandy. Then, 5 minutes before I was to go into the room to lead the discussion while the marketing masterminds watched from behind one-way glass, it hit me. Our sushi had just arrived and it was either scarf it down in 1 minute or go into a three-hour discussion famished. Against my better judgment, I tried to scarf down a piece of sashimi. DON’T YOU KNOW YOUR BODY BY NOW? It only took a second. That little fishy decided seconds after plopping into my stomach acid that it would much rather be swimming in some toilet water. I sprinted to the restroom to oblige. 30 seconds later I was entering a room full of middle-aged men exclaiming, “So guys, let’s talk about shaving!” with a huge smile.

 

On sweating profusely

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I sweat. A LOT. I know everyone sweats and some people sweat a lot, but I sweat A LOT. There’s an important distinction here.

One time as I was leaving the gym, the receptionist stopped me and said, “Sir, I’m so sorry, where is the leak?”

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“The leak. Can you please take me to it so I can get maintenance on it? The roof is being repaired next month and this has been happening a lot lately.”

“Over by the treadmills next to the free weights,” I said as I hurried off. There was no leak over by the treadmills next to the free weights. I just sweat A LOT.

A friend once told me she couldn’t work out with me because she wanted to throw up every time she looked at me. We’re no longer friends. But still, that hurt!

Another time, I went spinning with a coworker and couldn’t stay on the seat because my shorts got so sweaty. I tried to blame it on my shoes slipping from the pedals but the guy next to me was wearing the EXACT SAME SHOES. Black Adidas with neon green soles. And he wasn’t slipping. Seriously, what are the chances? I will never spin again.

An old colleague told me she had overactive sweat glands and was having surgery to correct it next year. This was the first time I heard that such a thing existed. “Hallelujah! I’m saved!” I exclaimed in my head while looking at her and saying, “Oh my god, you really sweat that much? I didn’t know people could sweat THAT much.” I’m such a jerk.

If you sweat so much that you literally can’t do anything without carrying around extra shirts, socks, and napkins wherever you go, you have a condition called hyperhidrosis. About 3% of Americans have it. I’m not one of those 3%. So, I can’t have surgery. I was devastated. “Really doc, the gym receptionist thought the roof was leaking on me! I need this surgery!”

Yesterday I started running on the treadmill but had to stop immediately because my boxers were so loose that they started sliding down my legs. I hadn’t done laundry in over two weeks and these were my emergency pair. It was below 0 degrees outside so there was no way I was walking back home to change my boxers. So, I went to my locker and put my sweatpants on. Problem solved. Wrong. I will never again run with my sweatpants on. Sweat was dripping from my forehead at a rate of two drops per second by mile 2. I only ran 2 out of my planned 4 miles. I ran faster to my locker to grab my coat and get out of there than I ran on the treadmill. I had planned to do a circuit workout after my run but that would just be inconsiderate to the other gym patrons. Plus, my ex-friend’s voice was tormenting me, “I can’t work out with you. I want to puke every time I look at you.”

I have two choices. I can either own it and say, “Hey, look at me! I’m really trying my best here! You can tell from all of this sweat that I’m no slacker!” Or, I can get Botox injections. Botox blocks the nerve impulses that tell the sweat glands to start secreting, and the effect can last for two to three months. I’ll let you know how the Botox goes.

In case you didn’t believe me, this is me after an average jog. Today. In 20 degree weather.

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On parking inconsiderately

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“Oh, thank God. There’s a spot right up there,” I mutter to myself as I exhale, relieved. After circling the block for 10 minutes trying to find a parking spot, there’s no better feeling than seeing a 10-foot opening between two cars seemingly calling your name: “Zach, I’ve been waiting for you.”

I happily begin to pull up to the spot and about a hundred feet away, I see a yellow VW Beetle patiently waiting to pull onto my street from an alley. I stop and wave the driver to pull on out, being in such a good mood that I’m only feet away from my parking deliverance. Then, the unthinkable happens. Yep, you guessed it. The recipient of my generosity takes a nice, long knife with the words “Screw you, Karma” inscribed on the blade and jabs it mercilessly into my back by stopping next to MY spot and getting into position to take it. I sit there, dumbfounded.

I’m about to lay on the horn, but wait, this Beetle is so small and the spot is larger than I initially thought, so everything is going to be alright! We can both fit in the parking space and my good mood is saved. I watch patiently as the Beetle pulls forward, prepares for the perfectly angled back-up so that it will come to rest only inches from the curb, and begins to make it’s way into the spot. “La dee da, everything is great,” I think as the Beetle is almost there, only needing to back up a few more feet so that I have enough room in front to pull in. But then, it stops. Right there. 5 feet in front of the car behind it and 5 feet behind the car in front. The engine dies and the driver gets out, on her phone of course, and rushes into the apartment complex next to mine.

“You animal. You filthy, inconsiderate, good-for-nothing Millennial with no regard for your responsibilities as a citizen, good-mannered neighbor, and considerate human being.” I dejectedly, unbelievably pull forward at the sound of two horns honking behind me, God only knows how long they had been sitting there, and begin my search anew. But, my heart just isn’t in it. It’s another 15 minutes (which felt like an hour) before I give up and park in a $20 per day parking garage, thinking I somehow deserve to be punished because that’s the only plausible explanation for what just befell me.

Not many things irk me more than citizens who either don’t understand how their actions affect other people or just don’t care. There is no excuse for either. I’m sure you all know someone, or actually multiple people, who fit this bill. They think the earth was created for their two feet to walk on and they can do whatever they damn well please to, thank you very much. I try not to get caught up in thinking about how horrible these people are for fear that it will open up some powerful, inescapable vortex of hating everyone and everything around me, but sometimes it gets the best of you. Why can’t we all just remember what Mr. Rogers taught us?

The best way to deal with being the victim of these unfortunate events is to brush them aside, remember that the world isn’t entirely a shitty place by thinking about Corgi puppies and that community that made BatKid’s dreams come true, and move on. So, naturally, before I made my way into my apartment I placed a look-alike parking slip on the Beetle’s dash with the words, “I hope you’re happy with yourself” written on the inside. Because she, unlike the rest of us, was not trying her best.

On being double-booked

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The worst dilemmas are not the grandiose, what-am-I-going-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life types of problems. The worst dilemmas are those that hit a little closer to home. Three variables must be present to make them the worst type of anxiety-inducing situations: 1) they involve people you care about 2) they force you to let one person or group of people down & 3) there are time pressures involved causing you to have to make a quick decision. They involve an immediate, guttural response of panic, unease, apprehension and anxiety. And, if you’re like me or the 40 million other Americans who struggle with an anxiety disorder, it’s these unexpected, daily curveballs that really get us worked up.

As a people pleaser, I often find myself rendered almost completely helpless by the paralyzing anxiety associated with having to choose between multiple, conflicting options of social activities. Now, I feel like I need to make a disclaimer now so that you don’t immediately scoff at this post, roll your eyes, and say “Pssh, he doesn’t even have that many friends and is just trying to sound cool.” You’re right, I really don’t have that many friends and realize that now more than ever as I recently moved to a new city. Finding new friends is really hard. But, it only takes having two or three groups of people who you really care about and who don’t hang in the same circles to make this dilemma a reality. I’m the type of person who enjoys the company of different types of people who don’t necessarily enjoy the company of different types of people. So, all it takes is for one group to suggest having a board game night and the other to recommend a night of frolicking and frivolity to make this dilemma a reality.

So, now that I’ve cleared up that I’m really not that popular and you can hopefully read this without disregarding everything I have to say, I want to share a simulated experience that captures all of the emotional peaks and valleys that come along with making one of these seemingly life altering decisions.

Step 1: Phone rings. Or wait, sorry, I want this to be as realistic as possible. Phone vibrates due to an incoming iMessage. No one calls anyone anymore. What was I thinking?

Step 2: Read iMessage. “Anyone up to anything tonight?” “Oh great,” I think. “I was hoping to do something tonight.” Current emotion: excitement.

Step 3: Reply. “No plans yet! Anyone want to go ….” Another text from a different group pops up on the screen. I only need to read the first few words at the top without opening up the entire message to know that I’m in trouble: “Hey party peeps! Come to…” I’m paralyzed. I don’t even want to open the whole message. Maybe if I pretend my phone malfunctioned and I didn’t get the second text I can explain things tomorrow and ask to do something with them then. I did just spill Coke all over my phone a week ago and told everyone about it… Very plausible explanation. Current emotion: apprehension.

Step 4: The flood gates open. Before I can finish my reply to the first text four others reply in quick succession. I don’t even bother opening the full text. I can just feel all of the unbridled joy everyone else has at the prospect of what the night has in store. “I’m in!” “I’ll bring the vodka!” “No, it’s a tequila kind of night.” “Shots on shots!” Current emotion: despair.

English: An anxious person

Step 5: The holdout. I can calmly handle this if I just have a little more time to think. I’ll be okay as long as… “Zach, are you in?” Oh. My. God. The direct call-out. The one text that would render me into the fetal position. Current emotion: distraught.

Step 6: Weighing the options. I need to make a decision soon. On the one hand, I haven’t seen Josh, who will be in the first group, in over a month and I’ve been telling him we should definitely get coffee soon for weeks. On the other hand, I haven’t seen Jessica, who will be with the other group, since she got back from a year in DC and I really like her. We laugh so hard together! Why is life and making decisions so hard!? Why can’t I clone myself and have no consequences of my two selves inadvertently meeting each other like there are in the movies? I know, I’ll go over to Josh’s house to pre-game, then leave to meet up with Jessica’s group at the bar after a couple of hours. Before I leave Josh’s, I’ll drop hints as to what bar Josh’s group should go to and then magically when the two groups collide they will become fast friends with me in the middle singing “Ceeeeelebrate good times!” and I will never have this dilemma again. But wait, that won’t work because Julie and Monica absolutely despise each other and each one thinks I’m way better friends with her and if either sees me laughing or joking with the other she will almost surely smack me across the face and scream at me like Marie screamed at Skylar on Breaking Bad last Sunday. Luckily, I don’t have a daughter for her to try to steal or she would surely do that too. AH! This is impossible! Current emotion: inconsolable.

Step 7: Throwing in the towel. “Hey guys, I’m not feeling so well. Let me know what you’re up to tomorrow!” Same text to both groups. I crawl in bed and bury my face in the pillows. I don’t weep. But I could if I wanted to. Current state of mind: idiocy.

Listen people. If you’ve ever gone through something even remotely similar, I need to tell you to KNOCK IT OFF! It is okay to simply tell one group “Sorry, I already have plans!” and meet up with them soon. Hopefully you will not miss out on the greatest night ever and live to regret making the wrong decision for your entire life. If the group you don’t choose to meet up with has way more fun, so be it. You should have been more fun with the group you were with. You’ll just have to make up for it next time. Seeing some human beings and living life is better than being a recluse. Don’t sweat it. If you have trouble choosing, just go with the first group that reached out. Then, you take charge and make the plans for the other group next time. Everything will be okay. And remember, we’re all trying our best. Cut yourself some slack.

On throwing trash out of car windows

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I was on my way home to Toledo yesterday morning, attempting to endure the monotonous stretch of highway that is I-75 North from Cincinnati by listening to “A Dance with Dragons” on Audible. Pretty good narration until I got to a Daenarys chapter. The narrator makes her sound like a dying version of The Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey. It was so bad I promptly turned it off and stopped at the library as soon as I got home to pick up the actual book. Much more enjoyable listening to the made up voices in my head (which sound a lot like the TV show actors and actresses now, hmmm…) But, I digress. Slightly.

It was after I turned off the audiobook that my attention was drawn to the actions of not one, not two, but three drivers in quick succession. First, it was a pack of cigarettes thrown out of a fairly new SUV that hit the turf. A few cigarettes flew out on impact. All I could think was “huh?” Littering is one thing and then not to have even finished the whole pack of $5 cigs? Baffling.

Second came a pack of 4 motorcyclists. I’m not sure of the correct term: gang? group? so I’ll just stick with pack. It makes them sound like wolves and as I mentioned, I’m currently reading “A Dance with Dragons.” Anyways, I can’t put into words how disgusted they made me. Each bike had a man and woman on it. The two women in the back were some of the worst women I’d ever encountered. I don’t know if the botched narrator had just really put me into a mood or what but I’m telling you, these women were bad. As soon as I got behind them they started throwing up the bird. I think they were flicking off the sky because nothing else makes any sense. Definitely the logical choice. Then they started gyrating and lifting up their shirts. A fabulous show. But then came the kicker. I really could have dealt had the woman on the left not thrown a fast food drink cup in the air. My mouth dropped open and I honked. There was then no question as to whom
they were flicking off.

For five minutes I felt sick to my stomach and just really couldn’t figure it out. Was that cup just taking up too much leg room? That’s always my biggest reservation about riding a motorcycle. No room for my legs. But seriously, why did that happen? I really started thinking about how that action has become all too commonplace. It’s almost like a reflex for some people. Slurp the shit out of your king size Mountain Dew and as soon as you start hearing the gurgling sound signaling the end is nigh, your left hand is on the power window button, your right hand is on its way to make the hand-off to the left and as soon as there’s a gap big enough to slip the monstrous cup through (almost have to have the window rolled all the way down these days), the cup is gone and you don’t even miss a word to the chorus of “Locked Out of Heaven.” Yeah, you make me feel like! I wish I could have told those biker chicks what they made me feel like…

I’m almost too scared to even type what happened next because if I were reading this I would either 1) not believe it and hate the author (which I don’t really want to happen) or 2) be so disgusted with humanity that I would need to either meditate or violently hit the shit out of something before I could continue on with my day. I think you’re a strong person so I’m going to tell you. A third driver threw one of those plastic wrappers that are on the tops of select bottles or jars of things like liquid cough medicine and pickles out of his window. Can I just say how much I hate those plastic wrappers too? They are so hard to get off, especially without nails, and what purpose are they serving? Waste. This could be a whole different blog post so let me focus on this little littering problem. Really? What is wrong with people!?

At this point, I almost put my head down while driving and would have died. I luckily was able to keep some control but started mouthing obscenities and would like to think the driver of the car with license plate DGT 6486 saw and understood and will never be so foolish again. Honestly, I do think this is a major problem and much too widespread. I just heard on NPR this week that David Sedaris rides his bike around an 8 mile radius of his home in the UK every day and picks up trash. At first I thought it was absurd but now I understand. I think the problem needs the same attention as gun control and immigration and I would like to be one of its strongest advocates.

For starters, I believe the “Are you a litterer?” test should replace the maneuverability test (such a useless, stupid test. I swear the cones move) in driving examinations. The evaluator should start the test with a half-full cup of pop and halfway through the test finish it, make the slurping noise, and hand it to the kid. If they chuck it out the window they are banned from getting their license for life. Or, people can just stop being filthy animals and wait to throw away or recycle their garbage at home or the next time they stop for gas.