Not long ago I wrote a column where I retold a Chinese fairy tale in which I explained that, occasionally, when I am beset with insomnia, I will sit down at night and rewrite fairy tales as a way of telling myself a bedtime story and, ideally, then falling asleep. A number of you wondered whether this practice was something I really did and, I can assure you, that it is, but it is not a regular practice – occurring, at most, five to six times a year.
Another of my idiosyncrasies is collecting stories of other people’s misfortunes. This practice began when I worked for a marketing communications firm in Chicago where several co-workers and I began collecting “Oh, beans!” stories as a way of assuring ourselves that our own misfortune’s were nothing compared to the misfortunes suffered by others.
The premise of these stories is that, after a sequence of almost unbelievable misfortune, the protagonist’s only recourse is to exclaim “Oh, beans!” I should note that “Oh, beans!” stories isn’t what we actually called them, but when I decided to share a few of these stories years later, when I was writing this column in the Door Reminder, I needed an appellation that was more family friendly. I will leave it to you to imagine the name we actually applied to our collection.
One of the defining characteristics of the “Oh, beans!” stories we collected was that they always ended with some form of stupid, tragic death. But as I continued to collect stories through the years (long after I had moved on from work in marketing) I realized that there was a subset of stories that, while not nearly so tragic, were equally “Oh, beans!” worthy: just really, really, really bad days. I also realized that these stories could provide a type of solace when I experienced a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” as poor Alexander did in Judith Viorst’s wonderful children’s picture book.
And this brings us to the following story, which I received from a friend (who was/is fully aware of my collection of stories) way back in 1998 and that I have held on to through all the intervening years. If this doesn’t make you feel better about a bad day you had at work then please send me your story for my collection.
[I should note that I checked on the validity of this story through snopes.com (a very useful site for determining the validity of lots of crap you find on the Internet) and they list it as “unresolved.” Whether the story is true really doesn’t matter since the hero of the following story undoubtedly exclaimed “Oh, beans!” when he realized what was happening.]
“A friend’s friend’s friend is a commercial saturation diver for Global Divers out of Louisiana and performs underwater repairs on offshore drilling rigs. Below is an email he sent to his sister. Anytime you think you have had a bad day at the office, remember this letter.
“Just another note from your bottom-dwelling brother. Last week I had a bad day at the office. Before I can tell you what happened to me, I first must bore you again with a few technicalities of my job. As you know, my office lies at the bottom of the sea. I wear a suit to the office. It’s a wetsuit. This time of year the water is quite cool, so what we do to keep warm is this: we have a diesel-powered industrial water heater. This $20,000 piece of junk sucks the water out of the sea. It heats it to a delightful temp. It then pumps it down to the diver through a garden hose, which is taped to the air hose.
“Now this sounds like a darn good plan, and I’ve used it several times with no complaints. What I do, when I get to the bottom and start working, is I take the hose and stuff it down the back of my neck. This floods my whole suit with warm water. It’s like working in a Jacuzzi. Everything was going well until all of a sudden, my butt started to itch. So, of course, I scratched it. This only made things worse. Within a few seconds my rear started to burn.
“I pulled the hose out from my back, but the damage was done. A jellyfish had been pumped into my suit.
“As I said, I had that hose down my back. And since I don’t have any hair on my back like your husband, the jellyfish couldn’t get stuck to my back. My butt crack was not as fortunate. When I scratched what I thought was an itch, I was actually grinding the jellyfish into my butt.
“I informed the dive-master supervisor of my dilemma over the comms. His instructions were unclear due to the fact that he along with five other divers were laughing hysterically. Needless to say I aborted the dive. I was instructed to make three agonizing in-water decompression stops totaling 35 minutes before I could come to the surface for my chamber dry decompression. I got to the surface wearing nothing but my brass helmet. My suit and gear were tied to the bell.
“When I got on board the medic, with tears of laughter running down his face, handed me a tube of cream and told me to shove it up my rear-end when I get in the chamber. The cream put the fire out, but I couldn’t poop for two days because my butt was swollen shut. I later found out that this could easily have been prevented if the suction hose was placed on the leeward side of the ship.
“Anyway, the next time you have a bad day at the office, think of me. Think about how much worse your day would be if you were to shove a jellyfish up your butt. I hope you have no bad days at the office. But if you do, I hope this will make it more tolerable. ? “Take care, and I hope to hear from you soon.”