Thursday, September 22, 2005

Stupid Tax and Failure Magic (Ambivablog)

Reproduced in full from the enjoyable Ambivablog:
Stupid tax is sort of like the wages of dumb. It's the well-deserved consequences you have to accept as the price of having done something without thinking.

Stupid tax is sometimes paid in dollars (I paid a substantial stupid tax for leaving our Russian visas for the last minute because I wasn't sure we'd be able to go), but it can also be exacted in kind.

Nick bought a lovingly maintained old Porsche Boxster, and became so manic about taking care of it that he fixated on a dangling wire he absolutely had to remove from his garage because it might scratch the car. He then yanked out the wire in just such an impatient way that a little bit of metal flew off at high speed and nicked the car's paint.

When you pay stupid tax with your life, you get a posthumous Darwin Award.

Failure magic is some people's amazing ability to materialize failure out of nothing, or even out of the most promising conditions for success. You probably know someone who's so dead set on failing that they would manage to drop a winning lottery ticket into a subway grating.

We once helped a Romanian couple come to the U.S. on temporary visas during Communist times, in the 1980s. Under the stress of immigration, job frustrations, and a bad marriage, the man descended rapidly into alcoholism.

The woman, by contrast, seemed to lead a charmed life. She had been a doctor in Romania, and through connections of my aunt's, she got a physician assistant's job working with AIDS patients in a hospital prison ward for over $40,000 a year. That sounds about as glamorous as Hannibal Lecter's promised "vacation" on the Plum Island Animal Disease Reservation ("supervised at all times by S.W.A.T. teams . . . of course"), but in fact it was a golden opportunity. For a foreign physician to be able to work in her field at all before passing an onerous exam, and to make that kind of money, is almost unheard of.

Well, she managed to fall madly in love with a prison security guard, who treated her so poorly that she had a florid psychotic break on the job and was fired when she refused a psychiatric consultation.

Back in Romania being tended to by her mother, at a time when the demand for both her experience with AIDS and her excellent English was exploding, she preferred to stay at home brooding about the incomprehensible conspiracy that had robbed her of her American dream.

You'll say I'm being heartless toward someone who was obviously mentally ill. But I knew her well, I witnessed her romantic determination to immolate herself, and I call it failure magic on a grand, operatic scale -- though I didn't have the words for it until just now.

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