Bad luck and trouble

Sometimes, it seems, the world is out to get us.

The stars line up a certain way, or our biorhythms are off, or our luck simply runs out. Then one minor catastrophe after another descends, hammering us with problems and expenses, pushing us to our emotional limits.

After a while, we're able to look back upon these travails and laugh. But when we're caught in the midst of them, laughter is out of the question. We're too busy trying not to weep.

A case in point: A day affectionately known at our house as the Day from Hell. (This was years ago. But, as I said, some time needs to pass before we can discuss these things with anything approaching mirth.)

The day started normally enough. The usual bustle to get ready for school, work, another day of living. I was taking out the trash in bare feet when I hooked my pinkie toe on a concrete step, breaking it with an audible pop. I went back inside, whimpering, telling my family that I'd broken my toe. They paid no attention. They were busy getting ready for the day and they know I'm prone to dramatics in time of injury.

Wife dashed off to work. I hobbled out the door to take the kids to school. I then spent the day at home, coaxing my computer through one crash after another and applying ice to my toe, still unaware that the forces of the universe were out to get us.

That evening, I limped off to a friendly poker game, where I drew the second-best hands all night and managed to lose twice as much as I ever had before.

I got home at midnight, wondering how I'd soft-pedal my financial loss, only to find that I was locked out of my house. The front door was fastened shut with a thumb latch that doesn't respond to keys. I slunk around back, worrying that neighbors were calling the cops about a prowler, only to find that the back door was locked with a deadbolt for which I had no key.

Just as I resigned myself to the idea that I must ring the doorbell and awaken the whole house, I noticed through a window that the TV was flickering. Then I saw my wife was still awake. I was puzzled, but didn't snap to the notion that something must be terribly wrong.

She let me inside and informed me that she and the boys had only recently returned from four hours at the hospital emergency room. Our older son had done a special maneuver off a curb with his in-line skates, one that ended with a splat and a broken collarbone.

She assured me our son would be fine. I showed her my purple foot, prompting this diagnosis: "That toe's broken." I bit my tongue about her earlier lack of concern and went off to bed, hitching like Walter Brennan.

I didn't get much sleep that night. I was too busy fretting about what the universe would serve up next.

It was quiet for a couple of weeks, lulling me into complacency. I began to think that day of infamy was just a fluke.

Then, all in one weekend, the following occurred: The water heater developed a severe leak. The alternator on my car gave up the ghost. The swamp cooler conked out -- on, naturally, one of the hottest days of the year.

All were dutifully repaired or replaced. The only lasting damage was to the bank balance and to whatever bodily fluids were lost to sweat and tears.

Pretty soon, the household was running smoothly again. We had hot water and cool air. The collarbone mended. My toe only hurt when the dog stepped on it, which happened two or three times a day.

Eventually, I relaxed. I gave up the idea that the stars have it in for us. I stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop. But when it does, it's a sure bet it'll land on my toe.

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