Can Openers

Every family has someone who is not as smart, not as accomplished, not as well educated…  Someone who never reached their full potential, for whatever reason.  The person in the family who makes other people roll their eyes.

Unfortunately, in my family, that person is me.


I promise that everything that follows is completely true.  Except for a couple of things.


I have some very intelligent relatives.  REALLY smart people.  Crazy smart.  The kind of smart where static electricity shoots from the end of their hair.  I’m afraid that some of them will spontaneously combust someday.

When my extended family gathers for family functions, there is an audible sound of electical buzzing at the table.  We have the “physician contingent” (4-5 physicians, some with Ph.D.s too), the “Wharton contingent” (4-5 of those) , and the “entrepreneur” contingent.  They have friendly debates about credit default swaps, coronary artery bypass grafts, and effects of European monetary policy upon small business owners…..

Me?  I sit at family functions and think about how to operate my can opener.

Let me tell you a story.  One of my cousins took the SATs several years ago.  He left the exam and told his mother “I got one wrong”.  He did.  A 1590, back in the days when the SAT total was 1600.  He retook the exam (of course he did-he only got a 1590 the first time), left the exam and told his mother “I didn’t get one wrong this time”.  He never opened his own test score- the envelope sat unopened for days.    His mother finally opened it, in order to confirm his test score.

  1. Perfect score.

I have relatives who are in the C-suite.  Relatives who bike through Vietnam, because the mountains in the French Alps weren’t difficult enough anymore.   Spouses who debate whether their graduate degrees from Stanford are better than their degrees from Wharton.  Relatives who fly into other countries or other states, unannounced, with subpoenas for company hard drives and federal forensic investigations.

Every night I eat dinner with an applied mathematics major, a dual accounting/finance major, and my youngest, who says things like “quadratic equations are easy”.   My wife has actually said “I LOVED advanced calculus!”

Of course she did.


Then there is me.

Before you argue about whether or not I am the dummy in my family, I want you to take the following quiz.  Answer this quiz honestly.

Have you ever done ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

1) Have you ever struck a newspaper machine with your car, (for extra points-while your father was in the car), and sent the newspaper machine flying onto someone’s front lawn?  Was the newspaper machine chained to the traffic light before you sent it flying?

2) Have you ever been attacked by your own can opener?  How do you slice your thumb open with an electric can opener?! Try explaining that in the emergency room.

3) Have you ever attacked a hornets nest, armed only with 1/2 can of bug spray?  Were you wearing any protective clothing at the time? Did you really think that it was a good idea to attack a hornets nest while wearing shorts and a T shirt?

4) Have you ever started a brush fire in your own back yard, and created something much larger than a brush fire?  (“Brush with death” is more like it).   Did you ever create such a large brush fire that you melted the cable wire running overhead, 30 feet in the air?  Try explaining that to the cable company.

5) Have you ever tried to plug 4000 Christmas lights into one electrical outlet?  What happened?  Try explaining that to your electrician.

[At this point, I must interrupt, with a reminder from my lawyer.  If there are any children reading this, I remind you- PLEASE do not try this at home!!!]

6) Have you ever inflated a car tire to 78 pounds of pressure per square inch?  Was the tire rated for only 28 pounds per square inch?  Why did you do that?  Did you break the steel belt in the tire?  Try explaining that at the car shop.

7) Have you ever set a roast beef on fire in your own oven?  Have you ever blown something up in your own oven?   “Blown up” means oven door crashing open, soot everywhere, fire alarm going off….Try explaining that to the apartment supervisor……

8) Have you ever stopped by the side of the road to relieve yourself (it was in the desert, and the nearest rest area was 75 miles away, I’m sorry….), and parked on a spot marked “soft shoulder”?  How many people did it take to lift the car out of the quicksand?  Try explaining those dirt marks to the rental car company.

9) Have you ever looked at a piece of broken glass, and rubbed a jagged end to see if it was sharp? How did that work for you?

10) Have you ever called 911 because there was an intruder in your home?  Was the intruder a raccoon? Try explaining that to the local police department.


If you can answer yes to any one of the above questions, you may not be that smart.  If you can answer yes to two or three of the above questions, you might be the dummy in YOUR family.

If you can answer yes to all ten questions above, then you are the dummy in my family.  And unfortunately, the dummy in my family is me.


At family get togethers, while the rest of my family is talking about polynomial reductions, mortgage-backed securities and anterior descending arteries, I am thinking about running from angry hornets or aggravated raccoons.  Or driving to the emergency room with my thumb wrapped in a bright red towel that wasn’t bright red ten minutes ago.

Picture my family.  You know them.    Think of my wife and my daughters, with their hands open.  Think of them slapping the palms of their hands against their foreheads.

Palm, forehead.  Palm, forehead.  Over and over and over again.


For reasons that I do not understand, I am not allowed to own a chain saw or a snow blower.  Or a motorcycle.  Or any heavy weapons.  For that matter, I am not allowed to perform any electrical or plumbing work in my own home.

Why does my family shake their head whenever I use the can opener?


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