Murphy’s Gremlins — part one

Note: this post and the following post summarize a book that I have tried more than once to write, but I have never been able to finish it.

We’ve all heard the saying called Murphy’s Law: if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Some people say Murphy was an optimist.

When you are late for work and in a hurry to get there, traffic is heavy and you meet all the red lights. When guests are coming for the holidays, the floor drain backs up and floods the kitchen. When you have a paper due for school and have almost finished writing it, the computer crashes. When the computer works again, that paper is the only file that has disappeared. When the water heater springs a leak, you discover the leak on Friday night and you have to wait until Monday to get the water heater replaced.

Murphy stated the rule, but he did not describe the gremlins. Murphy’s Gremlins live all around us, in the computer, the water heater, the floor drains, and the traffic lights. These gremlins are able to measure how important our machinery is to us. They are able to calculate when a break-down will be most inconvenient for us. They know just when things should go wrong, to make each day as stressful as possible.

A powerful gremlin lives in my car. It knows precisely when to keep my car from starting, the day I need that car the most. It arranges for a flat tire on a rainy day. It makes sure that, when I bring the car to the mechanic to fix one problem, another more expensive problem will show up in the garage.

City engineers try to time the traffic lights for the most efficient use of the roads. They cannot outthink Murphy’s gremlins. I have seen the light change for the side street when no car is there. Finally a car approaches, but before it reaches the intersection, the light has changed again, and the driver has to wait for all the traffic that had built up at the red light on the busy street to clear. Murphy’s gremlins watch for times like that. They love nothing more than to cause the greatest inconvenience for the greatest number of people.

Now Murphy’s Gremlins are responsible for inconveniences, not for tragedies. They cannot be blamed for earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Nor do they cause war, poverty, and crime. Murphy’s Gremlins cause the power to go out just when you are about to start cooking supper. They make the telephone ring just as the rice on the stove is almost finished, and they keep you on the phone until the rice has burned. Murphy’s Gremlins make sure that the phone call you were expecting comes while you are in the bathroom.

They have a sense of humor. If I buy a sandwich to eat at the red lights—for I will not eat while driving, not while the car is moving—then I will get green lights for the entire trip. If I clear my schedule and set aside an entire afternoon for a difficult repair project, things will fall into place and I will be done in half an hour. When I want to mow, the mower will not start; but if I really do not want to mow and would accept any excuse to put off mowing, the mower roars to life with just a half-hearted pull of the cord.

Murphy’s Gremlins are part of life, and most days we must accept their existence. But the gremlins can be beat. In my next post, I will tell you how.

J.

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