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How Much Things Suck

[whitespace] haircut
Robert Scheer

Sinking Snips: The world's worst haircut can rank up among life's worst stresses, ruining all sorts of relationship and adversely effecting a social life if the 'do is bad enough.

The trauma test can tell if you're really and truly miserable

By Traci Hukill

CONSIDER SOME OF LIFE'S petty annoyances: discovering on the way to dinner Friday night that the ATM card is demagnetized and won't work anymore, finding a big runny pool of dog poop on the kitchen floor first thing in the morning, pouring a blob of soured milk into a mug of coffee. Insurmountable difficulties? Hardly. These are mild vexations, pesky horseflies buzzing around the ass of Contentment. Stress with a big "S" gets much more serious.

Now imagine an absent roommate's alarm clock beeping all day behind a locked door, or perhaps an industrious neighbor taking advantage of the early Saturday morning calm to rev up the leaf blower and tidy up his gutters. Ah, yes. Now that will cause the blood to throb in a hypertensive temple. Anything that inspires murderous rage ought to qualify as a stressor.

Stress is a thug enjoying recent royal privilege. People bow to its power over their lives, tiptoe around its voluminous hems. They get massages to relax its grip and gobble valarian and vitamin B to weaken it because, we're advised by an enlightened medical community, it can kill us. Stress used to just be irritating, but now it's credited with a whole list of evil accomplishments: sleeplessness, arthritis, cancer. Suddenly heavy traffic is related to liver trouble. A crashed computer can lead to heart disease.

Worse yet, stress is everywhere. Its envoys lurk around every corner in the form of lost keys, credit card bills, busy FAX lines--a multitude of saboteurs with designs on our physical well-being.

It was not always so. Thirty years ago, Drs. Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe of the University of Washington's medical school started the whole craze with an article that ran in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. It featured the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, a chart listing 40 potential stressors in order of severity, with Death of Spouse at the top and Minor Violations of the Law at the bottom. To each catastrophe our earnest researchers assigned a value, and stressed-out test-takers could, between nibbles on their pencils, identify which of the 40 they'd suffered in the last year and tally up their scores.

Holmes and Rahe used the test to determine susceptibility to disease. A score of 150 to 300 suggested two-to-one chances of serious illness in the next two years. Score over 300 and you may as well check yourself into the hospital, because your odds of falling ill had just increased to 80 percent, and chances were it would be something grisly: cancer, heart attack, manic depressive psychosis.

The Holmes-Rahe model bears some inspection. For example, of the top 10 afflictions, exactly half concern love interests: Death of Spouse, Divorce, Marital Separation, Marriage, and Marital Reconciliation.

Wait a minute. Marriage? Marital Reconciliation? Aren't those joyous events? Aren't those rapturous milestones in the soul's journey to completion and fulfillment? Isn't that supposed to be the good stuff?

Round Two Reality

MAYBE NOT. Marriage does drag along in its blushing wake a host of unpalatable realities. Bad breath only gets worse, not better, with time. The beloved's devil-may-care élan, so exhilarating during courtship, turns like Mr. Hyde into denial and callousness if given world enough and time. And six months is probably long enough to realize that a companion's disorganization, at first confused with genius, really just indicates a woeful lack of discipline, spine and gumption.

As for Marital Reconciliation, well, nothing stings like the slap of reality. Sure, he (or she) managed to pull the wool over your eyes yet again, but the honeymoon's pretty brief in Round Two. Sadly, the relief of reunion has a way of dissolving into bitterness that makes the original breakup look like a walk in the park. After all's said and done, once an asshole, always an asshole. And once a fool--well, never mind.

For the most part, the Stress Test makes sense. Death of a Close Family Member, Foreclosure, Change in Living Conditions ... these all add up to trouble. But down at the bottom reside a couple of puzzling categories.

Number 38, Vacation, is one. What's so bad about leaving the daily grind? Unless, of course, that's the week it rains every day in Hawaii, or Montezuma's Revenge renders you one with the toilet, or you spend the whole time arguing with that idiot you just remarried.

And then, just below Vacation and just above Minor Violations of the Law, is Christmas. Rumored to be fun, once considered a heartwarming opportunity to relax and spend quality time with family, Christmas now occupies the 39th rung of a 40-tiered hell that starts with losing your mate to the Great Void and ends with getting busted smoking a fattie.

Holmes and Rahe may be right about Christmas. But their list is incomplete. They've completely disregarded the mortifying stressors that make life really miserable.

Consider, for example, a bad haircut. A brutal chop job will surely bring about Change in Recreation Habits (stress value: 19 points) and, if hideous enough (perish the thought) could potentially result in Marital Separation (65 points). Everyone knows what a bad 'do can do to social skills. In any case, the stress of shame is itself bad enough to take a year or two off life.

The same goes for a really rotten case of gas. Hitler suffered chronic flatulence, and he killed himself. In a sense, he probably died of embarrassment. An ill-timed public fart can have devastating consequences on an individual's morale and could conceivably be linked to Sex Difficulties (39 points), Change in Social Activities (18 points) and Change in Eating Habits (15 points).

The examples go on and on: high-water pants, rogue hairs, getting caught in a lie, food stuck in teeth, whitehead pimples. All minions of the infernal kingdom of Stress, designed to tighten our sphincters and shorten our lives.

It's a dastardly plan.

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From the January 22-28, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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