Gary Smith: To infinity ... and beyond

Knowing one’s limits isn’t the same as accepting them

I have an amazing ability: I know when to say when. The problem is, I can only exercise this superpower when I've already passed "when."

Yes, I can tell with complete confidence that my best stopping point is, say, four. Typically, I can tell this when I'm on, say, seven, but still, I understand my limits. And, as Clint Eastwood said in one of those police movies that sort of blend together, "A man has to know his limitations."

Now this isn't "limited" (see how I did that?) to food or drink (or food and drink. Or just drink, but not in a while, because, well, someone always has to go to store or get picked up. You know, the Dad thing.).

I know, for instance, that my optimal bed time is 10 p.m. I recognize this fact all the time. At around 11 or 11:30. If it's the third time you're heading back to the buffet line, you really, technically can't call it "seconds" anymore. And, a normal human being wouldn't commit 13 hours of a weekend to a television series he can watch at his leisure. I acknowledge this about Hour Nine, and just keep coming back for more.

In other words, I recognize what a disciplined person would do, typically as I'm not doing it.

I mention all this because, well, I have a sunburn.

Not a huge, "all my skin is falling off and I have to wear shorts to work, except I can't so I just get to be really unhappy for a few days'' sunburn. It's not the kind you get when you do something stupid like fall asleep in a beach chair on the first day of your vacation and spend the rest of the week wrapped like a mummy and glaring at people through super dark sunglasses while they play in the ocean.

No, it's just enough of a sunburn to be annoying. Or at least to be the thing I'm annoyed about at this moment. And it takes so little.

For no apparent reason, my sunburn came as something of a surprise for me, mostly because the Lovely Mrs. Smith is very much the Sunburn Police. Her tombstone will read, "Did you reapply?" She takes sunburns as an affront to her mothering or "wifing" skills. No sunscreen left behind, at least not on her watch. And she goes with the hardcore, basically white tar SPF 100 stuff that provides more protection than staying in the house with the curtains drawn.

I mean, it really, really works. If you remember to use it. Which I do. Often. I think. So, I guess we're sort of seeing the problem here.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't even mention this. Of course, under normal circumstances, and thanks to a combination of heredity and genetics, I wouldn't ever get a sunburn. But it's been an odd year with lots going on that didn't involve hitting the course/lake/pool/beach/backyard. When I did get the chance to be out, I figured out my limit was a couple of hours of sun. By that realization, I was about seven hours into the day.

There goes that super power again.

The thing is, I'm not really alone in this. Whether it's too much sun or too much moonshine, we humans are great at knowing our reasonable limits and powering right through them on the way to epic fails. The fact entire industries have been built on sunburn relief and hangover cures indicates we're not just undisciplined; we're a business model.

All of which calls into question our sometimes tenuous hold at the top of the food chain. I mean, my dogs are the two dumbest animals on the face of the earth. They frequently get lost in the laundry room. They can't find the ball we were playing fetch with while they're standing on top of it. They bark at their reflection in the mirror.

And yet, when it's 90 degrees outside, neither of them says, "Nah, I'm good. I'm just going to lay on my stomach for a bit. Be fine. I never burn."

There I go, failing the "Are You Smarter than a Pomeranian?" test again.

Maybe I'm getting better. In years gone by, I'd have stubbornly tried to convince everyone I didn't actually have a sunburn, that that laundry detergent we've been using for a while had suddenly caused me to have a rash.

So let's take this opportunity to celebrate my personal growth and newfound discipline and maturity, with ice cream. My limit is two scoops. Which is why I'm having four.

Commentary on 07/14/2017

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