Explosions and Onion Bins: Why Being A Pessimist is Sometimes Beneficial

I smelled a gas leak.

You know that smell. When someone at a house party leans against the gas knobs in the kitchen. Or the smell that follows the CLICK CLICK of the propane grill. But on this day at the sub shop that I worked at, we had not beer nor barbecue. Or a gas grill. Something was wrong.

It was the bread proofer. It had to be. People forgot to fill the water pan all the time and it was probably giving off the smell of the blackened pan. My inner “lifer” began to prattle. ‘Who was in charge of the bread? The newbies don’t know anything!’ I started preparing the words I was going to unleash on whichever employee was at fault. ‘Be firm. Let them know they messed up. But… don’t be a dick. Teach, don’t preach,’ I told myself. Perhaps no one told them what to do. I calmed down, then checked the proofer. The pan was full. 

Was the ice machine overheating? No! The water heater. Sh*t. The whole place was going to go up. I’ve seen too many movies to not know what could happen. Do I jump when the place explodes? I should cover my eyes so glass doesn’t fly into them. Do I look back at it? What am I saying… I should be helping my coworkers get out safe. The customers?! I mapped an escape route for them and rehearsed a speech worthy of meeting airline safety code. I walked to the back. Ice machine was fine. So was the water heater.

There I stood, perplexed. Did no one else smell the leak? It had been a good minute or two by this point. Then it hit me.

I WAS INHALING IT. Covering my mouth was pointless, the damage was already done. My breath did feel inexplicably short. My legs felt weak. That was it. Game over. I was going to pass out from CO poisoning it was just a matter of time. If I was going down, I figured I might as well clear the area around me. I powered down the slicer, moved the knives, turned to map my fall trajectory, and there it was.

Onions.

They had just opened a bin of sliced onions. (ketchup bottle fart moment)

The absurdity here is not in the onions but rather… this was the second time this exact thing happened. I made the same mistake before and I knew that onions smelled like propane gas because of it. Why didn’t I make the connection right off the bat?

Neurotic? Maybe. Hypochondriac? I did misdiagnose an ingrown chest hair as a heart attack once. This is beside the point.

We anticipate the worst outcome in stressful situations. It’s not that we don’t want things to turn out for the better, we do, but it’s just easier and less debilitating to take this defensive pessimistic approach. Because while we rehearse these bad scenarios in our heads, we also formulate the necessary measures to take in order to avoid them. Think of it as, a positive spin on negative thinking. In finding solutions for each thing that could go wrong, (burning pan, faulty water heater, impending death) you harness your anxiety, remain in control of the situation, and are able to tolerate the negativity and remain productive. And in the event that sh*t does hit the fan, well, you’re already prepared for it, physically and emotionally.

The key is being prepared. Expecting failure is just a little trick we play on ourselves to make us perform better. Or in the event of actual failure, at least we avoid getting emotionally blind sided. Life is stressful. It’s easy to think we smell a gas leak. Relax. Make a plan, and take action. In the end, there might be an explosion.

Or a bin of onions.

-Amir


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