A lost tale of Brain-Damaged Toula


Before I was a married man, I was a single man. One of the best and worst parts of that was having housemates; I used to live with a brain-damaged woman named Toula who, while occasionally frustrating to live with, at least made for good stories. Here’s a lost Toula story I meant to post about five years ago and just found in my draft folder. You can tell it’s an old story because, at that time in history, phone books were still useful items instead of vestigial nuisances:

As you may know by now, my housemate Toula is brain-damaged. By “brain damaged,” I don’t mean “stupid”; I mean “as a result of a car accident”, which does in fact mean “stupid”, but which I hope captures the depth of her stupidity.

Last Friday, I had to confront her about a disturbing problem that keeps cropping up: rather than put my mail on the kitchen table on her way back from the mailbox, she often takes the liberty of just assuming I don’t want it and throwing it in the garbage.

(This seems to be her natural impulse when something is delivered to our house. When the new phone books arrived—one for each of the four housemates who each have a separate phone line—she kept one and threw the other four away under the assumption that we only need one phone book per house, and that no subscriber need feel entitled to one of his own. More recently, a Telus Yellow Pages arrived, so she threw away our apparently redundant copy of the White Pages, and put the Telus Yellow Pages next to our copy of the Bell Yellow Pages. When asked why she threw away our only useful phone book, she replied, “Well, it had been there for a while.” When reminded that it had been there for a while because it was a very useful item, she said, “Well, nobody seemed to be using it.” This is true; at the precise moment she threw it away, no one happened to be leafing through it.)

But back to the mail. My concern was that she kept throwing my credit card applications—which she perceives as junk mail—straight into the recycling bin, leaving me open to fraud and identity theft. My credit rating isn’t much to brag about, but it certainly wouldn’t benefit from someone filling out an application in my name and charging everything he could to a bogus credit card. I explained this to Toula, and added that one should never throw out a credit card application without shredding it, to prevent wily tricksters from ruining one’s credit rating.

“Well, there are lots of ways people can commit fraud,” Toula said in her defence.

“True,” I said. “But I would rather they had one fewer way. So, please do not throw out my credit card applications.”

Returning to my room, I paused, then said to my visiting friend, your favorite Internet humorist Jay Pinkerton, “That just didn’t sink in, did it?”

“It didn’t sound like it,” said Jay.

Sure enough, Jay was right. When Tuesday came around, I checked the mailbox. Empty. I checked the recycling bin. Full. Once again, she’d thrown out one of my credit card applications.

I waited all day and when she came home, I confronted her. “Do you remember what I told you on Friday about throwing out my mail? In case I wasn’t completely clear, let me reiterate: Do not throw away my mail.” Instead of apologizing, she got indignant, apparently because I was nagging her. “Did I do anything else wrong today,” she asked sarcastically.

“Probably, but I’m only concerned with this.”

“You keep bringing this up!” she complained.

“I’ve mentioned it twice,” I said. “I only bring it up this time because you completely ignored me the first time and because it’s important.”

“Well, it’s just a credit card application. Those things are nuisances.”

“It’s my nuisance. Why would mail addressed to me bother you?” I asked. “What if I got something important you mistook for junk mail and threw out? What if, god forbid, I should actually want to fill out a credit card application?”

“Well, you just started nagging me when I came through the door,’ she complained. “You didn’t even ask how my day was.”

“Fine,” I said. “How was your day? Did you have a rewarding day throwing away my mail? Did you just interfere with mine or did you commit mail fraud all over the city? How was work? Was it four hours working in the mailroom, then another four of custodial services, or did you streamline things by just combining the two?”

Well, I was going to say all of that, but she went upstairs in the middle of it. Judging by my earlier attempts to address the topic, she probably would have either misunderstood or failed to hear it anyway.

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