Nine Ordinary Activities That I Am Incompetent At

I could never tie this knot

I'm not exactly a renaissance man, but to varying degrees of success, I can write, direct, produce, edit, act, animate, paint, draw, design, and sculpt. Hooray for me! But if I can perform any of these tasks slightly better than the average person, it's to the detriment of the following routine activities, which hundreds of millions, even billions of people do every day.

  1. Riding a bike. This is my greatest shame: my sense of balance is so poor that I have never mastered the bicycle. Once I get going, I can ride one all right; I just have enormous difficulty starting, stopping, and turning. I didn't even learn how to ride until I was 12 (I was self-taught), and just as I was getting the hang of it, I got into a small but unnerving accident on the hillside along my aunt's house outside of Oslo. I soon gave up bike riding entirely.
  2. Skiing. More balancing issues. I should turn in my credentials as a Scandinavian- American for my inability to ski properly. No, not even cross-country. Or waterskiing.
  3. Skating. See above. This goes for roller skates, ice skates, Rollerblades, skateboards, and scooters. Please do not offer to teach me. And before you mention it, I have never tried to surf, but I imagine I'd be hopeless at that too.
  4. Wrapping gifts. Considering that I have done this hundreds of times, you'd think I would have figured it out by now. Which is to say, yes, I can fold and cut and tape paper together. But a perfectionist artiste like me should achieve better-looking results than the wrinkled, sloppily-assembled packages I end up with.
  5. Tying knots. I still recall that, back in preschool, I was the last in my class to learn how to tie his shoes. (Let that sink in, reader of today: I was four. And all the other four-year-olds had mastered this skill. Many of today's kids can't tie a shoelace even by the age of nine. Parents, you are doing your children no favors by letting them gad about in Crocs and other lace-free footwear.) When I was a Boy Scout, the ubiquitous knot-tying exercises always confounded me, so I never earned the corresponding merit badge that would have lifted me past my Second Class ranking. Even today, I can tie nothing more complicated than a square knot. And my neckties always look a little off.
  6. Dancing. Having been forced onto the dance floor many times at weddings and other social occasions, I can safely say that, no matter how many attempts I may make, or how patient and instructive my partner is, I remain a dreadful, lead-footed hoofer. For the record, I do have a good sense of rhythm; for example, I am an excellent toe-tapper.
  7. Playing a musical instrument. I took violin and organ lessons for years, knowing all the while that my left hand simply cannot cooperate with my right. I suppose I could play the triangle, if forced. Or the kazoo. But imagine what my father, an award-winning accordionist, must think about all this.
  8. Understanding chemistry. I was a good student in high school, but there was one thing that kept me out of the National Honor Society: my grade in Chemistry, the only D I ever received. (I also got a couple of Cs in Algebra and Algebra II – another subject that I do not understand.) Granted, it was "AP Chemistry" for the smart kids, but I did not belong in that class and never should have signed up for it. My teacher, the unsympathetic Mr. Wong, offered no assistance; perhaps he saw that I was beyond help. In any event, to this day I draw a blank when it comes to the Periodic Table of Elements, and I cannot grasp even the simplest chemical compounds and formulas.
  9. Drinking beer and coffee (together or separately). This isn't really a measure of competence, yet it's more than simply saying "I don't like beer or coffee". Since both are such popular beverages throughout the world, it is a little difficult to socialize without a taste for either. (You should have seen me in the days when I didn't drink alcohol at all.) But the bitterness of each drink is simply too much for me. A friend claims that I must be a "super taster", as I find anything bitter – grapefruit, radicchio, tonic water, whiskey – to be disagreeable, even nauseating. [2013 update: I like beer now.] [2020 update: I like coffee now. And whiskey too.]