The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Friday, January 07, 2005

KVETCH IN PEACE: I don’t want to complain here…well, that’s not really true, is it? I am complaining and no amount of cleverly written obfuscation can hide that fact. And why should I hide it? The squeaky grease gets the wheel, as they say, and isn’t it amazing how much they know when you consider they dropped out of high school when they were twenty-four? Yes, I’d say they’d triumphed over their circumstances and getting them to do that wasn’t easy, not by a long shot, I’ll tell you. In any case, I don’t know why I’d try to obfuscate here if I didn’t have to; I am complaining because it is my God-given right to complain even if I have nothing to complain about, although having something to complain about while you are complaining about it usually helps; it adds focus to your complaint.

The true focus of my complaint, in case you haven’t guessed it so far, is the large number of unnecessary things people have to put up with every day. There are more of these unnecessary annoyances to put up with every day and they seem to have infiltrated every nook and cranny of daily life. Take the pins you find in shirts, for example. I got two very nice shirts for Christmas and I’ve worn them to work the past couple of days. The shirts fit nicely; no cause for complaint there; but after taking them out of the plastic bags they came in I pulled enough pins out of both shirts to hold an injured linebacker’s knees together. I’m sure all those pins served a purpose once upon a time, but pinning a shirt down like a frog in a high school biology class is scarcely necessary; the shirt is going nowhere. Three or four pins are sufficient; twelve is just wasteful.

Credit card bills are another great exemplar of the unnecessary. I use two cards consistently, which is to say, after the recent holiday season, that I am up to whatever your favorite portion of the human anatomy is in debts that I’ll finish paying off next December, just in time to start the process all over again. Every month I get an envelope from these credit card companies with enough paper stuffed inside to write War and Peace on. Well, maybe not War and Peace, but it’ll take on almost any other nineteenth century Russian novel that you care to mention. Of the printed matter in the envelope, only one sheet is dedicated to the task of bills everywhere: how much I owe the credit card company, when I have to get the money to them, and what is the minimum amount of money they will accept for not damaging my credit rating and making it impossible for me to live a normal life in the credit obsessed world of American life and commerce. The rest of the stuff in the envelope is superfluous.

For example, I don’t go anywhere so I don’t need frequent flier miles and even if I did use them, I doubt the not quite 24 carat gold and almost real diamond jewelry will help me entice any of the local native girls the way that good old fashioned iron nails enticed many a Tahitian maiden to part with her virtue when Captain Cook landed there on his way around the world back in 17something or other. I don’t need a day planner bound in real imitation leather; my day doesn’t need organizing. I get up, I eat breakfast, I go to work, I come home, I eat dinner, I watch television, I go to bed. When your life boils down to seven basic activities, there isn’t much call for a book to help you organize it. I don’t need a ceramic pen or to acquire points for a bicycle that I am never going to use even if I somehow managed to get the thing and I am not too interested in special protection from thieves; I already have credit cards I can’t afford; and I am completely uninterested in a combination short-wave radio and CD player that will fit in a space the size of New Jersey.

That last thing is the most annoying of all because not only is this product unnecessary, the place where it is advertised is just plain annoying. The ad for this wonder of entertainment technology is invariably stuck on a piece of paper on the back of the envelope you send your check in. I’ve torn the envelope trying to get rid of that piece of paper, which is more than a little frustrating, and the idea of them trying to sell me something while I am trying to pay off the last batch of unnecessary stuff I can’t afford is not only annoying, but on some deeper level, insulting as well.

We are awash in unnecessary words too, like aglet and xylophagous. An aglet is a common, everyday item; it’s the plastic or metal tip at the end of your shoelaces; but no one knows what an aglet is or uses the word so why do we bother with the word at all? Why have it around at all, occupying space in the dictionary that could go to a more deserving word? And at least aglet is easy to say and has some practical utility; when was the last time you heard anyone use the word xylophagous in a sentence? Xylophagous describes the culinary preferences of the humble termite; it means wood-eating, but if you wanted to describe something as wood-eating wouldn’t you just call it wood-eating and not some long Greek word known only to sesquipedalian Greek pest exterminators and Scrabble champions, who invented the word to help them get rid of the X tile and get a truly massive number of points on a triple word score?

But the most annoying thing about these unnecessary annoyances is just that: they are unnecessary and they are annoyances. They do not provoke rage or wrath, which are grand dramatic emotions suitable for dramatic occasions, but only the petty irritation you feel when you’re calling your insurance company to make a claim and you are now listening to their automated phone answering system’s ninth option menu in three minutes. At times like this it’s hard not to believe that the whole point of such unnecessary annoyances is to make you go away, since the people you are trying to reach obviously regard you as the unnecessary irritation and would just as soon not have to deal with you at all. All of these annoyances, or course, will raise your blood pressure to an unhealthy level. Most doctors, including mine, say that in order to avoid spikes in your blood pressure you should avoid stress wherever possible, but it is hard to take this particular bit of medical advice seriously when the doctor is charging you seventy dollars just for the privilege of sitting in his waiting room.


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