Friday, December 15, 2006


Cold weather makes me irascible. Adding to this discomfort is a litany of annoying little things that society imposes on me. Here are a few of my favorite winter irritations:

Pasteurized Cider -- Every fall for many years I have purchased cold, dark, sweet, unfiltered apple cider locally. I would then leave it overnight on the kitchen counter until it started to ferment slightly. Finally, after a day of rechilling, I would then drink my slightly-carbonated, libation to autumn in New England. Now, due to a one-in-a-billion food-processing accident in California, all I can find is a pale, insipid, pasteurized product called “apple cider,” but much more like apple juice. One again, the food Nazis have made my world a little smaller.

Anonymous Answering Machine Messages -- It is quite grating to have placed an important and expensive call to an unfamiliar person in Saskatchewan only to get a terse answering machine message that says, “Hi, it’s us. Please leave a message.” Now, these provincial putzes at least could include their phone numbers so that I know I haven’t called a bordello in Biloxi. (By the way, to be grammatically but annoyingly correct, it is “Hi, it’s we.”)

Magazine Inserts -- My main motivation for becoming insanely rich is so that I can hire a “magazine valet.” This would be one who, dressed in full livery with white suede gloves, would riffle through my newly-delivered magazines and remove all those loose solicitation cards. That way, when I read these periodicals, my lap would not be constantly littered with such detritus.

Prolonged Voice-Mail Messages -- Frequently overly conscientious business people feel compelled to leave elaborate and up-to-the-minute phone messages, “Hi, this is Fred Mertz and I am in the office today, Thursday, July 23rd, but may be in a Board of Directors meeting or lunching with the Sultan of Brunei. I am interested in returning your call but, if it is important, you may want to contact my Executive Assistant, Siegfried Sassoon, the fourth, on extension 34895 ... or, if he is unavailable, my Executive Secretary, Nancy Drew, on extension 34897. If this is an emergency, you may call my beeper at 888-555-2345 and then enter 678-999. On Tuesday, my daughter had a bouncing baby boy, Mergatroid, weighing eight pounds, six ounces. We plan to vacation in the Barbados in September. My father’s gal bladder has stopped acting up. Thanks for your call. Please leave a message after the eighth beep.” I have reproduced the whole message here, but I generally hang up somewhere around the Sultan of Brunei.

Neat Litterbugs -- What possesses people to be fastidious while they are trashing things? There is a brand of urban slob who will reach down and carefully place a Starbucks latte cup right-side-up beside his/her car before leaving a parking space. Or neatly wrap a used diaper and put it under the nearest park bench. Do these teeny fits of tidiness really mitigate such gross slovenliness?

Architectural Food -- It seems these days that every dish I order in a fancy restaurant comes piled high as a tottering pilaster ... defying gravity and good gastronomic sense. Has the measure of culinary merit now become altitude and not sapor? Another paradox to ponder -- why are all our newly-built civic monuments flatter than the proverbial pancake?

Public Grooming -- In olden days it was considered impolite to comb you hair or put on your makeup in public ... hence powder rooms. It’s not that I don’t enjoy inhaling clouds of dandruff on the “T,” but need I also sit on the finger-nail clippings of others? I suppose public tooth brushing or face shaving are just a whisker away.

Dial Tones -- Few of us use dial (pulsed) phones anymore. So why do digital-keypad telephones have “dial tones?” And how do we “dial” a phone by punching some buttons? When we send E-mail do we call it a “telegram?” When we consult our watches, do we still view a “chronometer?” Do we call refrigerators, “ice boxes?” Of course not! So, please, let’s update our phone terminology.

Plastic Thread -- There should be a new place in purgatory into which the inventor of clear plastic thread and its users would be hurled. Garment manufacturers, in order to save a few pennies by not having to change thread colors, now torture their wearers with the constant scratching from the cut ends of this filament. This purgatory locale would a briar patch filled with nettles and razor wire.

E-mail Junk -- By this I don’t mean junk E-mail (or “spam”). This has been lambasted enough. Rather, I refer here to all those annoying extras you get in E-mail messages, particularly those that have been forwarded. For instances, why must all the co-recipients of E-mails be listed twice in painfully convoluted ciphers? Does the computer forget in that short span of message text to whom it is addressing this E-pistle? Also, why is the message text often repeated (sometimes twice or more) in the body of a forwarded message? And why do all those little greater-than signs (>>) scatter themselves all over forwarded E-mail messages like chicken tracks? Come on you Internet techies ... these are not difficult problems to solve. If you can transmit smut to our children, the least you can do is get rid of this E-mail junk.

Big Word Users -- Few scholarly artifices engender my trenchant passions like those literati who espouse antiquated synonyms whilst composing expository prose. These inane and erudite accouterments generally bequeath naught to their reader’s comprehension other than an acute discernment of their author’s ego-inspired hyperbole.

Compulsive Call Screening -- Due to such things as phone solicitors, some clever people now never ever answer their telephones. Instead, they screen all their calls through an answering machine. This, of course, is understandable, but can sometimes cause extreme frustration. For instance, like when you know that they are at home and you need to reach them in a hurry ... say to tell them that someone with a hockey goalie’s mask and chain saw is jimmying their cellar door.

Airline Lies -- Every time a flight is canceled, airline counter personnel offer the same lame excuses: “Your plane is experiencing mechanical difficulties.” or “Weather at your plane’s feeder airport has forced the scrubbing of this flight.” Just once I would like to hear: “This plane is not fully booked, so we are canceling it and cramming you into a later one so we can generate higher profits.”

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