The View From Away: Don't sweat the big stuff

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Lately, I find myself being annoyed by little things, a lot of them so trivial it’s embarrassing. The big issues are too overwhelming; I’m like a minnow in the ocean.

Take saving the Euro. Here’s what I know about European money: they use too many coins. Thick, heavy coins that weigh your pockets down and make you feel like a pirate. I bought a scarf for my wife during my one trip to Ireland a couple of years ago. I paid with bills that looked like Monopoly money. My change was like a manhole cover. To me, a monetary crisis was figuring out how to carry it. The real Euro problem is totally out of my league, like a dozen other problems. I spend the bulk of my energy every day trying not to think of them.

As a result I have very little resilience to deal with minutiae. It’s like, “Really? The world economy could go down the tubes any minute, and now my sock refuses to be where I can see it?” Or something that doesn’t even affect me, like this sticker I saw on a gas pump that said, “Please Prepay in Advance.” OK, it’s redundant. I know what they mean. I’ve seen it a hundred times. So why last week did I suddenly want to run into the station and get sarcastic with the cashier?

“I don’t know who you’re trying to fool, pal, but I’m not prepaying until after I put the gas in.”

I didn’t, of course, because it’s a corporate policy, and it would be unkind to harass some poor minimum-wage employee. Who’s bigger than me. But I wanted to.

I almost lost it a few days ago after I almost rear-ended a car trying to read its vanity plate. I had to slam on my brakes because I was watching the bumper instead of the traffic. I probably scared him, but did I want to apologize? No, I wanted knock on his window at the next red light and yell at him through the glass.

“Hey, Mr. ‘Hooper.’ FYI: an ‘H-zero-zero-P-3-R’ doesn’t spell your name. It spells, ‘Please drive up my tailpipe.’” And that would have been wrong. I’m feeling better just coming clean about this.

I’m even noticing my blood rises over things I thought I’d made my peace with. I’m having trouble letting “free gift” pass when I hear it on the radio. Everybody knows Madison Avenue doesn’t care if words mean anything as long as the result is sale-ariffic. Advertising is supposed to be lies. So how come I can’t stop seeing myself in the marketing meeting where they first came up with the idea, timidly raising my hand.

“Um, guys? Aren’t all gifts free? I’m just spit-balling here, but couldn’t we use “free” or “gift?” Wouldn’t we save on ink for the posters?”

Some guy at the end of the table smirks at me like I’m an idiot.

“That’s the whole point,” he’d sigh. “We’re not just giving something away, we’re giving it away free. It’s better than an ordinary gift, it’s a free gift.”

“But that’s what ‘gift’ means! It already means it’s free!”

“Am I talking French here? I just said that. How did you get this job, anyway?”

Boom. Aneurysm. I don’t even get to win in my fantasies.

The one I can’t let go of currently comes out of a recent email from my cell phone service provider in which they said, “Hey, you know that unlimited data plan you signed up for? Well, turns out it’s good for you but bad for us, so from now on, it’s still unlimited, unless you use it too much. You can still get on the network whenever you want. We’ll just make it so slow it won’t be worth it.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that was the basic message.

I don’t know why this is the one that keeps bothering me. Maybe I’m just pouting because the phone company is telling me I can’t use my smartphone as much now. Maybe it’s the baldness of it. It’s like if your favorite all-you-can-eat restaurant suddenly hired a guy to stand by the buffet and slap the plate out of your hands and then smile like nothing happened.

You’d say, “What happened to the all you can eat?”

“Yeah, but you just ate some food, and now you want more food? What are we, made of food?”

“It’s a restaurant! An all-you-can-eat restaurant.”

“Who’s stopping you?”

“You just knocked the plate out of my hand.”

“So get another plate, Porky.” You do, and he lets you get a little salad before he knocks the plate out of your hand again. On your third try he grabs your belt and makes you drag him through the line. Finally you give up and go someplace else, but not before they make you pay for the all-you-can-eat meal you didn’t get.

Insignificant? Absolutely. But my head isn’t exploding over Iran, China and the collapse of the Euro, which I can’t do anything about.

The moral is, definitely sweat the small stuff.

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Portland resident Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at mikelangworthy@me.com.

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