FINDING MY INNER CURMUDGEON
15 November 2003
You know, my father was a very antisocial person. He had a hand-lettered sign hanging over his doorbell which read something like "If you have not been invited, you are trespassing on my property. Go away," or words to that effect. It always made me sad to think of him barricading himself behind that mean-spirited sign.
It made me sadder when Ned put a similar sign on the door to his home. I had been raised by a curmudgeon and apparently I had also raised one myself.
But then the people from Sane Freeze started showing up at my door every few weeks, trying to get me to listen to spiels, sign petitions and give them a donation. I finally got so frustrated that I had Walt drill a peep hole in the front door.
I didn't have to post any signs; I just had to creep very quietly up to the front door, see who was standing there and if it was someone with a clipboard, or dressed in the black suited uniform of the proselitizing Mormons, or anybody else I didn't know (or didn't want to see just then--like Dr. G), I just didn't have to answer the door.
The first few times I ignored the door, I felt guilty. But then I realized--it's my house, it's my time and if I don't want to be bothered by a stranger who wants to sell me something, convert me, or get me to sign his pledge, I don't have to. It doesn't make me a bad person. If I'm not in the mood to see Dr. G when he shows up uninvited, I'm not under any obligation to be sociable. I just don't have to answer the door.
When I go out, I try not to let crowds bother me, but apparently my "zen" state is only good for one day. I was out on the town today and....where the hell did all these people come from???
I handled the full waiting room(s) at Kaiser OK. I even handled being jostled in the aisles and standing in the long lines at Costco. I expected it. But that was yesterday.
I set out today to do two things: get two (count 'em) copies made at Kinko's (I could make them at home on my own FAX machine, but I needed a copy of my driver's license, which is laminated and which won't go through the roller of the FAX machine), and to look for a couple of things at Borders.
Kinko's used to be so easy: you walked in, handed your copying to someone at the desk, they copied it for you, you paid, and you left.
Then they went to the "key" system. You went in, picked up a key, did your own copying, took the key to the desk, paid, and left.
My job today was to cost 17 cents. I went in, looked for the key, and there were no keys.
"Can I help you?" a nice young woman asked.
I explained that I was looking for the keys.
"We don't have them any more," she explained, with a smile. "Here, let me help you..."
She took me to a machine where she took a card like a credit card, stuck it in and instructed me to insert $1. "That's the minimum," she said, still smiling.
"But...but..." I sputtered. "I only want TWO copies. I'm not going to pay $1 for two copies."
She sighed and handed me an "express" card, which I could use, but said that next time I should be aware that $1 was the minimum. I went to a machine, put the card in and it said that it was expired.
I went back to the desk where I had met her, but there was no one there. She was working at the main desk. So I stood in line behind four people and when I got to the desk and told her the card was expired, she told me to go back to the small desk and "wait for David."
David finally showed up, reactivated the card and gave it to me.
I made my two copies (well, four, actually, since I screwed up on the first two copies). I went and stood in a line again until I got to the counter, and I handed my express card.
"We can't take that at this counter," I was told. "You'll have to go back to the other counter" (where there was no clerk standing).
I finally managed to get to the right counter, a clerk finally showed up and I counted out my 17 cents and left. The job which should have taken 5 minutes had taken 15. Ain't technology grand?
Then I went to Borders. It's a cold, rainy day but the parking lot was full. Where did all these people come from and why aren't they at home staying out of the rain??? I managed to park at the very edge of the lot (which was probably good because I could use the exercise).
I wandered through Borders, noting that the "help" desk had 8 people standing in line waiting. When I was finally ready to leave, I stood in another line waiting to check out.
Finally I got back to the car and left the parking lot. I wanted to stop at one other store, but there were no parking places to be had anywhere, so I decided to skip it and turned down G Street to head home. But G Street was a parking lot. I don't know why--there isn't even a stoplight on G street, where I was. But I inched along, bit by bit, trying to get out of this horrific traffic jam...in Davis, of all places.
While sitting in the car, inching foward slowly, I passed the sushi place which has a buffet every day and noted that there was a line out to the street of people waiting to get in.
I thought about how we used to nod our heads sympathetically and to tsk tsk when we thought about Russians standing in long lines to buy a roll of toilet paper. Somehow it doesn't seem quite so ludicrous these days...
I was happy to be back in the peace and quiet (and solitude!) of my own house. I'm thinking of putting "go away, don't bother me" on the sign entering Davis. I'll go my father and Ned one better. I not only don't want all those people coming to my door, I don't want them coming to my town.
I've arrived. I've finally become a curmudgeon.