A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Certain laws govern our universe: nature abhors a vacuum, two bodies can’t occupy the same space at the same time, and, of course, the most famous, Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. These are physical truths that simply can’t be changed by our modern science. In other words, we have to live with them. However, there are also a whole pile of things whose sole purpose is to frustrate us and drive us crazy. These are the things that work the way they do, even though there’s no reason why they should. I’m not talking about all those funny things that kids wonder about on a stoned Thursday afternoon. Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle? How come they make cars that can go twice as fast as the legal limit? Why don’t psychics ever win the lottery? I mean real stuff that always seems to happen for no apparent reason — what I call The Laws of Consistency.
For example, there is the Law of the Line. When you go to McDonald’s (or any other fast food place, for that matter) the menu is always above the counter, right there in front of you. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s backlit and it’s got pictures. It’s been there since the first McDonald’s opened in Illinois in 1955. Yet, somehow, when you’re standing there waiting, the guy in front of you acts like he’s never seen it before in his life. Of the billions and billions served at McDonald’s in the last half century, he’s not one of them – nor are any of his friends. It’s like they’ve all come from an Amish Colony in darkest Sumatra and this is the first time they haven’t had to grow their own food. They’re overwhelmed with the possibility of meat and absolutely baffled by pickles.
The Law of the Line is a constant. The same thing happens at the ATM. The day you have 12 cents in your pocket and 30 minutes for lunch, the woman in front of you is trying to teach her four year old how to electronically renegotiate the mortgage. Again, at the grocery store, the person ahead of you always argues about the price of beans or better still, buys two items, neither of which has the barcode. At Starbucks, the person at the counter wants the strangest concoction known to humans — which usually involves double grinding the beans and airlifting vanilla in from the wilds of Jalisco, Mexico. And don’t even worry about government offices or Motor Vehicles because every single person standing there has at least two DUI’s and is about to license some home-made contraption held together entirely by duct tape. The only time the Law of the Line doesn’t work is when you’ve got a four-and-a-half-hour layover on a Sunday afternoon at the airport in Provo, Utah. The one day there’s nothing to do and you couldn’t kill time with a shotgun.
Then, we have the Law of the Price. The Law of the Price is insidious and constant only by virtue of its inconsistency. It works like this. The thing you want to buy never goes on sale. The thing that is on sale is kinda close, but not really. It’s the wrong colour, or the wrong height, or doesn’t quite match or doesn’t really do the thing you want it to do – but it’s cheap. So you’re standing in the store with the thing you don’t want to buy, that’s cheap, and looking at the thing you do want to buy, which costs twice as much. Now, you’re screwed. If you buy the thing you don’t want — on sale — you’ve spent the money, you’ve got something you don’t really want and you’re never coming back to buy the thing you really wanted in the first place. On the other hand, if you buy the thing you really want, you’re going to spend a potful of money you don’t want to spend. Either way, you’re not going to get the thing you want for the price you want to pay. It just doesn’t happen that way.
Even if, by some miracle, the thing you want to buy actually does go on sale, it’s never a good sale. The sale price is still more than you want to spend — but not by much – just enough to make you think about it. Then, when you finally decide to bite the bullet and buy the thing you want to buy, there’s always some little extra crap you need to make it work properly — things like cables or covers or batteries, or gloves or a scarf. These things never cost that much individually and you need them, so you buy them. Suddenly, a relatively expensive but affordable purchase is, with tax, 200 bucks over budget, the store guy’s writing it up and you’re looking at Kraft Dinner for the next month.
There are all kinds of other Laws of Consistency. There’s the Law of Las Vegas: everybody wins money in Vegas but you. There’s the Law of the Second-Hand Deal: anything you buy second-hand breaks within three weeks – guaranteed. The Law of the Computer Triumph: the computer you just bought yesterday is magically obsolete the minute it comes out of the box. It goes on and on, and I don’t think I even have to mention the Law of Auto Repair.
These are consistent laws of the universe, and there’s no reason they exist; science can’t explain them, religion can’t ease their pain and no human institution can stand up against their unholy power. They have no basis in physical reality, but we’ve all been there/done that. So the next time you lose a filling and discover that your dentist is having a baby and her replacement looks like the villain from a Nazi movie, remember it’s not your fault; it’s just a law of the universe.