Signposts Of Life

The “Life is a journey” cliché has been done to death — but it’s there and I’m lazy, so what the hell!  People say life is a journey, and it is — but it’s not a straight-and-narrow, or a super highway or even a twisty backroad to heaven.  It’s a wilderness, and we poor mortals are forced to navigate it the best way we know how.  That’s why our more than benevolent society gives us signposts.  These are big, simple, well-lit markers that we can clearly see as we’re speeding along at 200 KPH, going – uh – wherever it is we’re all going.

When we’re babies, the first signpost we get is “NO!”  This keeps us away from dangerous stuff, disgusting stuff and stuff we really shouldn’t put in our mouth.  Easy!  But it doesn’t take us long to discover that some “no’s” are more important than others.  For example, when we ignore, “No, don’t pull kitty’s tail!” we end up with lacerations. However, “No, don’t throw your food on the floor.” Is nothing serious.  (After all, cleanup is not our problem.)

From there, the signposts get a little trickier.  Sure “Play nice!” is relatively easy, but “Share!” comes with a double-edged sword.  There isn’t a person on this planet who hasn’t run into the “share” conundrum.  Meanwhile, this is when we realize that — even though the world is full of signposts — some people don’t feel any obligation to observe them.  It’s a hard lesson when we’ve “shared” our cupcake with Sally, but Sally has decided to keep her cookies to herself.

Then the signposts start coming faster, and they’re a lot more complicated.  We learn there are certain words that are off limits, even though they’re surprisingly fun to say and actually quite common during times of parental stress.  We also learn “Don’t lie!”  This is a biggie.  However, it comes with a number of caveats that aren’t always obvious to the untrained eye.  For example, Uncle Jake’s Special Spaghetti Sauce might honestly taste like dirt, but if you say so there will be consequences.  Here’s where we find out that even though the path is always clearly marked, on occasion, life is a lot easier if we simply look the other way.

Teenage years are full of signposts that are basically contradictory.  “You’re young: have fun!” is diametrically opposed to “You need to study, or you’ll end up a crack whore like your cousin Jerry.”  Plus, we’re starting to get the feeling that some signposts are deliberately misleading.  Some, like “Algebra is important!” are there to keep us on the path whether we like it or not, and others, like “YOLO,” are trying to lure you into the weeds.  Then there’s the uber dangerous “Ahh, come on!  It’ll be fun!” which can go either way.  Follow this one too far and you could end up either hosting multi-level marketing seminars in your living room or sittin’ in an alley somewhere, smokin’ crack with your cousin Jerry.  It can happen!  Luckily, most of us manage to get through the 12-to-20 labyrinth and come out the other side as Adults.  And here’s where things settle down a bit.

As adults, we all see life’s signposts, and we all kinda know which direction we’re going.  Plus, even though we sometimes don’t admit it, we all know where the edge of the path is.  Mainly because, at some point in our lives, we’ve screwed up and found ourselves stumbling around in the weeds.  It’s not very pleasant.  That’s why, even though “Love thy neighbour” doesn’t apply to Fang, the 24/7 Death Metal music freak down the street, we don’t go down there and beat him over the head with his sub-woofer.  That’s off the path, over the hill and down the other side.  And we know if we go out there, there’s always a chance we won’t find our way back.  So, from time to time, we might covet our neighbour’s wife and her ass, and maybe even her riding lawnmower but we don’t do anything about it.  We just glance up at the signpost, look at the snarl of brambles and thorns and weeds beyond it, and roll over and go back to sleep. 

A Couple Of Big Mistakes!

Anybody who isn’t prepared to acknowledge that the world is messed up right now is probably still writing their emails with crayons.  Besides all the regular stuff – crime, poverty, injustice, starvation — we’ve got the big bogeyman Covid-19 hiding under the bed.  And that’s kinda supersized our inability to deal with this crap.  Admit it: agrarian reform is Sub-Saharan Africa is not exactly your #1 priority these days, is it?  The fact is, our world is in big trouble and we’re mostly worried about whether our facemasks make us look fat.  So, how did we get on the express bus to Disasterville?  Easy answer!  Back in the day, we made two fundamental mistakes, and ever since then, we’ve been muddling around, trying to fix them — without ever actually admitting we made them in the first place.  So just to clarify: here is where we screwed up.

We got rid of Latin – Anybody who’s ever studied Latin will tell you it’s a completely whacked-out language.  It’s full of things that just don’t make any sense.  For example, there are 3 genders, about 100 verb forms and God only knows how many declensions (whatever they are.)  It takes years of study, an incredible memory and dogged determination to learn Latin.  In fact, teachers used to have to beat little kids with sticks to make them learn the damn thing.  However, Latin had one thing going for it.  Because it’s so godawful difficult, it was the language of serious people.  That’s why all the serious stuff is written in Latin — legal stuff, (like habeas corpus and modus operandi) religious stuff, medical stuff, even sex stuff, plus astronomy, anthropology and all the other ologies.  Even today, everything on Earth that walks, crawls, flies, swims or grows has a real Latin name.  For centuries, anybody who wanted to be taken seriously did it in Latin.  Think about it!  Isaac Newton (totally serious guy) wrote Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica — not An Apple Fell on My Head.  But the very best bit is, Latin kept people who weren’t serious from jumping into the conversation with their 2-bit idiot opinions.  They didn’t know the words, so they had to shut up when serious people were talking.  Thus, the world had a quick and dirty way to distinguish the people who actually wanted to deal with the problems that plague our planet from the other folks who just wanted to flap their jaw.  It wasn’t foolproof, but it worked.

We invented YouTube – In the old days, if you didn’t know something and your friends didn’t know it either, you had two choices.  You could either spend hours in a library, looking at books, or shrug it off and go watch TV.  This separated the serious folks from the rest of us who had a life – even if it was only reruns of Gilligan’s Island.  These days, however, if you don’t know something, all you have to do is click YouTube, and suddenly there are 15 videos that answer your question.  The problem is those answers aren’t necessarily the right ones: they’re just the most popular.  Plus, a 12 minute video on how to make a missile out of a Pringles tube, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda doesn’t make you a rocket scientist.  YouTube has made information available to the masses, but it has also made a bunch of people (who should be watching Gilligan’s Island) into make-believe experts.  And these fugitives from Basic Cable think they can talk the talk with the big people.  But the very worst bit is there’s nothing to make them shut up, and they’re muddying the intellectual water for the serious folks who want to take a drink.  Not to mix too many metaphors, we simply can no longer distinguish the conversation from the noise.

So what do we do? 

Unfortunately, the horrible conclusion is until we bring back Latin and limit the influence of YouTube so we can distinguish the populo gravi from the fatuis, we’re pretty much screwed.

Disclaimer: We live in unsophisticated times, so I have to point out that this is satire.  I do not advocate banning YouTube or beating children with sticks, so please save your emails!  Cheers.

Thoughts On Complaining!

One of the cornerstones of our consumer society is customer service.  That’s that horde of underpaid/under-loved folks on the other end of the telephone whose sole mission in life is to listen to you complain.  But they haven’t always been there.  In fact, for 99% of human history, the world worked on the Roman adage: Caveat Emptor.  (Let the buyer beware!)  Then, in the early 20th Century, along came a guy named Harry Selfridge (British department store/Netflix TV series) and, in a moment of sheer madness, coined the phrase, “The customer is always right.”  Customer service was born.  Since then, the industry has grown exponentially, and today billions are spent every year trying to answer the question, “What’s your problem?”  Unfortunately, that’s very difficult because most people don’t know how to complain properly.  So here are a few ideas that might help you the next time you feel you’ve been ill-used by capitalism.  Good luck!

1 – Be honest (with yourself) – Do you actually have a complaint?  The truth is the vast majority of people who phone customer service don’t – and they know it.  They’re usually frustrated, angry, naturally grouchy and sometimes even dishonest.  Most people just want to vent, and customer service is a captive audience that can’t tell them to shut up and go away.  So, before you waste a lot of time (mostly your own) make sure your problem is legit.  (Helpful hint: you were the one putting on the brag about how smart you were buying a cheaper product!)

2 — Collect your information – If you bought something, you have a receipt.  Find it!  It has all the information you need – who, what, where, when and how much.  (Nobody cares why. See point 3.)  Without the facts (readily available) you’re goin’ to sound like an idiot, and that’s not going to help your cause. (Helpful hint: no receipt?  Your life just got a whole lot more difficult.)

3 — Be specific/Be brief – Nobody cares why you bought a new toaster– especially not the stranger on the other end of the phone.  They’ve heard more rambling stories (eight hours a day/five days a week) than you’ve had hot meals.  So, unless your previous toaster was abducted by aliens, forget the tale of woe, and get to the point!

4 — Don’t be a bully – Remember the person you’re talking to is trapped, and they can’t fight back.  They don’t own the company and they haven’t personally set out to cheat you.  Nor were they put on this Earth by Satan to thwart you.  Trying to push them around just because you can is not a good look — and that includes swearing, being vulgar, calling them names and/or threatening them or the company they work for.  Besides, when was the last time you went out of your way to help someone who just called you an asshole?

5 — Offer a solution – “So what are you going to do about it?” is not a solution.  It’s a playground challenge.  Here’s the deal.  If you haven’t figured out what you hope to achieve from calling customer service before you pick up the phone, don’t pick up the phone.

6 — Be reasonable – I had a friend who was a travel agent (back in the day when such things existed) and she told me a customer once called her and demanded a replacement vacation because it rained the week he was in Mexico.  Grab a brain, boys and girls: you’re not going to get a new house just because your doorbell breaks.  The one thing you need to do throughout this whole process is remain on the reality train.

Because:

7 – The Harsh Reality — The minimum wage voice you’re talking to has no authority to do anything except maybe – MAYBE – offer you a replacement or give you your money back – never both.  Normally, they’re just there to gather your information (see items 2 and 3) give you a bit of a verbal cuddle, and pass it all up the ladder.  That’s it!  So, the only rule of customer service is if, at any time, anyone suggests they’re going to give you more than that, take it, say thanks and get on with your life.