Monday, May 16, 2005

The Back-Breaking Straw

Here is another situation in which scientists/sociologists finally catch up to what several of us knew all along. In this case, the astounding discovery is that relatively minor annoyances can develop into major negative influences within a relationship when repeated over time, and can even contribute to divorce once a certain point has been reached.

The subject itself is applicable enough to many relationships, mine and Julie M’s included, and is sure to results in some laughs and elbowing among couples who read it. Men annoy women through flatulence, burping, and wearing ratty clothes. Women annoy men by talking too much, being late, and demanding reassurance about clothing. None of this is surprising and there are several other annoyances listed in the article.

What strikes me is how much this concept applies within other contexts. We’ve all heard news stories about how some goofball went on a rampage because he got onions on his hotdog after specifically refusing them, or some similar situation. Basically, it sounds like one little annoyance caused someone to go nuclear and the person looks like an idiot.

But what if he isn’t? For brevity, let’s assume the hypothetical “rampager” is a man by the name of Harvey – don’t ask me why, I just get a kick out of the name Harvey. Every day Harvey is in a rush to get to work and toils at a frenetic pace all day. He has 20 minutes for lunch, and the only hot meals available within that time frame are from the local hotdog vendor. The hot dog vendor is a graduate of the McDonalds School of Culinary Arts where the one cardinal rule is, If it has meat, it must have onions.

Don’t believe me? Go to McDonalds and order a hamburger without onions. You’ll either get a hamburger with little bits of onions left where they forgot to scrape off the bun, or you’ll see the cashier’s head spin around like in the Exorcist. It’s simply beyond their mental capacity to handle the “Meat with no Onions” concept.

So every day, poor Harvey runs downstairs to get a hotdog, taking great care to specify no onions. Every day, the hotdog vendor mentally blanks out the “no onions” part of the order since it’s impossible for anyone to order meat without onions. Harvey doesn’t have the time to argue about the order, eats the hotdog, and winds up with horrendous heartburn. He comes to absolutely dread lunch.

One day, Harvey trips over his son’s skateboard and spills his coffee all over his suit. No time for cleaning so he tries to dab himself off in the car on the way to work and rear-ends the vehicle in front of him which, amazingly, is driven by the Incredible Hulk. One ticket and a rumpled suit later, he makes it into work 15 minutes late and discovers that the client whose quote he was going to finish this morning has already screamed to Harvey’s supervisor. He must now do damage control with both the client and his supervisor, as well as catch up on all the other projects he was supposed to handle this morning and makes several mistakes along the way. Several clients are standing in line to scream at him and his supervisor is demanding constant status reports. He now has 10 minutes for lunch, runs downstairs, orders the hotdog without onions, and receives a foil package with onions leaking out from every opening. 45 minutes later, Harvey is being booked into the local jail while the hotdog vendor is in the hospital having a hotdog and several onions surgically removed from, well, his buns. Comedy aside, is Harvey still the idiot you’d take him for at first reading? Onions on a hotdog. It’s minor, but it can add up.

Let’s look at a more serious example. Tom is in the fourth grade. He’s neither physically nor socially adept. One day, Tom drinks too much water during recess and doesn’t make it to the restroom before the bell rings. The teacher won’t believe him when he says he’s really, really got to go. Tom winds up wetting his pants. His classmates find this hilarious and reward him with the nickname Toilet Tommy. This name haunts him into high school. He has few friends. Guys push him around. One day, after much haranguing from his mom, he screws up his courage and asks a girl out to the homecoming dance. She laughs and calls him Toilet Tommy. Tom walks quietly away. He goes home that evening and returns to school the next day with a gun.

Toilet Tommy. What a silly little name, and what horrendous results when applied over years.

Don’t read too much into this post. School was an unpleasant experience for me, to be sure, but nowhere near as bad as the “Toilet Tommy” scenario described above. My point is that the concept of little things adding up is hardly limited to marital bliss (or lack thereof). If there were a moral to apply here, I’d say that this shows the importance of the rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” At some point, it makes a difference.

1 Comments:

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