One of the pleasures of passing beyond the security of the middle years allotted to us is giving full voice to your petty grievances with hopes that they will be listened to, respected, even enjoyed.
Here’s a partial list of mine. I don’t like it when the announcer on a fancy music channel says, pseudo-intimately, “I’ve got some Beethoven FOR YA.” I hate that fake friendliness as much as I despise the false big smiles on the faces of models, male, female, or “fluid,” in group shots or fashion trade magazines. I miss the old sepia photographs with thoughtful, or even strained, expressions.
I was just in the Palmer House Chicago Hilton hotel, where the upstairs corridors are lined with nostalgic famous faces. Who sang or did comedy acts in its renowned Empire Room? Well, there was Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) and Nat King Cole, and Jack Benny and George Burns, and Victor Borge and Eartha Kitt, and many, many more – and they all looked elegant, not casual.
What else do I get a kick out of scorning? Too much “decaf,” not to mention “gluten-free,” and too many sentences on the radio starting with “Look!” and ending with “at the end of the day.” Cut it out, shut up, and speak carefully and without clichés, please!
I can’t bear to order a cup or a pot of tea when I have to work to get at it. I loathe being presented with a box of teabags, black, organic, and herbal. It’s a health hazard for me with my slightly arthritic fingers (or is it Dupuytren’s contracture?). I need a full range of tools, from pliers and scissors all the way to a chisel, to open up the damned box and liberate the lurking bag from its plastic prison and knotted tab/label. The British Empire, its crowned heads, prime ministers and even its cockney chaps have never forgiven us for our Colonials contemptuously dumping good tea – so they get even by shipping us inferior leaves ground up and stuffed into soggy sacks. It’s a terrible revenge and it’s turning me into a Tory!
And what about ale and lager presented as “lite?” Vile! Rye or Scotch or any honest whiskey poured onto a taste-killing pile of ice cubes? Feh!
So, to sum up, my future travel plans are … to escape from the hollow and insincere “luxuries” of our American culture and take refuge on the isle of “Despair.” You can get there via Bristol, just beyond East Providence and Warren, on a ferry heading toward Block Island with stops at Patience and Prudence islands. “Despair” is where you can find truth itself – grim, grey, grouchy, unsmiling. Then you – or I, at least – can sigh with satisfaction and a slight, sarcastic smile of contentment.
Remember when Julie London (her photograph is in the Palmer House) sang “Is That All There Is?” Well, my answer is, “Yes.”
I find comfort in escaping from the tyranny of the Big Grin. Gimme “grim” any day. Please don’t cheer me up. Let me enjoy my sorrows, my peevish annoyances, my kvetches. It’s my fuel and my gruel.
MIKE FINK (email@example.com) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.