Sunday, August 19, 2007

It's OK — we're just badly screwed

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If there’s one fundamental principle I live by, it’s to see the good in everybody. It doesn’t matter who people are. Take upbeat people, for instance. Most optimists don’t mean to be annoying — they just haven’t had a good talking-to yet to depress them. See? You take a negative thing and you make it a positive!

Here’s an example. On a recent commute home from work, I was stuck in traffic for about 15 minutes behind a white Dodge van with this silly message painted on the back:

“Why Worry?”

It touched a nerve. Worrying is one of my most cherished hobbies.

If I were a negative person, I’d roll my eyes at that sort of carefree brainlessness. But no, I like to see things in a more positive light. I try to take that cynicism and push it way, way down inside my body, down into my feet, where it gets transferred to my car’s gas pedal and is later expelled as toxic carbon monoxide emissions.

The guy in the “Why Worry” van probably just wasn’t aware of the fact that there are actually thousands of awful, horrifying things he should be worried about right now. He wasn’t being silly on purpose — he just doesn’t know any better!

If I ever see him again, I’m flagging him down. We’ll pull over somewhere safe and brightly lit, and I’ll share with him this list I’ve drawn up, reasons explaining exactly why he should be worried:

• Let’s start with the universe. Let’s just get that out of the way. Our best science tells us that the planets and stars and solar systems and nebulae and black holes and quasars — basically, like, all objects everywhere — are all flying outward from a single point. And someday, the universe could stretch apart in dimensions so radically different than we know now, futzing with the Earth’s orbit and sending the planet either hurtling away from the sun or into it. Both options — either being wicked cold or wicked hot — pretty much stink, particularly if you’re investing for the long term and can’t withdraw your money early without penalty.

• This, by the way, is assuming a comet the size of Finland doesn’t slam into us first.

• Want something to really keep you awake at night? Right now, somewhere in America, at least one kid is kneeling on the edge of his bed with hands folded, begging God to please, please, please let him be on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

• Plus, he’ll be so busy doing it that he won’t read a book.

• Vice President Dick Cheney’s approval rating is in the mid-teens. Don’t feel relief. That means around 15 to 18 percent of people polled are still clinging to the belief that this insane, shambling, flesh-eating Republizombie is doing “a good job.”

• I’m looking right now at someone in my office who looks like she’s about 9 years old. There’s another one, a guy, a few desks away who looks to be around 11. The other day, talking to a guy my age, I found myself absently referring to them as “those kids.” The worrisome part? They’re not really “kids” — they’re college interns. I got old and nobody told me.

• Speaking of kids, they’re not just wearing flannel pajama bottoms as public attire anymore. You want something to worry about? I saw a young woman wearing both flannel pajama bottoms and a pajama top. Like a whole Heathcliff Huxtable pajama ensemble. Also, flip-flops. This is distressing. If clothing habits are going to get even more casual, there’s not much room left — and I don’t mean nudity. That actually takes some effort. No, the only way forward from here is feety PJs and diapers.

• This one hits me every so often. If somebody in your office picks his nose and then touches the doorknob, everyone else who touches that doorknob just picked that guy’s nose, too.

• Worry about this the next time you’re in the car. If tomorrow the price of potato chips suddenly soared to $6 a bag, I’d be fine. I could eat more salad, more chicken, more eggplant, or what have you. If the price of gas suddenly soared to $6 a gallon tomorrow, I’d have to pay it. Either that or I’m fired. I can call out sick, but I can’t call my boss and say I’m too cheap to come in. All my car runs on is gas — try as I may to get it to run on love, the engine won’t turn over. There’s no public transportation that can get me to work. No carpools, either. I can’t ride my bike 45 miles in the morning. And since the price of gas is more or less arbitrarily defined, there’s almost nothing to say it won’t be $6 a gallon tomorrow. Not worried yet? People used to believe $3 a gallon was unthinkable. I paid that last week.

• I love to cook, but there’s no relief from worries when I’m cooking, either. Every time I use my frying pan, the one I use to sauté nearly everything, that the Teflon coating is almost all gone. Flaked off. You know where that Teflon’s gone? Yes, that’s right. Just below the navel, two inches to the left, collecting in a hard, black lump. Probably everyone has a frying pan like that lying around. It’s sitting in your stomach, too.

• Tarantulas in your shoes. You never know. That’s why you have to poke at them a little with a long stick before you put them on.

• I can’t grow a decent lawn. That’s not really worrisome in and of itself. But if I can’t grow a decent lawn, how can I expect to raise a kid who will not only be interesting and attractive and not crazy, but who can get into Harvard and win the Nobel Prize I’m never going to win?

• Sometimes there are worries within worries. I was bored at work today, so I went online and asked Google what percentage of Americans believes in Bigfoot. Not that I do — I just wanted to know. After about 30 seconds of research, these are the figures I came up with, in numerical order: 15 percent, 17 percent, “about 35%,” “a plurality,” 54 percent, 57 percent, 57.96 percent 59 percent, “a lot,” 74 percent, and “about 89 percent.” First, it worries the hell out of me that even 1 percent of people believe in Bigfoot — even just one guy somewhere believing in Bigfoot is a big problem. Secondly, it worries the hell out of me that the Internet can’t even provide a straight answer to a bogus question.

• Want a worry that’s more specific? Some study from Australia just published claims that having a laser printer in your office is as dangerous as having the room full of second-hand smoke. I don’t know how much stock I put in this, but for the record, at my job, I’m in charge of changing the printer cartridges. Just want to state that now, in case there’s a lawsuit later.

• And speaking of that, there’s that cat at the Providence nursing home who can allegedly predict people’s deaths by hanging around them. I have two cats. They hang around me all the time. You tell me — what else am I supposed to think?


createjoy said...

Good Morning! This is very good. You made me laugh. I am working on advanced worry certification. I threw my teflon pan away, avoid thinking about the universe and live in CNY to avoid large arachnoids. We can't grow a nice lawn without the use of serious chemicals (wastewater contamination, songbird depopulation, my dog licks his paws, small children next door, I could go on...) and I can assure your it is not predictive of parenting skill. We left our first kid on Cornell's doorstep yesterday... New worries. I'm emailing you to avoid emailing her. Good column!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the laughter. Great column! Now relax, or your going to give ulcers to your ulcers. Oops, I guess this could be one more thing for you to worry about. Sorry... B

Joe Herrera said...

You worry too much. I used to be like you. If you enjoy it and it makes you happy, you should continue. But if you'd like to worry a little less, here's what I did and it worked really well.

Read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The whole series. It's a 5 book Trilogy. You'll probably want to read it a second time to fill in all the gaps from the stuff you didn't absorb the first time through.

If you're still worrying after that, let me know. We'll take the next step.

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