Pet Peeve of the Month

640px-Poster_for_Quo_Vadis_(1913_silent_film)

I’ve decided to designate the 20th of each month as the day I’ll publish a recurring post called “Pet Peeve of the Month.”

Yes, I’m aware that the Republic is burning, that Bill Barr is making John Mitchell look like Atticus Finch, that police throughout the nation are reprising the Chicago Democratic Convention of ’68 while idiotic anarchists topple and deface statues of Ulysses S Grant because they hate the Confederacy. Not to mention a global pandemic dispatching hundreds of thousands of human beings and laying waste to world economies. Given all this, my carping about minutiae might strike some as self-indulgent, Nero picking up his Stratocaster to lay down some riffs as flames devour the nation.

Well, what do you expect?  I’m a boomer, born in the waning days of the Truman Administration, the beneficiary of parents striving to provide a better life than the ones they suffered during their Depression Era childhoods when dressed in rags they scoured the Dickensian streets of their sepia-tinted cities looking for coppers, someone just a bit too young to go to Nam, someone pampered by indulgent college professors who inflated grades to the proportion of Macy Thanksgiving Parade cartoon balloons, someone who spent his working years at an posh independent school where the only fight he ever witnessed ended abruptly when a bell signaling the end of lunch rang. Of course, with a bio like that, I’m bound to be self-indulgent.

Anyway, let’s get to the main feature, the petty thing that this month irks the hell out of me.

June’s Pet Peeve

It really, really bugs me when I’m watching a PBS nature series and the narrator says stuff like the panther chameleon’s eyes have been engineered by nature to rotate independently as they stalk their prey.

Panther chameleon, in red + yellow stress colors

Panther Chameleon (photo by Robbie Labanowski)

Really?  Engineered?  Does the creature depicted above seem to you to be the product of a drawing board?

Note to the science writers at Nature: check out Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species.  Natural Selection ≠ Engineering.  Natural Selection is a horrifically random process that includes genetic mutations, asteroids colliding with the Earth, etc.  Your use of the word engineering suggests the decrepit teleological intelligent-design argument (as if having an asteroid smack into the planet is a nifty way for an engineer to facilitate the rise of mammals).

I’ll give Robert Frost the last word on this topic:

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

 

Now, that’s what I call engineering: a Petrarchan sonnet that through pattern debunks the argument from design.

 

 

On the Road to Curmudgeonry

Although I don’t think my cantankerousness is robust enough to earn me the title of curmudgeon, I do, like everybody else, have my pet peeves. With any luck, however, as old age increasingly enfeebles me and the Charleston area accumulates more visitors and residents so that I am exposed to more and more Late Empire Americans, I may end up producing enough bile to earn the designation of curmudgeon and join the ranks of my beloved WC Fields, HL Mencken, and Winston Churchill.

WC Fields

WC Fields

To be a curmudgeon, I think you once had to be an idealist, an idealist who got taken, taken by a lover, a con artist, a pastor, or merely to summer camp against your will.

Also, Curmudgeons tend to be physically unattractive (see above list) since very attractive people have a much easier path in life. They get out of more speeding tickets, have more audience members pulling for them in game shows, enjoy more frequent admiring looks from strangers, etc. Of course, if you happen to be good-looking and long to be a curmudgeon, don’t despair. Old age will undoubtedly ameliorate that problem as these two before and after photos of Ginger Rogers demonstrate.

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In my case , I can’t blame falling short of curmudgeonry on rugged good looks or athletic prowess. No, I blame my wife Judy Birdsong for holding me down, providing me with love and care (not to mention family money) so that I’ve lived a prosperous, fulfilling life doing more or less as I please. It’s really hard to hate the world while you’re gazing out over a gorgeous river view

Now, if she had run off with the produce man at Piggly Wiggly or suffered from a shopping disorder or developed a penchant for crystal meth, I no doubt by this time be bitter enough to make Andy Rooney look like Mr. Rodgers.

Yet, I do have the potential. Just this afternoon as I rode my bike to the abandoned Coast Guard Station at the end of the island (sounds like a Hardy Boys’ adventure site), rather than enjoying the scenery, I found myself grumbling over a number of irritants from which a competent Buddhist would detach himself.

In fact, when I got home I compiled a list of my 9 most cherished irrational hatreds, and I thought I’d share them with you because, as they say, disgruntlement enjoys company. The list begins concretely but becomes more abstract as we hit home.

#9 – Golf carts on city streets, especially golf carts driven my attractive couples with black labs. I encountered 5 golf carts on my 6 mile ride, one of which I had to pass because it was going so slowly. I dunno, there’s something smug about puttering around on one of those goddamn things. I don’t mind the old crone who feeds the islands’ feral animals using one because she’s got to be at least 90 and probably is unable to operate an automobile, but the rest of you, get a blanking bicycle.

#8 Hummers – These monstrosities, the anti-golf carts, roar self-indulgence, scream fuck the planet, exude a menacing militarism that give drivers of Mini-Coopers like me the heebie-jeebies. Plus when they park next you, you need a periscope to back-up safely into traffic.

#7 Leaf blowers – gardening’s equivalent of the Hummer, these infernal replacers of the rake create a Dresden-scaled bombing assault on the ear drums of anyone a hundred yards away. Plus, they simply blow leaves into gutters or the woods without properly recycling them, robbing future generations of the pleasant aroma of burning leaves in autumn (and the occasional exciting newspaper story of someone’s house burning down).

#6 – Bottle rockets – These goddamn irritants ought to be illegal. Wait, on Folly they are illegal. Nevertheless, for hours on end on holidays, they’ll scream their way upward and pop their pops, sprinkle their colored fire, and terrify dogs, frogs, marsh birds, minks, otters, deer, and schizophrenics.

#5 – The sound and smell of dentists’ drills doing their work.

 

#4 – The idea that the greater the number of people praying for something, the more likely God will grant the prayers. For one thing, God is a monarch (that’s why he’s called Lord) not a little-d democrat. When little Bentley flips his three-wheeler and breaks his neck, I doubt if lighting up the switchboard of God’s consciousness is going to make a difference if Bentley recovers or not. It’s really not giving God too much credit, is it? I say pray, but pray for wisdom, guidance, “thy-will-be-done.”

#3Forcing people to use euphemisms. Hey, people, words that describe unpleasant phenomena take on negative connotations, and no matter how many euphemisms you come up with to replace those tainted words, their shelf-life of political correctness is going to be short. Already, I’m getting dirty looks whenever I describe my flip phone as “a special needs phone.”

#2Patriotic bumper stickers. This irritant seems to be less of a problem now that Obama is president. For whatever reason, I don’t see as many “Proud to Be an American” stickers brandished on the bumpers of pick-ups, but guess what, Daddy-O, if you had been born in Iran, you’d be proud to be an Iranian.

#1Numbered lists on the Internet like the 10 worst Movies no one should have to ever sit through again and my 9 most cherished irrational hatreds. That’s a meme that’s got to go. Use your imagination you hit-starved bloggers!

Well, dear readers, there you have it, my stab at curmudgeonry.