The rain forecast for the weekend will surely ruin their cookout, which has been planned for nearly three weeks and for which they have already bought $50 worth of steaks. Have you seen the price of ribeyes lately? The butcher must have heard they had a cookout planned.
I have come to believe that this is more of a worldview than an attitude problem — in other words, I don’t think the complainers know how much they complain, any more than you know how many breaths you took today — and while this shift in paradigms makes me more sympathetic toward the chronic complainers among us, it doesn’t mean I want to spend any more time around them than is absolutely necessary. It’s just a drag, not to mention embarrassing in social settings.
When I was in college, I had a good friend who complained about everything, from her nattering professors to the sorry state of the produce section at Harris Teeter to the odor of her apartment, which smelled faintly of rancid cottage cheese — or maybe a pair of old bowling shoes.
But mostly, she complained about her boyfriend, who was always forgetting her pet peeves, which numbered in the hundreds and mainly had to do with him. She didn’t like the way he let his eyebrows grow out too much, like shrubbery, she said. She didn’t like the way he slurped his soup. She couldn’t stand the way he ate ketchup on all his food, even scrambled eggs and pinto beans. She didn’t like his record collection — how can someone not have a single Eagles album?
One day at lunch, I made the mistake of asking her why she stayed with him if he annoyed her so much.
“Who says he annoys me?” she said, without a trace of irony in her voice, though it must have been clear that I thought she was putting me on. “That man is about as close to perfect as a man can get ... don’t get me started on men.”
I realized then that she had no idea how often she complained about him, or about anything else. It was just her way, just as it was her way to turn even the most ordinary events of the day — such as driving from campus to a restaurant, or ordering food when we got there — into excruciating ordeals.
“I’m interested in the house salad, but I have just a few questions first.”
“Do you use iceberg lettuce, or romaine? Is it fresh? When were the vegetables cut? What fat free dressings do you have that aren’t too tangy? What kind of bacon do you use, and how is it prepared? The last time I ate in here, the silverware was filthy. Will you make sure our plates and silverware are clean this time?”
In the three years that I knew her, we never had a meal, took a class, watched a movie, read a book, or shared a single experience — even graduation — that was satisfactory. For her, complaining was simply a reflex, an automatic response to living. She seemingly had no control over it, and little or no awareness of it. She would complain about a movie for 20 minutes after seeing it — maybe an actress botched her Southern accent in one or two scenes, or the pace slowed too much in the second half — then, two weeks later, she would remember loving it.
Maybe this is the lot of all chronic complainers, to be perpetually disappointed and persistently critical. I am sorry life has poisoned them in this way, and sorry again to be complaining about them here and now — the irony in this is duly noted.
But sorry as I am, I am sorrier still for their boyfriends and girlfriends. And for the food service workers of America.