Humans are rank happy. Scientists assign levels to winds, hurricanes and tornadoes. Earthquakes have magnitudes. Pollsters rate candidates and topics in order of voter approval.
What’s the benefit of giving everything a number?
Warnings, perhaps? Would you dive into the storm cellar faster for an F4 tornado than for an F1? Not me. Any whirling winds and I’m heading down there.
Would I vote for someone because more people say they like him than her? No.
And how does it help to know after the fact how large a quake really was? If you were there, you know. If you weren’t, you never will.
But one particularly aggravating day, I tried ranking those instances when my life seems to have a real grudge going. When no matter what I do, my existence is totally beyond my control. When little life-trolls are conspiring behind my back, chuckling and saying, “How can we make our marionette really miserable today?”
Let me count the ways — the little, everyday toe kicks of life that can add up to a really sore butt:
Closing the garage door, and having it go back up again on its own (which we didn’t discover until we got home from Cayucos). Pulling five socks out of the drawer, and none of them match. Concurrently dropping your keys in the trunk and slamming down the lid, and absolutely knowing the other set of keys is in Cincinnati. Taking the mayo out of the fridge, and four partially empty containers of yogurt fall out on the just-mopped floor. Upside down. Clicking “send” for a long, important e-mail, only to have it disappear into cyberspace forever — and, of course, I hadn’t kept a copy elsewhere on my computer. Going downstairs and then remembering that the door is locked and the key’s upstairs. Grabbing a pen to quickly take down notes about some breaking news (who, what, when, where, why and how), but the pen has no ink.And isn’t it amazing that a pen without enough ink to write can still leak gobs of indelible goo all over the junk drawer, my pocket or my brand new briefcase?
On the life list of petty annoyances, how would I rank an empty pen?
Well, at least we can have some control over that one. The Tanner household has a firm, new commandment: If someone picks up a pen that doesn’t work, it gets thrown out. Immediately.
I just love the virtuous feeling of power and freedom when I actually throw away a dead pen. It’s second cousin to cleaning out a refrigerator right before the garbage truck arrives.
Now, we’ve all tried to milk a pen for every last drop of ink, right? And what for? To get one more grocery list out of a Holiday Inn pen we took from our room 15 years ago while we were on a vacation we don’t even remember any more?
“I’m sure there’s still ink in there. If I keep trying, I’ll get it started, I know I will.”
I’ve threatened to buy fillers for empty pens. But in those rare instances when I’ve actually remembered to take the pens with me and into the store, I’ve never, ever found fillers that fit.
And what did I do next? I brought the dead pens back home with me and put them back in the drawer, thinking I’d have better luck next time.
Eventually, we envision our home could be a dead-pen-free zone.
Just imagine: I’ll never again press the pen tip so hard on the piece of paper that I etch the message onto the surface of the wood-topped desk.
No more waving a pen filler over the gas flame to soften the ink. Do you have any idea what a mess it makes when the flame inevitably melts the plastic and the now plentiful ink flows all over the burner, to be immediately and permanently seared onto the surface?
We dream of the gilded day when all the dried-up, worn-out Bics of life are gone. And in the meantime, I’ll keep on ranking, even if I’ll never know why.
E-mail Kathe Tanner at email@example.com. Read more “Slices” at thecambrian.com.