This was the very first piece of writing I ever got paid for. It was the first thing I ever submitted. Fifty bucks that might as well have been fifty thousand. That’s how good it felt. The editor told me she bought it because I made her laugh and I made her think. High praise, indeed.
Since I’m guessing you didn’t subscribe to The Prairie Times at the turn of the century, here it is in all its glory.
Controlling an Uncontrollable World
I have control issues.
I have some weight issues too, but I’ll get to them in a minute.
You know how the jelly sometimes drips on the outside of the jar which makes your hand all sticky when, yet again, you have to put it away after the kids eat lunch? I hate that.
And how the refrigerator ends up being home to a gazillion little plastic containers of leftovers in various states of decay? I hate that too.
And how you go to the grocery store and some prepubescent man-cub (who, I’ll wager, has never bought groceries for a family of five) carefully arranges your bread at the bottom of the bag and then proceeds to load it up with four jars of spaghetti sauce, a two-pound bag of carrots, and a half-gallon of ice cream? Again, hate that.
And loud, obnoxious cell phone users talking about their latest run-in with their child’s soccer coach/teacher/pediatrician while shopping for cereal . . . don’t get me started.
So, you see it’s true. I have serious control issues and an obvious preoccupation with groceries, which leads me to tell you that I am trying to lose ten pounds.
In the greater scheme of cosmic events, it isn’t much of a crisis; the world certainly has bigger problems to attend to. But I turned forty recently and without any warning — POOF — gray hair, a map of the canals of Venice in blue veins on my legs, and an extra ten pounds.
I can’t control much of that, but I can control what I eat and how much I exercise. Theoretically anyway.
Therefore, of the three, the ten measly pounds seems like the problem to tackle. What’s the big deal, anyway? It’s only the size of a bag of flour. A really big bag of flour, but still.
I’ll count calories. I’ll exercise. Piece of cake. (Even my cliches are food-related. Do you see my cross to bear?)
In a perfect world, broccoli would taste as good as cheesecake and watching television would create negative calories.
But I live in an imperfect world.
Broccoli, while having many good qualities, does not taste as good as cheesecake. Watching TV with reckless abandon for so many years has helped to create this innertube around my mid-section. On the plus side, however, I can sing the theme songs in their entirety to both “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Addams Family,” including finger snaps.
And I could go on. And on and on. Ask my husband.
You’re probably thinking, assuming you haven’t already fallen from your chair from in extremis ennui, that I seem to have a healthy grasp on the situation and that I’m really no different from you. After all, we all have things in our lives we want to control.
But I’m guessing you’ve never demanded ice tea in your special Batman glass with a pre-determined number of ice cubes. Nor have you painstakingly demonstrated to your indifferent children the exact right way to vacuum the floor. And I’ll wager that you haven’t alphabetized your spice rack, your book shelves, AND your coupons.
Knowing this about me, you can now imagine what it’s like in the morning at my kitchen table while I read the newspaper.
Teenagers rampaging through schools with guns!
Pedophile monsters plucking children from their homes!
I can’t control any of this.
Some mornings I give new meaning to the term ‘apoplectic.’ I have an opinion about all of it, and I’m always willing to share.
I want to control these things I read about. It would be so simple if everyone would just ask me first. I’d be happy to tell them how to solve each and every problem they encounter. I really don’t think it would take too much effort; after all, I don’t want much.
I want people to be smart and kind to one another. I want people to be honest. I want children, elders and pets to be loved and cherished simply because they exist. I want there to be fewer people using drugs and more people using deodorant. I want fewer people in jail and more people in school.
I want drivers to enter an intersection only when they can complete their turn. I want medicine to be affordable for everyone. I want scientists to figure out how to make cheeseburgers and brownies health food — after they cure cancer and the common cold, that is. I want medical providers to know everything and never make mistakes.
I want weather forecasters to be impeccably accurate at all times. I want underwear models to look like me and the rest of the women who inhabit the real world. I want teachers paid more and athletes paid less.
I want schools to be places where young people challenge themselves and learn from their mistakes. I want everyone to learn to read when they’re five and continue to do so voraciously for the rest of their lives.
I want teenagers to smooch and hold hands at the movies and let that tide ‘em over for awhile. I want everyone to have a mind-altering college experience without drugs. I want an end to babies being born to alcoholic and drug-addicted women. I want boys to know there is a difference between being macho and being a man.
I want people to cry when they’re sad and laugh when they’re happy. I want people to slow down — in their cars and in their lives. I want people to quit saying “I forgot” as an absolute defense, whether it relates to the toilet seat or their infant left in a sweltering car.
It may sound contradictory to tell you that I want people to accept different points of view since it must seem like I’m one of those dames who thinks she’s always right. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m probably not always perfectly, in every instance, exactly right every single time.
I am, however, a dogmatic and opinionated dame, and you won’t believe this either, but I really don’t care when people disagree with me. Quite the contrary. I want people to be as passionate about their opinions as I am. I want people to be able to articulate why they believe something. I want people to tell me I’m wrong and to show me the proof. But if they won’t or can’t, then I don’t care what they think.
I come by this character trait quite honestly. I grew up in a large family and we ate dinner together every night. On the rare occasion that anything interesting ever happened to one of us, we would begin to chat about that. But then, when the conversation lulled, usually after about thirty seconds, my father would make some sort of proclamation.
It might be simple like, “Women should never be allowed to drive.”
Or “When a child gets to age thirteen, he should be sent away until he’s thirty.”
Or “Two-years-olds paint better than Jackson Pollock.”
Or “Mighty Mouse could never beat Superman in a fair fight.”
Straightforward, direct statements.
Or they might be more complicated like, “If it weren’t for those Bleeding Heart Liberals, the family farm would have survived.”
Or “As a direct result of Daylight Savings Time, crime has increased 68%.”
Or “Gideon v. Wainwright is a much more important court decision than Miranda v. Arizona.”
You had to have a certain amount of basic knowledge of current events to jump into the fray. But that’s exactly what we were expected to do.
The point of the exercise, unknown to me at the time, was to get us to form and articulate an opinion about the topic du jour, regardless of how absurd or whimsical. I was an adult before I realized my dad never believed any of the weird statements he made. Well, except the one about women drivers.
While people tend to adore my father, I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that they seem a bit leery of me. Imagine. I’ve learned to form opinions, I can certainly argue my point of view, and now I just want everything the way I want it. I want to be able to control as many things as possible, yet know which can’t be controlled. Is that so unreasonable?
For instance, I can’t control wildfires, but I don’t have to cook my hot dogs over an open grill.
I can’t end the drought, but I can xeriscape my yard.
I can’t force politicians to be honest, but I can investigate as thoroughly as possible the candidate I vote for.
I can’t identify teenagers who are going to go shoot up a school, but I can make sure my own kids have a bucketful of self-control.
I can’t keep terrorists from exacting their brand of retribution, but I can live and preach tolerance.
I can’t brand every pedophile with a scarlet letter, but I can keep a watchful eye on my neighborhood.
Maybe it’s like that old adage “think globally, act locally.” If I can keep a firm grasp on the issues in my little world, maybe that’s enough. After all, you have to eat your elephant one bite at a time, right? (Again with the food!)
So ten pounds . . . big whoop, as the kids say.
Who knows? After I control these ten pounds, maybe I’ll try to tackle bigger issues in my life. Crooked politicians? Crime? Low SAT scores? The lack of a really good delicatessen in my neighborhood?
Maybe this will be harder than it seems.
What was the sweetest money you ever earned?