Normally, I begin my New Year by sharing a few weighty thoughts. But since I grazed through the past weeks, as if the holiday season were all-you-can-eat night at the Galloping Gourmand, I would prefer shedding weight to sharing it. In fact, my entire fantasy life right now revolves around figuring out a way to come down with about three weeks' worth of anorexia nervosa.
At the top of my New Year's resolutions is the determination not to go through the future bearing my own personal roast beef.
However, since it takes two items to make a list, I will go on to the second resolution: I hereby promise that I shall not go gently into the 1980s. I am about to become a cranky consumer.
Let me explain. For the past several years I have had a creeping case of consumer crump-out. I have fallen victim to despair, to what-good-will-it-do-to-complain-itis.
The everyday hassles that have tracked me, lo, these past 12 months are not that unusual or even that crucial:
The pilot light in my gas stove has developed the constancy of a one-meal stand.
The bank where I have done business for several years has sent me long intimate letters, robotyped personally to me, suggesting that I come to it for estate planning for my wife and children.
I had to replace an entire one-year-old shower attachment because a small plastic joint broke and they do not sell the joints separately.
The handle has fallen off my new front storm door; the blouse that I sent to be cleaned wasn't; the buttonhole in my new jeans has shredded; the newsboy has missed my doormat 17 days in a row; and by actual count, six people who were going to fix three things have yet to show up. One person who did show up I wish hadn't.
My first reaction to all of these routine events has been predictable. I composed brilliant letters and had wonderful telephone conversations in which I was totally vindicated. Bank vice presidents were abject. Manufacturers sent me new ovens, and shower-makers revised their entire policy about parts, and the plasterer re-did the bathroom.
Unfortunately, these exchanges took place entirely in my head.
The fact is that, like so many other Americans, I am increasingly thwarted at the anger gate by the absolute certainty that it isn't going to be worth the hassle.
I am sure that 1) I will not be able to find a person to talk to or write to, that 2) this person will neither care about my problem nor be able to help, that 3) it's company policy, that 4) the computer did it and that 5) after all is said and done, I am left with the choice of bad service or no service.
Under these circumstances you begin to feel that it's nutty to complain. It's clearly not sensible to waste your energy futilely fighting the system when you need every bit of it to deal with the system. It begins to appear that it's saner to cope with the world than argue with it.
But this is an absolutely insidious argument. I believe you have to pick your fights. But when you find you aren't picking any fights, you're part of the problem -- the problem of muted rage and ulcerous impotence, and disintegrating buttonholes.
People and product managers ought to be called to task for thoughtlessness, rudeness, incompetence and stupid shower heads. We ought to do it to keep our ire in shape and our anger going in the right direction and our principles propped up. If you have to rage powerlessly at an ayatollah, the least you can do is confront a computer operator.
So, in 1980, I'm going to be cranky. I'm going to complain -- and not just when it's a leaky roof or a screwed-up bill. I'm going to get irritated because the Democratic National Committee keeps addressing me as Mr. E. Goodman and because the light bulb with a year-long guarantee went pop in the night.
After all, hassling is good for the waistline.