Saturday, June 19, 2010

Minor Irritation Insurance

In a time when it's possible -- even mandatory -- to buy insurance against everything from catastrophic long-term health care to lost luggage, I've noticed a gaping hole. Why does no one offer minor-irritation insurance?

There are whole months when everything goes along okay except for the occasional broken arm or burst pipe. Those are bothersome, but if you're insured to your nostrils, you have the satisfaction of knowing that someone somewhere is going to have to pay for this. If nothing else, it gives you a sense that your account with the Universe is going to get squared.

But then there are days when the Universe hits you lightly but repeatedly in the face with a folded newspaper, and there's no one to turn to for compensation.

I think this is the kind of thing that results in people Going Postal, if you'll forgive the occupational slur. Two or three of these incidents, and a little light goes out of the day. Seven or eight, you begin to mutter unpleasantly at people you love. Fifteen or 20, and you find yourself in line to buy a Glock 9-millimeter and four boxes of cross-tops.

I believe society in general would be a lot safer if we could be insured against these kinds of incidents. So I suggest the following examples, with recommended compensation:
  • Turning on the TV in a hotel room and seeing Sean Hannity after you've put down the remote: Should be worth $12.76.
  • Packing only one novel for a long trip and discovering that you've already read it: $13.07
  • Discovering that you've already read it while you're flying Delta Airlines: $31.12
  • Hearing or reading the term barista. I want my coffee poured by a coffee-pourer, someone whose job description tells me that he or she knows what coffee is and has learned to pour it. A barista sounds to me like someone in the bull ring who makes faces at the bull to get it mad enough to gore the matador. Sort of a safer picador. Barista should be worth $1.19 and a free cup of coffee.
  • Seeing a white guy wearing his baseball cap backwards: $4.84
  • Hearing a white woman say, “You go, girl.” $7.43 and a pair of noise-canceling earphones
  • Being exposed to any white person of either sex who refers to friends and acquaintances as “homies.” $14.29 and short-term use of a tranquilizer dart and the gun to fire it.
  • Having to listen to “Stairway to Heaven” on the car radio: $3.39
  • Repeated exposure to the term “hat trick”: $1.71 per
  • Apostrophe pollution, as in the following sentence: “He picked up the suitcase by it's handle.” I mean, Jesus Christ. Is there anywhere someone so clueless that he or she would write, “He picked up the suitcase by it is handle.”? How simple is this, anyway? If you can't replace “it's” with “it is,” then write “its.” Let the apostrophe go someplace it's needed. It's not like there is an infinite number of apostrophes – every one that's misused deprives some poor writer of one he or she may need. This one should cost Mutual of Omaha $89.54.
  • Any inadvertent experience of karaoke. A few years ago in Taiwan, a drunken businessman grabbed the microphone in a karaoke bar, held onto it, and sang “My Way” six times in a row. The other drunken businessmen in the bar beat him to death with heavy metal ashtrays. If those men had known that each slurred repetition of “My Way” was worth, say, $7.32, that man would be alive today. Not that that would necessarily be a good thing.
  • Opening a menu and finding “Caesar” (as in Caesar Salad) misspelled. If people put half the energy into feeding the world that they put into finding wrong ways to spell “Caesar,” there would be Jenny Craig franchises in Sub-Saharan Africa. I'm no fan of big government, but I think there should be Caesar Salad Squads that do nothing but visit restaurants and check the menus, and they should have the power to force the ones that get it wrong to serve a salad they can spell. “Green,” for example. “Ceaser” should put $2.29 in my pocket every time I see it.
  • And while we're at it, Menus that use Capitals for each Important Word. I can actually sort out for myself what's important in an entree like Loin of Beef Simmered over an Open Fire in a Fragrant Sauce of Shallots. It's meat, right? It's got some stuff poured on it. $3.72, and hold the sauce.
  • Donald Rumsfeld. Fortunately, this one's over. $17.65
  • Politicians who use the phrase, “At this moment in time.” As opposed to what? A moment in space? In the ingredients for shampoo? In a quart of milk? $3.99, and a bargain at the price.
  • Anyone who employs more than five words to describe a bottle of wine. Double indemnity if they use the words “fruity” or “undertone.” So, $2.71 for six words or more, $5.42 for that bottle of Merlot with the fruity hint of blackberry, and $8.13 if it's also got an undertone of oak. If I want to drink oak, I'll throw some acorns in the Vita-Mix. Everything I want to know about a wine can be summed up in four words: It's red. It works.
I could go on for days, but I have to watch my blood pressure. If there are any minor irritations you'd like insurance against, send them to me, and maybe I'll put up a new list. If I choose yours, I might even throw in a visit to your local barista.

By the way, if Hannity's hairline were any lower, he'd be parting his eyebrow.

Tim -- Sunday


  1. A bar across the street from where I work used to offer karaoke on Thursdays. A former colleague would hear the wretched singing as he went out for his dinner breaks, and he thought, as I suspect many of us do, "What would happen if someone were to be shot dead while engaging in said awful singing?" He sold the result to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

    I like your insurance list, though I take a more punitive approach. I propose fines and reeducation for any customer who asks a barista for a tall, a grande or a venti instead of a small, a medium or a large -- and penalties yet to be determined for using panini as a singular.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. Tim, there is a typo in your post. Donald Rumsfeld should be $7.65, not $17.65. Of course, we all understood that the $7.65 is trillions--approximately the US National Debt when he left office, and like the wars he and his ventriloquist dummy started, it actually may never be over. I could go on, but I have to go see my local barista. And no, you can't collect on the use of the word. I am in Italy at the moment where real Italian coffee is the national fetish and the artists who prepare it are worthy of the title. I wish I could invite you to have a cup with me!

  3. Mothers in supermarkets who let their children run amok and then, in a pseudo-angry tone say, "If you don't stop immediately, I am going to count." Count what? How many things the child has knocked off the shelves? How many people who have turned their carts around because they can't get past the child planted in the middle of the aisle? Based on the public behavior of a significant group of children it seems that all too many mothers never acquired "The Look", the one that causes blood to freeze in the veins. Mothers who threaten "The Count" have already lost the war. (I apologize for the capitals, Tim, but sometimes they are needed.)


  4. How about logging on to Amazon books and finding that Glen Beck is on the top of their most popular book list. That is only slightly worse than when the top of the list was Sarah Palin. I don't want to know this and I certainly don't want to look at it every time I check in at Amazon. Worth at least 24.95 (to buy a book written by neither Glen or Sarah)


  5. I had a boss whose name should have been Mr. Malaprop (or Mr. Dolt, perhaps). "For all intensive purposes..." and "irregardless" should have been insurable.

  6. See? I knew I wasn't alone in the world.

    Peter, it never occurred to me to take reparations beyond the financial level. That's a whole new topic, sort of a very minor-league update of Dante's "Inferno" with all those ingeniously appropriate punishments. God, the things you could do to people with the love songs from Disney cartoons (100 listenings, through excellent earphones, to "A Whole New World" maybe?). By the way the story about the ash trays is true, and the murderers got light sentences, rather than the beatification they so richly deserved.

    In Starbucks, it's a perverse pleasure to say, "Gimme a big one."

    Annamaria, no fair that you're in Italy. I'd be willing to allow the use of the word "barista" in Italy, especially since I can't do anything about it anyway. And as grim as the world looks, it should be some comfort that Donald Rumsfeld may be the very last American politician to do that rigid 1952 thing with his hair.

    Beth, "The Count" should definitely be on the list, as should about 15% of the world's mothers of young children. Yesterday I saw a 4-year old (my guess) grab onto the handles of a glass door in a shoe store, lift his knees, and ride the door open and closed, open and closed, open and closed while his mother, obviously a disguised invertebrate, watched complacently. Finally a disgruntled male employee, undoubtedly calculating the size of the impending lawsuit, told the child to stop, at which point the mother went all livid about other people disciplining her child. When we get to that level, I like Peter's notion of going beyond financial compensation and straight to a double termination with prejudice. That kid ain't gonna grow up right.

    Anonymous, I could suggest that you reflexively buy one of my books whenever there's an obvious extraterrestrial on top of the Amazon list. That would really put things straight. I'm always flummoxed by those people selling so many copies because my instinctive prejudice is that the Beck and Palin fans can't read. Obviously, I'm wrong and we're faced with a literate idiocracy.

    Stan, "For all intensive purposes?" That's brilliant. I had a boss who was fond of saying, "One hand feeds the other" and once described the cars in an accident as having been "Torn from rim to rim." I ran out of the room to write that down.

  7. How about my boss who said, "That's water under the dam." Or "He's still green behind the ears." I had to get up and leave the meeting, unable to suppress a laugh, when he said, "I've got an ace up my hole and I'm sitting on it." When I walked out of his office, his secretary thought I was having a heart attack!

  8. £12.77 for people who say 'pacifically' when they really mean 'specifically'. I heard it so many times that I started to believe I was the one using it incorrectly !