Life's Little Annoyances: True Tales of People Who Just Can't Take it Anymore by Ian Urbina

Henry Holt and Company 2005  208 pp. $15.00

Copyright © Steven E. Alford


Hurricanes, earthquakes, Republican adminstrations: they all seem a tad abstract, unless you suffer from them.  Cell phone bellowers, oily telemarketers, even that roommate who you can never catch eating your ice cream, these are concrete aggravations common to everyone.  Unavoidable as bad weather, they make our daily life irritating.  Life’s Little Annoyances tells us that while we can’t prevent invasions of our privacy, dignity, and time, we can, in our own small way, exact our revenge.

A New York Times reporter, Urbina wrote an article for the paper about people fed up with those cards that fall out of magazines, public television beg-athons, recorded messages that explain how important our call is, and so forth.  The article attracted a heretofore unknown and widespread community of malcontents who are mad as heck and aren’t going to take it any more.  They sent Urbina their own strategies for getting even.  Some of their responses are petty, even cruel, while others are deeply satisfying in their craftiness, and all are inspiring ways of wasting our time in the pursuit of emotional satisfaction against a faceless, mindless consumer culture and the self-entitled narcissists who inhabit it.

How about those egoists who leave their shopping cart in the middle of the aisle, expecting others to move it out of the way?  On entering the store, make a habit of picking up some condoms and other small and expensive items.  While moving it out of the way, discreetly drop them into the offending cart.  Chances are a few of them will make it home with the shopper.

You need two AA batteries from an electronics store and give the clerk five dollars in cash.  The clerk wants your name, address and phone number.  Cheerfully give it to him: “Ghossein Dhatsghabyfaird-Johnson, Washburn, Wisconsin, 14701 Northeast Wachatanoobee Parkway, Complex B, Building O, Apartment 1382b.”  When he completes his task, you can then ask him if he wants your current address instead: “Diluthian Heights, Mississippi, 1372 South Tinatonabee Avenue, Building 14C, Suite 2, Box 138201.”  Be sure to speak slowly.

How about that law office whose number is just one digit different from yours?  You politely ask the legal geniuses to change their number, but they refuse.  Have your answering machine give the correct number, and tell callers that if they complete the call, they will be entitled to a lesser fee from the law practice.

And the cell phone shouters!  Have cards printed up to hand to them.  “We are aware that your ongoing conversation about [say, your husband’s vasectomy operation] is very important to you, but we thought you’d like to know that it doesn’t interest us in the least.  In fact, your babbling disregard for others is more than a little annoying.”  Feel free to be creative about the subject of their conversations.

As we all know, some automobiles are much more important than our own, permitting their owners to park them across two spaces, at an angle, etc.  Cheer them up by leaving a note: “I’m sorry I hit your car.  The damage doesn’t look that severe,” followed by an illegible signature.  Or, feel free to adjust their mirrors to your satisfaction.

Urbina’s slim volume has plenty of white space and generous blank pages between each chapter.  Nonetheless, this padded little book is a gold mine of ideas, as well as web sites, to help us wage personal and quiet vengeance against those who annoy us.  If paying fifteen bucks for such a small book irritates you, well, let’s just say you’re imagination has been stimulated.

P.S.  Your roommate?  Coat the ice cream with a layer of salt.  Return it to the freezer.