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by Julia Sneden

I’ve been possessed of great good fortune throughout my life. I was blessed with a loving family and some good, hard life-lessons. The latter may sound like an oxymoron, but I’m a believer in the idea that while no one likes hard life-lessons, they produce a more resonant human being. Nothing promotes growth better than the solid evidence of one’s own fallibility.

When I was a child, my parents encouraged (or discouraged) my independence, in appropriate measure. They shared their love of vigorous physical activity. They fed my curiosity and encouraged my mental growth. A kid couldn’t ask for a whole lot more. 

By all lights, I should have matured into a calm, capable, well-adjusted adult, which, mostly, I think I am. But there are a few things in life that shove me over the edge into cranky-old-dame territory, and push my usually normal blood pressure into the red zone.  

I’m not talking big things like human cruelty and injustice and poverty and pain. Those are things that make me incredibly sad, and even cause me to lose sleep, but they are part of the human condition, and afflict all of us.  

To use my grandmother’s term, it’s the “niggly” things that make me snarl. By “niggly,” she meant fussy little annoyances that you can’t do much about. To her, that meant getting a run in her stocking on her way to church, or having a lock of hair that slipped out of its bobby-pinned curl during the night and hung straight in the morning. Times were simpler, back then, and niggly things knew their place. 

These days, however, it sometimes seems as if there’s a conspiracy of niggliness out there, one that just delights in producing things to drive us around the proverbial bend. My own, personal list includes: 

  1. ... the kind of packaging that places objects on a bed of hard plastic, covered by a plastic bubble. Trying to get down to the staple-remover or whatever tool is in there demands patience of a kind that hasn’t yet been developed by the human spirit. (My husband tells me that some clever soul has actually developed a talon-like tool to deal with the problem. Guess who has added a talon to her Christmas list).
  2. ... manuals for electronics and/or automobiles. These things are written by experts who can’t descend to the level of the person who must actually use the device; they presume you know as much as they do. Or perhaps the manufacturers have taken pity on people with short attention spans, hired them to write, and then failed to check their work. Whole sections leap over really important facts, like why the battery screen on the Prius suddenly changes from blue to green in mid-drive, inducing panic in the first-time operator. Of course there’s always the possibility that confusing manuals are produced by those monkeys who, we’re told, will produce the entire Shakespeare canon, given typewriters and enough time.
  3.  ... kitchen implements that aren’t made to last. I have a short-handled spatula, probably from the ‘40’s, that my father-in-law used every weekend morning to flip his fried egg (and I’m sure it was also used by everyone else in the family for other things). The wooden handle long ago lost its paint, but the stainless steel part is as good as ever. Newer tools like ice cream scoops and spatulas may have plastic handles that last, but although the metal part starts life all bright and shiny, the coating soon wears off in ugly patches. The metal underneath doesn’t look like something you’d want in contact with your food, either. 
  4. ... movies shown on television by networks that use a lower corner of the frame to promote next week’s offerings. Poor Kyra Sedgwick: I can’t imagine that she’d want to pop up like some annoying leprechaun, crouched to spring, disrupting Casablanca, let alone Schindler's List. Talk about negative advertising! The Screen Actors' Guild needs to do something, pronto.
  5. ... kiddie beauty pageants with little girls dressed in sexy, most un-kid-like fashion. And their mothers worry about pedophiles?
  6. ... tall supermarket shelves. The average American woman is five feet, four inches tall. It is humiliating to have to ask for help to fetch something that should be placed within reach. Not only that: small-package items are put up top. Who are the biggest users of small packages? The elderly, that’s who. Their families are grown and gone, and they do not want the large, jumbo, or super-sized packages. Those of us who have begun to shrink, or whose bones are brittle, or whose balance isn’t what it used to be, don’t need to be struggling upwards to grasp what we need. 

Come to think of it, maybe my list isn’t really so niggly at all. Maybe it’s time for someone somewhere to start a list of niggles that could clue in those clueless makers of things that infuriate. I, for one, will offer up my little list to anyone willing to take on the challenge. 

Any takers out there?


©2009 Julia Sneden for SeniorWomenWeb


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