Two hours later, he says to himself, “What a jerk! Why didn’t I complain and demand satisfaction?”
The pathetically spineless protagonist of this playlet was, of course, me. And I am still gnashing my teeth over my failure to express profound indignation and demand my money back, a replacement sandwich and a lifetime of free cream sodas. Instead, I suffered in resentful silence.
Complaining is a gift that many have perfected and used to great advantage. Unlike me, these highly skilled individuals lay waste to the world of dining out. I know of small children who have indignantly sent back burgers for being too overdone or underdone while their parents sent back bottles of wine for not being quite right or salads for being insufficiently crisp.
One friend who is a true genius in the field of terrorizing restaurants complains swiftly and without self-consciousness when something is culinarily amiss. In fact, he is known to make a shattering scene at restaurants at least once a month, often not even about his own meal but that of a dining companion.
Did anyone ever get double their money back or, more likely, just a sneer and a smirk?
After the embarrassing (to everyone else) screaming exchanges with the proprietor, he inevitably elicits apologies, a free meal and my admiration. But, as he points out, once he’s created such a tumult, he can never return to that venue of haute or middling cuisine. Recently, he had to move to another state when he ran out of restaurants that would let him in the door.
And what kind of complainer are you? If you open a package of chicken that you just bought at an area supermarket and practically pass out from the stench, do you bring it back? Cover the noxious aroma with strong spices, cook it, and hope no one notices? What about sour milk? Stale bread? Limp carrots? If you do go back to complain, do you boldly demand a replacement or make a timid request? Are you aggressor or victim?
Complaining, of course, need not be limited to food. Even the most unimaginative individuals are exquisitely capable of finding fault with: weather—hate it; contemporary music—hate it; work—hate it; movies—hate them; family and friends—all they do is complain!
At one time, stores used to house “complaint departments.” Now, those very same facilities are called “customer service” and the “retail associates” that compose the staff are the same sullen employees ground down by hour after hour of listening to outraged discontent. Surely, these martyrs of the mercantile world must have a high rate of PTSD.
In the golden days of complaining, purveyors of advertised goods promised, “If not completely satisfied, double your money back.” Did anyone ever get double their money back or, more likely, just a sneer and a smirk?
For many, and we know who you are, complaining is a way of life—never satisfied, always disappointed. One of the matriarchs of my family had a perpetual expression of disgust on her face. She had no trouble loudly expressing her displeasure with a meal that a long-suffering sibling or cousin had slaved over for days, announcing with great contempt, “Sorry to tell you, it’s no good!”
One friend, no slouch in the complaint department himself, revived the ancient tale of Sir Whine-a-Lot as an object lesson for annoying whiny children. Sir Whine-a-lot, the most fearsome, if now forgotten, knight of the Round Table, could slay dragons, subdue ogres and destroy castles through the potency of his whining. There was no defense.
Of course, it is possible to view complaining from a totally different perspective, as being a behavior having value equivalent to the essential psychological process of catharsis, of releasing wrenching agony through the constructive, palliative activities of whining, sniveling and kvetching. Since no one really wants to listen to whiners, snivelers or kvetchers, modern science has created professionals willing to listen to such. Those professionals are called psychologists.
For a few hundred dollars an hour, anyone with sufficient funds can have the pleasure of complaining without imposing on friends and family. Then, again, what are friends and family for?
I would like to think of myself as someone maintaining an aloof dignity regarding complaining, as someone who would never stoop to that ignoble pastime despite my regret at not sending back the aforementioned pastrami sandwich. However, there is one thing that I feel compelled to complain about all day, every day, and that’s that infantile, name-calling, women-groping, immigrant-hating, science-denying, dictator-loving, democracy-destroying, pathologically-lying, narcissistic, racist fascist currently occupying the White House.
There, I feel a little better.
Robin Schore lives in Hopewell Borough.