Friday, January 13, 2017

The ruinous price of pettiness.




I had a friend who was a famous writer at the height of his fame. He told me that instead of enjoying his success he was in “thought purgatory” over something his roommate was doing.

“What could that possibly be to distract you from all the fun?”

“He doesn’t buy any bar soap for the shower?”

“Wait. What?”

“He uses my bar of soap all of the time and never replaces it?”

“Why don’t you take your soap with you.  They sell those covered soap dishes.  I had one in boarding school.”

“I want to see how long it will be before he notices and buys a new bar. God help me, I want to escalate the problem.”

“Suppose you just let the bar get smaller and smaller until it is gone.”

“I’ve tried that.  At the end it was just a millimeter before it dissolved. I went without soap washing for a week."
 
“What did he do?”

“He went merrily along the same way and the operative word here is “merrily” because while I was being consumed with only one thought – driven by one idea amid all the good news that was pouring in to my voicemail and e-mail, he was blithe as a toddler in a field of daisies.”

“Why didn’t you Just ask him to buy some soap?" My friend looked at me as if I had an IQ of 20.  His voice rose a few decibels.

 “Why didn’t I just ask him to buy soap???  Why didn’t I just buy Amazon at $14?  Why didn’t I just stop smoking years ago?  I couldn’t!!!!!!!!!!” he screamed. “That would be so petty.  He would know that I had noticed and thought of it. He would know that I had been thinking about the bar of soap in the little nook in the shower stall. I would make me look small. Diminished.  I can’t tell him.  I compose that conversation in my head over and over but I can’t say it.”

“Why not?”

“I would be discovered as a petty miser who is squabbling over a 79 cent bar of soap.”

“By whom? The thoughtless roommate?  You are assuming his thoughts are all lofty.  Climate change.  Religion and ethics. You already have a mixed opinion of him so why worry?  And by the way, why label your request as petty or miserly and why label a simple request as a squabble?”

My friend, a brilliant writer, stopped talking and remained quiet for several seconds. Several seconds in conversations feels like a very long time.  Finally, he said.  “You are right on every level.  I will tell him tonight that we’re out of shower soap and please pick up a few bars.”

“There you go.” 

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