Arts & Culture
The ladies’ room in the coffee shop on Broadway is still occupied, so when a middle-aged man and then a young boy exit the men’s room, I bravely decide to cross into male territory and use the facilities. When I … Read More
The ladies’ room in the coffee shop on Broadway is still occupied, so when a middle-aged man and then a young boy exit the men’s room, I bravely decide to cross into male territory and use the facilities. When I rejoin my three friends, fellow eighth grade mothers from my son’s school, I launch in: "So, two guys leave the men’s room but when I go in, there’s no toilet paper on the dispenser – but there are several rolls on the table, still unopened. Can you believe it? They couldn’t even be bothered to open it, forget about putting it on the dispenser. This means – " indignant pause, "they didn’t use toilet paper!" "They didn’t wash their hands, either," says Leslie, unperturbed, and I am almost put off my poached eggs. Male-bashing tends to be a popular sport amongst women, and since there’s so much material, it can go on indefinitely. Lately, I’ve been giving a good deal of thought as to why some people complain and others don’t. Is there a gender difference? A regional or ethnic difference? Okay, these are all generalizations but as a fellow Hoosier pointed out to me recently, how do you explain the guy from Fargo, North Dakota who was interviewed about losing his home and possessions recently in the flood and he stoically replied, "I’ll be okay." Isn’t this a typical male, Midwestern, can-do, repress-the-emotions kind of response? In my experience, if you ask a Midwesterner how he is, he’ll say, "Can’t complain." The only things that get the Midwestern dander up are the weather and whichever political party he hates. When I left the Midwest, I was uneasy even uttering the words "I feel". It seemed rather bold and embarrassing and self-indulgent, admitting one’s feelings. Then, as I became more comfortable with, and more aware of my feelings I started to take great pleasure in listening and contributing to the laundry list of life’s grievances: a nasty co-worker, a missed UPS delivery, a heavy period – do tell! Indeed, I would be content to continue to grouse about this shocking aversion men have to toilet paper, but Leslie is dumping four packets of Equal into her iced tea. Shirley advises Leslie that she should have the sugar, or agave, instead. It’s better for her. Lois then says, "Do you know why everybody hoards Passover Coke? Not having heard of Passover Coke or hoarding thereof, I shake my head. "It’s made of real sugar, not corn syrup. Corn syrup is a corn product and it’s not kosher for Passover," Lois explains. Passover reminds me of complaining, and I somehow steer us back to my current obsession. "In the Haggadah," I say, "there’s the song ‘Dayenu’ ["Enough"]- even if God had just given us the Torah, or just brought us out of Egypt or just given us the Sabbath or whatever, it would have been enough. It’s a song all about gratitude but what’s the matter with complaining? Why do some people complain and some don’t?" I mention my Midwestern theory, and Leslie frowns, "They don’t complain in the Midwest? What do they do?" I shake my head, "No, they drink." Back home, drinking to swallow down or drown uncomfortable emotions is considered quite acceptable, and I’ve been to any number of funerals where, when the bereaved are asked how they are, they will respond, "Holding up." Immediately after the funeral, though, a throng gathers at the local VFW and beer bottles are opened, and whiskey is mixed with corn-syrup Coke. These stiff-upper-lip folks might fare better if they exchanged the alcohol for professional mourners, women in the Bible and the Far East who were paid to weep and wail and eulogize at funerals, encouraging of a public display of emotion from others. Now, Lois wisely points out that people who complain that the coffee is too hot or that they had to wait in line "actually feel entitled". She’s right, of course. Some types of whining – the housekeeper didn’t iron the sheets properly – is nauseating, though I admit I find it fascinating, nonetheless. I think part of the reason I like to hear other people complain is because I discover a whole slew of things that I should be upset about. How had it not occurred to me not to be satisfied with my table in the restaurant? When you grow up in the Midwest, you’re a Dayenu kind of a person – it’s enough if I have my health/children/food on the table. Low expectations insure that you won’t be disappointed. That’s why I surround myself with smart friends who are in touch with their feelings and know to be outraged at injustices small and large, personal and political, and who aim higher and demand that things be better. Seriously, we’d still be slaves in Egypt if somebody (like Moses) hadn’t said, "Hey, don’t be grateful for being a slave! This sucks!" Often, the person who is being taken advantage of is so used to it that he doesn’t realize that he has the right to want things to be different. It takes somebody outside of the situation to complain on his or her behalf. I’m not sure where the Middle Eastern professional mourners meet Midwestern stoicism, but then Leslie reminds me of our friend Brooke, a convert and Midwesterner, whose husband is Israeli. Their children dip pasta in hummous, a funny melding of two cultures. So maybe it’s possible to strike a balance between gratitude and griping, between kvetching about missing toilet paper rolls and hiding your emotions behind Jack Daniels and heart attacks. For now, it’s Passover, spring, a time of redemption and even the Hoosiers are happy that the weather is better. I have my health, and my family and friends are gathering around my table for the Seder, there’s food on the table, some Passover Coke, and so I say, Dayenu to all of that. It’s truly enough. Can’t complain.