Picking up where we left off the other day...
As it turned out, I had to rent a second car before leaving for Vegas. (Another long story.) Upon reaching the rental counter, I ask, as I always do, "How much of a hold do you place on the credit card?"
"Just the cost of the rental," comes the reply, "plus $50."
"Are you sure?" I ask this because past experience makes me dubious.
When I get home and check my account online, there's a $250 hold for a $23 rental.
Here, in brief, are a few more highlights from just the past week or so:
- I buy a not-inexpensive Paula Deen percolator that, no matter what coffee I use, cannot be induced to make coffee without grounds in it. It goes back to the store...
- ...where the sales clerk screws up the return, explaining cheerfully that because she input the information improperly, she'll have to issue a store credit. When I explain that I paid cash and I'm therefore expecting cash back, she sighs and summons a manager in a tone of voice that suggests someone has just slipped a long strip of extra-coarse sandpaper into her undies.
- The reason I need the percolator in the first place is that each of the past two electric coffeemakers I've bought, by Mr. Coffee and Black & Decker, broke or otherwise began malfunctioning within a few months. (Sorry, I don't see why I should have to spend $150 or more for a coffeemaker in order to get one that works.) The latter one, to which I reverted after returning the Paula Deen model, literally takes 20 minutes to make an eight-cup pot of coffee. And yes, I clean it.
- The laptop on which I am typing this post crashed after just 90 days. That's not as bad as the fact that the recovery disks that came with the machine, which supposedly restore the computer to first-bought condition, introduce all sorts of errors that remain with us as we speak. (Every time I restart the damn thing, it spends a maddening two minutes looking for C:\Windows\System32\cmd.exe, then tells me it can't find the command that "hides" it.)
- I could list at least a half-dozen additional snafus, major or minor, but I'm pressed for time today—I'm due to meet my grandson at the (unheated) heated pool that the condo complex lists in its promotional matter—and I think I've already made my point anyway.
Forgive me for generalizing, but my gut tells me these aren't random events. And to the extent that I'm correct in that assessment, I blame complacency and the overall quality of American life. It strikes me that there are (too) many sectors of society where people just drift along, sleepwalking through their days. There's little initiative—little sense of ownership or personal investment—and there's zero extra effort. Indeed, I think in many settings you'd be hard pressed to find any effort. And though one doesn't want to overreach, I think this is linked to the American sense of entitlement and, yes, optimism: the idea that life is basically good, "it'll all work out" somehow regardless of whether or not you try, la-di-da. I'm not suggesting that we should execute or even cane customer-service clerks who foul up easy returns (well, maybe cane them), but I sometimes suspect there'd be a lot fewer mistakes if we did. There's such a thing as life being a little too free-and-easy.
Apropos of which, some time back I wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal about the climate of Happyism that has infected the American workplace. The theory behind occupational Happyism is that cheerful, relaxed workers are more productive than uncertain, anxious ones. I point out in the Journal piece (as well as in my article in the current issue of Skeptic) that there is no hard evidence for that assumption; it's another one of those intuitive notions that "sounds good,"* and is very much in keeping with today's "theories" about positivity and empowerment. In truth, what little evidence there is seems to point the other way: that people do better at whatever it is they do when they're on their toes.
If there's an upside to the current economy, maybe it's the fact that many folks are losing their sense of security about their jobs. Maybe we'll all begin taking our responsibilities more seriously.
* much like the notion that pumping kids full of self-esteem will make them better spellers and number-crunchers. Uh, not quite.