Help with Annoyances Revenge Stories

My friend Ian Urbina recently wrote a story about coping with life's annoyances for the New York Times. Here is a clipping:

No Need to Stew: A Few Tips To Cope With Life's Annoyances
By IAN URBINA

When Seth Shepsle goes to Starbucks, he orders a ''medium'' because 
''grande'' -- as the coffee company calls the size, the one between big 
and small -- annoys him.

Meg Daniel presses zero whenever she hears a computerized operator on the 
telephone so that she can talk to a real person. ''Just because they want 
a computer to handle me doesn't mean I have to play along,'' she said.

When subscription cards fall from magazines Andrew Kirk is reading, he 
stacks them in a pile at the corner of his desk. At the end of each month, 
he puts them in the mail but leaves them blank so that the advertiser is 
forced to pay the business reply postage without gaining a new subscriber.

Life can involve big hardships, like being fired or smashing up your car. 
There is only so much you can do about them. But far more prevalent -- and 
perhaps in the long run just as insidious -- are life's many little annoyances.

These, you can do something about.

To examine the little weapons people use for everyday survival is to be 
given a free guidebook on getting by, created by the millions who feel 
that they must. It is a case study in human inventiveness, with occasional 
juvenile and petty passages, and the originators of these tips are happy 
to share them.

''They're an integral part of how people cope,'' said Prof. James C. 
Scott, who teaches anthropology and political science at Yale University, 
and the author of ''Weapons of the Weak,'' about the feigned ignorance, 
foot-dragging and other techniques Malaysian peasants used to avoid 
cooperating with the arrival of new technology in the 1970's. ''All 
societies have them, but they're successful only to the extent that they 
avoid open confrontation.''

The slow driver in fast traffic, the shopper with 50 coupons at the front 
of the checkout line and the telemarketer calling at dinner all inflict 
life's thousand little lashes. But some see these infractions as precious 
opportunities, rare chances for retribution in the face of forces beyond 
our control.

Wesley A. Williams spent more than a year exacting his revenge against 
junk mailers. When signing up for a no-junk-mail list failed to stem the 
flow, he resorted to writing at the top of each unwanted item: ''Not at 
this address. Return to sender.'' But the mail kept coming because the 
envelopes had ''or current resident'' on them, obligating mail carriers to 
deliver it, he said.

Next, he began stuffing the mail back into the ''business reply'' envelope 
and sending it back so that the mailer would have to pay the postage. 
''That wasn't exacting a heavy enough cost from them for bothering me,'' 
said Mr. Williams, 35, a middle school science teacher who lives in 
Melrose, N.Y., near Albany.

After checking with a postal clerk about the legality of stepping up his 
efforts, he began cutting up magazines, heavy bond paper, and small strips 
of sheet metal and stuffing them into the business reply envelopes that 
came with the junk packages.

''You wouldn't believe how heavy I got some of these envelopes to weigh,'' 
said Mr. Williams, who added that he saw an immediate drop in the amount 
of arriving junk mail. A spokesman for the United States Postal Service, 
Gerald McKiernan, said that Mr. Williams's actions sounded legal, as long 
as the envelope was properly sealed.

Sometimes, small acts of rebellion offer big doses of relief.

''I've come to realize that I'm almost addicted to the sick little 
pleasure I get from lashing out at these things,'' said Mr. Kirk, 24, a 
freelance writer from Brooklyn who collects and returns magazine inserts.

When ordering a pizza from Domino's, Mr. Kirk says he always requests a 
''small,'' knowing that he will be corrected and told that medium is the 
smallest available size. ''It makes me feel better to point out that their 
word games aren't fooling anyone,'' he said.

The Internet offers a booming trade to help with this type of 
annoyance-fighting behavior. For example, shared passwords to free Web 
sites are available at www.bugmenot.com to help people avoid dealing with 
long registration forms. To coexist with loud cellphone talkers, the Web 
offers hand-held jammers that, although illegal in the United States, can 
block all signals within a 45-foot radius.

Mitch Altman, a 48-year old inventor living in San Francisco, said that in 
the last three months he has sold about 30,000 of his key-chain-size 
zappers called TV-B-Gone, which can be used discreetly to switch off 
televisions in public places. ''When you go to a restaurant to talk with 
friends, why should you have to deal with the distraction of a 
ceiling-mounted television?'' Mr. Altman said.

Some Web sites specialize in arming people against online annoyances. The 
site www.slashdot.org posted the name and the mailing address of one of 
the worst known spammers, encouraging people to sign the spammer up for 
catalogs and other junk mail to be sent to the spammer's home. Mr. 
McKiernan of the Postal Service said that this tactic also appeared to be 
legal, but might constitute harassment.

Some groups are more frustrated than others. In 2002, Harris Interactive, 
a market research group based in Rochester, conducted a phone survey 
called the Daily Hassle Scale that asked 1,010 people to rank the 
aggravations they faced in a typical day. The survey found that poor 
people and African-Americans suffer the most stress from the everyday 
annoyances such as noisy neighbors, telemarketers and pressure at work, 
but it did not explain why.

Sometimes, the resistance to these frustrations is organized.

Work slowdowns are methods commonly used by labor unions to apply pressure 
without actually striking. During the Solidarity movement in Poland, 
people expressed their disapproval of the government-run news media by 
taking a walk with their hats on backward at exactly 6 p.m. when the state 
news program started. When the government noticed the trend, it issued 
curfews, but people then put their televisions in their windows facing 
outward so that only the police walking the streets would see the broadcasts.

''You have to remember, in Poland during those years showing up drunk at 
work was seen as a patriotic act because people hated the bosses so 
much,'' Professor Scott said.

But even on less coordinated levels, shared frustration is often the augur 
of countercultural trends. Mr. Shepsle said he took great solace in 
discovering his irritations with Starbucks' lingo summed up on a popular 
T-shirt in Chicago. The shirt, which mocks the pretentiousness of a 
certain Chicago neighborhood, features two names. Next to Lincoln Park it 
says ''Tall, Grande, Venti.'' Next to Wicker Park it says ''Small, Medium, 
Large.''

''It's nice to know I'm not alone,'' said Mr. Shepsle, 28, who works for a 
theater company in Manhattan.

Most people participate in this sort of behavior on some level, Professor 
Scott said, adding that his own habit was to write ''England'' rather than 
''United Kingdom'' on letters he sends to his British friends. He 
described this as his way of disregarding British claims to Wales and Scotland.

''As a tactic, it doesn't amount to much except a way to provide a tiny 
and private sense of satisfaction,'' he said. ''But that's something.''

Ian Urbina

He is out to collect more stories along the same lines, and would appreciate your help. I know Cockeyed has the kind of audience that is particularly skilled at thinking this kind of thing up. I appreciate your consideration of the following:

 



Life is full of little annoyances. We would like to hear what tactics - be 
they petty, passive aggressive or perhaps even mildly effective - that 
people use to deal with some of them. What is it that people do to rage 
against the machine or swat at life's many mundane grievances? Some 
examples of areas of interest:

1) ATM fees and any one of a million other reasons to want to lash out at 
your bank or the banking industry generally. There are plenty sane ways to 
deal with this frustration but what about the guy who makes a habit of 
throwing away the entire stack of deposit slips every time he enters a bank 
to get back at the systems annoying ATM fees? We want to hear from him.

2) Why must phone bills be so indecipherable - and ripe with mystery 
charges and obfuscating language. Since the letters they send are in 
gibberish, why not write them back in their native tongue? Anyone done this 
or something equally irrational but cathartic?

3) Stylized ringtones are all the rage. I wonder if anyone has invented an 
anti-ringtone ringtone. Or perhaps they've found some other way to lash out
at this one.

4) Reality TV. Can anyone stop this plague? Maybe just swat at it with some 
distinct tool?

5) Stores that require you to check your bag at the front. There's a reason 
they want to do this, I know. But still, it can get tedious. Same goes for 
stores that
keep behind the counter all the stuff that you least want to have to 
request out loud. What do people do in reaction to these two?

6) When the able-bodied park in disabled parking. Keying a car is 
destructive, not to mention illegal. More interesting is the guy who 
gathers shopping carts when he sees a car parked in one of these spaces 
when it shouldn't be and he surrounds the car with them. We'd like to meet 
this guy - or other similarly-minded individuals.

7) Pushy salespeople who ask every 2 minutes whether you want help. Sure, 
there are lots of clever one-liners to use. But we'd be interested in 
something more sustained or creative.

8) When counter clerks drop your change on the counter rather than placing 
it politely in your outstretched hand. What's a curmudgeonly customer to do?

9) Phone company, utility, cable company - whatever. They've really gotten 
to you so you overpay your bill by 3 cents every month just to force extra
paper work on them. This is a tactic I've heard exists but I'd be 
interested who does it, why they started and how specifically it works.

10) When credit card offers come in misleadingly official looking envelopes 
that try to give the impression that you're in trouble. 'Urgent", 
"Enforcement Division" or other such vague and worrisome tags usually come 
on the front. Has anyone done anything to get back at this tactic? I don't 
know, maybe, send an equally official looking envelope (perhaps with 
lawyer's office tags on it) to the offending company so that they think 
they are being sued or somesuch. Maybe some other tactic.

These or other topics of great interest! Please let us know.

 

Please email a contribution to Ian (A copy goes to Rob)

Thank you!

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May 5th, 2005.  

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