Virtue & Mischief: Pet peeves exposed


Krista glances at the dinner table that I have just wiped down after supper and sighs. Heavily.

“Tim,” she begins, “do you see anything wrong with this?” she asks as she swipes her right hand, palm up, toward the table, in the universal gesticulation for GAZE CAREFULLY, PLEASE, AT THIS THING I’M PRESENTING BEFORE YOU. “Does this bother you at all?”

Hmmm. I look at the table. I study it rapidly. Obviously there is something glaringly amiss that I’m unable to detect, but I see nothing but a clean, oval, oak table and six chairs distributed around it.

“I’m sorry, hon, I got nothing,” I finally confess after about 30 seconds of fruitless inspection.

She sighs again. “That’s my pet peeve,” she confides. “When chairs are askew like that.” (Whenever Krista announces a pet peeve of hers she does so, interestingly, by using a singular possessive construction: “That’s my pet peeve,” despite the fact that it’s only one of several. I gather that it’s supposed to be understood that what she means is something like, “At this moment, that’s my pet peeve.”)

I look again and finally see what’s bugging her. In point of fact, three of the chairs are not pushed all the way in to the table, at slightly varying distances. To add proverbial insult to injury, one is addressed to the table at a slight angle as well.

“Does that bug you at all?” she asks, partly probing and partly incredulous that even a decidedly non-obsessive fellow like myself wouldn’t be ever-so-slightly ruffled by the presence of a dinner table whose chairs had the bad sense or manners to present themselves askew.

“No, Krista, honestly it doesn’t. I’m sorry, but I have to be honest. I could have walked past this table a hundred times and never given this a second thought,” I confess.

“Yeah, I know,” she nods. “We balance each other out over some stuff like this, I guess.”

In the two weeks or so since this interaction took place, I have tried to pay special attention to various behaviors or practices that I find irksome. What are MY pet peeves? It turns out I have quite a few of them. Herewith, a non-comprehensive list I’ve culled over the past fortnight, presented in no particular order:

1. Being interrupted as I am speaking. When I am interrupted (repeatedly, in the same sitting) my insides boil and my heart races. The eldest amigo has been the most frequent offender, though she is gradually reforming because she doesn’t like to be burned by the red-hot steam blasting out of my ears.

2. The house door being locked when I return home from work with my arms full of stuff—laptop, gym bag, whatever. Petty, I know, particularly in view of various relevant family safety considerations. But that’s why these items are referred to as “peeves.”

3. Being told “I’m coming!” when what the family-member-speaker really means is “I’m doing something at the moment and I’ll respond to your request to come to dinner/upstairs for bed/etc. in a few minutes.” He or she might be watching a Youtube video, playing the last couple of minutes of a game on a computer-like device, or any number of other activities, but he/she is NOT in the act of ambulating in my direction.

4. The “Low Tire Pressure” warning light going off in my car. In the past several months I have run over two screws (on separate occasions, both times involving my left front tire) and had the tire patched, but there is still apparently a slow leak. Naturally, the warning light has flashed on my dashboard when it was either snowy and 15 degrees with the wind chill factored in, or when it was pouring down rain in rush hour traffic.

5. Shaving my face every morning. Unfortunately, I hate the itchy sensation of my unshaved face even more. I’m not too keen on clipping my fingernails, toenails, eyebrows, or ear hair, either.

6. Spilling ketchup, mayonnaise, coffee, or some other messy substance on my pants, shirt, or tie. I’m not the most fastidious guy around, but I hate that.

7. When our otherwise perfect cat, Graystripe, meows incessantly at the outside of the door to the screened-in porch then refuses to go out, only to meow incessantly again at the same spot.

This little exercise helped me see I’m not as easygoing as I had thought. My list includes another 10-15 items, but there is not enough space to include them here. Even if there was, I value your readership and going further would no doubt obliterate the sympathy—and empathy—I’m hoping to establish.

And you’d better believe I’m taking extra pains to push in the chairs at the dinner table just so….

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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