Frustration! That sinking feeling when nothing seems to go according to Hoyle.  

And who is that guy Hoyle anyway?

Yet, as much as we try to rectify a situation or make ourselves understood, for whatever reason, we just fall further and further and further into a bottomless pit. No matter how hard we try to dig ourselves out, with every shovelful of dirt, the deeper and deeper we sink into the quagmire.

 Is there anything we can do about this?

In my humble opinion there is nothing that can be done. Oh yes, I have checked with leading psychologists and they all tell me that it is just a natural everyday occurrence of life.  Indeed, the local Manotick – where I lived at the time – astrologist tells me that the stars are sometimes aligned against us. It is better just to accept our fate, go with the flow, and disengage until things get better.

I found myself in a frustrating situation that illustrates just what I mean. Consider this:

Once a week I buy my lunch at work, usually on a Wednesday. And I normally go for the cholesterol fix of a greasy burg with cheese and bacon and a side order of onion rings. Now this concoction comes to about $5.75 with tax.  It has been the same price for months.

One Wednesday I wandered down to the cafeteria, checked my money, and noticing that I had only about 6 bucks, decided to order my usual. When the order came up I moseyed on up to the cash and waited for my turn to pay. The cashier, a rather petite French Canadian girl, took my order, rang it in, and told me I owed her $6.50. Just a little surprised and somewhat embarrassed because I was short of funds, and, knowing the price from past purchases, I told her that she must have made a mistake.

 “No, says she, That,” pointing to my order, “is the Banquet Burger Special. $6.50 please.”

 “What special?” says I

 “Banquet burger, fries or onion rings and a drink.” She said

 “But I don’t have a drink.” I countered

 “Well, get one” she says.

 “But I don’t want one. Tell you what. Just ring in the banquet burger and an order of onion rings.”

 “I can’t do that” she said. “You have the special and you owe me $6.50.”

 Incensed, and totally frustrated, knowing full well that the line was getting longer.

I could feel the customers behind me. Their eyeful stares felt like daggers and their exaggerated sighs and harrumphs seemed to be burning a rather large hole in my back. 

My blood boiling, I left the line and went back to the short order cook.  I checked the menu: Banquet Burger – $3.25, Onion Rings – $1.50.  With tax about $5.50. The special? – Banquet Burger, Fries or Onion Rings and a Large Drink – $5.95, with tax – about $6.50.

I waited in line and when the cook asked for my order I showed him mine and told him that I only wanted a Banquet Burger and Onion Rings. Could he please mark my order as such and charge me $4.75.

 “Sure.” He said. He took my styro-foam take out box and marked the outside as a Banquet Burger and a side order of Onion Rings – rather than the special. Pleased with myself, I sauntered back to the cashier. She looks at me rather objectionably, looks at the box, then rings up $6.50. I tell her she is making a mistake. Banquet Burger and Onion Rings…only.

“Yes” she says, “the special.” 

“No, no, no, says I, rather emphatically. “It is not the special. It is the Banquet Burger and Onion Rings. No drink.”

“Well, get a drink” she says.


“I’m sorry, that is the special and you owe me $6.50.”

“Well I am short. I’ll be right back.”

What could I do? My blood was boiling, my blood pressure, well…pressurized. Totally frustrated in not being able to make myself understood, I left the box on the counter and walked briskly over to the cash ATM that we had in our building. I would take out a 20 and pay for the special. What the hell, a buck fifty for a cash advance plus an additional buck fifty that my bank was going to charge me. 3 bucks plus, PLUS the damn special – $9.50 for the Banquet Burger. I was so mad, but I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I would have paid 100 bucks to get out of this predicament. I felt like George Costanza of Seinfeld fame.

To make matters worse the ATM was out of order. Of course it was, on this day and in this moment in time. It was never out of order. Oh yes but it knew, this machine knew, that poor old Shakey was in a predicament. Yes, yes it knew all right.  Paranoia was setting in. I was close to turning postal, and psycho.

I guess some guy noticed my frustration.

“Hey, if you need some money the convenience store will give you a cash advance.”

“Great” I said, trying very hard to keep my cool and my anger checked.  

I walked over to the little store and asked very politely but somewhat impatiently for a cash advance.

“Sure,” said the clerk, “But you’ll have to buy something for 5 bucks.”

What?  What’s that you said. 5 bucks??  Hmmmmm. Okay, okay what the hell: chocolate bar, soap, chips, deodorant. Sure, 5 bucks. “Here,”

“Now give me the bleep, bleep money” – I thought to myself.

Money in hand and with a bagful of unwanted goodies, I went back to the cafeteria, picked up my take-out box, went to the cash, gave her 10 bucks and left without waiting for my change. I was afraid at what I would do.

“Hey, don’t you want your drink,” she said.

A true story. And one that I am sure everyone has experienced at some time or another. Anal retentiveness. Yesss and perhaps the most underused expression in our vocabulary. And one of my favourites.

So?  What can one do?  What can you do?

I remember driving home, still incensed. Not a very smart thing to do: getting behind the wheel of a 2 ton machine, driving through downtown Ottawa, facing the summer road construction, and pedestrians. Yes pedestrians, they were all targets of my frustration. Should I or shouldn’t I?  Hmmm.

And yet, driving along Colonel By drive toward Hogsback, I was oblivious to the sweet smell of summer, the tranquil waters of the Rideau, the sparkling green silken sheen of Dow’s Lake. Past Carleton U, up a small hill to the traffic light at Hogsback Falls. The light was red. Of course it was. Waiting and waiting and waiting for what seemed to be an eternity – the falls to my left, the water crashing against the rocks. And I was sure the rock gods were laughing at me in the summer’s sun. I was still ticked – and the whole world was out to get me and… I was getting weird!!

Just then a parade of black cars appeared. They were all turning left onto Col By from Prince of Wales Drive, their headlights on. And then, a long black hearse appeared. Majestic, solemn and silent, its smooth polished grain moved graciously, as if floating, through the traffic.  Watching, reverently, as the motorcade drove by, I thought to myself.

“Y’know Shakey, Things could be a great deal worse.” And with that the light turned green and I was on my way – but this time a song was brewing in my heart and a smile began to form on my face. Yes, life was good.

Yet I had to ask myself: “I wonder if he, or she, had asked for just the Banquet Burger and Onion Rings too.”

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