by Elizabeth Carey
April 2011

My father likes to complain. A lot. One of his favorite things to do is gripe about how the world treats him unfairly; he is the metaphorical beast of burden. Apparently, people like to “screw” with him out of sheer amusement, just for the heck of it. He has held to this same belief for the twenty-six years I have known him.

His family will tell you that he has always been this way. He was born on July 1, exactly one day before his older brother. This in turn ruined his older brother’s birthday party, a fact that he never let my father forget. You see, my father was even born on the wrong day. By the time he got to elementary school he would come home to find his mother sitting on the couch, reading, and he would immediately let out a half-an-hour tirade about the kids at school, the books they had been reading, and even sometimes the teacher. His mother would have to sit and listen patiently until he had divulged all the wrongs that had been inflicted upon him throughout the course of his day. The world has been picking on him his whole life.

My father thinks that people go out of their way to piss him off. He has spent the better part of his life writing letters to these people, whoever they may be, explaining just exactly what he thinks. My mother’s favorite story is the one about my father’s seven-month war with the gas company. When my parents were newly married, way back when, and they moved from a tiny apartment into their brand new house, they had to have their mail forwarded to the new address. Before they moved, the gas bill came, and my dad paid it and filled out the change-of-address form on the back of the bill. For the next two months, he didn’t receive a bill from them, and when he called to find out why, he was told that he was being charged extra for having a delinquent account. They had never updated his address and were making him pay for it. So my dad wrote the gas company a letter, saying that he was refusing to pay the fine. With his letter, he included a check for the amount of the gas bill for the previous two months, minus thirteen cents for the stamp; this way he was sure to get even. The conflict continued for seven months, until the gas company finally gave up and credited my dad the thirteen cents.

I can recall the first time I really understood what it was like to be completely embarrassed by my father. I was four years old and we were shopping at the hardware store for materials to build me a swing set. Walking through Hechinger’s, the hardware store, the aisles seemed to be two stories high. They were really long, and the shelves were stocked with metal tools, screws, nuts and bolts, and lumber. I remember my short little legs being forced to run so I could keep up with my dad’s long, lanky, Levi-clad legs as he stomped out of the store, muttering that he was going to write Hechinger’s a letter complaining about their bad customer service and vowing to never shop there again.

My dad boycotts many stores and service centers because of the injustices they have inflicted upon him over the years. We can no longer shop at:

  • Genardi’s
  • Giant
  • Home Depot
  • JC Penney’s
  • Lowe’s
  • Merchant’s Tires
  • Staples
  • Walgreen’s
  • Wal-Mart

The list includes restaurants as well. KFC is on the top of the list. One time he went through the drive-thru and ordered a twelve-piece bucket of chicken. When he got home, my dad realized that almost every piece of chicken in that bucket was a wing. Nine wings, dammit—just to piss him off.

He even has an ongoing feud with the United States Postal Service. My dad parks his Mustang in front of the house, on the street. The mailman leaves notes on the car that say, “Do not park here postman said so.” This infuriates my dad. The mailman says my dad blocks the mailbox. My dad doesn’t block the mailbox, but he refuses to park elsewhere, just to prove a point. He says it is a public street and the mailman’s route is a walking route. He says the mailman is lazy and wants to drive up to the mailbox instead of getting out and walking to up to it. Instead of pulling the car forward ten feet, he wrote a letter to the postal service telling them he wanted his mailbox placed on the front porch. That way the mailman would have to walk up to the house, and my dad would beat him at his own game. He considers this vendetta completely rational. Maybe it is, but writing the post office a letter, which I suppose they would deliver to themselves through their own service, is not so rational.

Recently my younger sister got a parking ticket in front of my parent’s house. The house has a sort of mini-driveway on one side of the house and a long narrow driveway on the other. The mini-driveway is big enough to fit a compact car without blocking the sidewalk. My sister’s car is not a compact car; it is a big, white, Pontiac, boat-type car. Her car was blocking the sidewalk, so she was given a $50 parking ticket.

I went by the house a few days after she got the ticket and was basically stopped upon entering the dining room. My dad was there at the rectangular table, sitting in his usual spot, waiting to tell me all about the ticket and getting ready to write a letter to the police about his frustration. According to my dad, the ticket was completely unfair. During the huge snowstorms this past winter the county never bothered to plow the sidewalks, not even so the little kids in the neighborhood could get to the bus stop. He had to shovel the sidewalks so those kids wouldn’t have to walk in the street and get hit by a car. The county won’t clear the sidewalks, but they will give a ticket to an eighteen-year-old college student who works for $9 an hour. Ridiculous. This was all going in the letter; he just needed to practice it on me first.

On weeknights, my dad will come home from work and tell my Mom about his day. Usually he asks about her day first and waits for her to finish before going into to his full blown rant about some stupid idiot coming into his office to tell him that the project he was working on has to be completely changed—as in redone—from scratch. Or about my dad’s boss, Walt is his name, coming in to tell my dad about some asinine idea Walt has that my dad is supposed to incorporate into the latest project. Either way, no matter who is interrupting my dad, they are screwing with him.

I catch myself doing the thirty-minute rant to the first person I see when I get home. It doesn’t matter who it is; the first person I see will do just fine. Sometimes I call someone on the way home from work, just to get the bitching out of the way before I get home. When I call my dad, we have to vie for who gets to do the ranting and raving first. I have learned that if I wait to call my dad until after 5:00pm, I get to go first because several other people have already been sucked into listening to his rant. It doesn’t matter though. My dad is the first person I call when I want to complain about the financial aid office screwing up or the snotty ladies at the nail salon or my little tyrant of a boss. My dad always understands, because the world screws with him too.

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