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September 02, 2007

Are you an annoying person?

Every Saturday, in the Washington Post, there's a feature I read, called "Free for All." I'd describe it as a place where people whose letters are too stupid even to get into the usual stupid letters section can have them published.

Nearly every single week, there's a letter from someone or other complaining about the Post -- a minor grammatical mistake, some outrage or other, or a perceived insult. I call these the librarians' complaints. The tone is typically indignant. (No offense intended to librarians with a sense of humor.)

This week, there was a different sort of letter that struck home with me, for reasons I'll explain shortly. The letter was this (bottom letter at the link):

Regarding the Aug. 23 front-page article "Elderly Staying Sexually Active":

The article said that "the elderly would benefit from more frank and open discussions about sex with their doctors."

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think that sex with their doctors is what they need.

-- Mark W. Garrett

Maitland, Fla.
This letter made me smile, because the writer is not indignant; he merely wants to poke fun at the poor editing of the newspaper.

Maybe you've figured this out from reading Pillage Idiot over a period of time, but I have something of a compulsion -- to misinterpret, deliberately, what people say, in order to make it into a joke. To use an example from a recent post, I quoted this: "Ingrid Hoffmann, the latest arrival on the Food Network — her show 'Simply Delicioso' is shown on Saturday mornings — seems to be quickly staking her claim as the country's pre-eminent cleavage cook." And I wrote: "I'm struggling to avoid asking how you cook cleavage -- bake it, roast it, or simply warm it gently." Or, in real life, my daughter called from college and said, "I have a question for you about classes." Naturally, I responded, "I'm in favor of classes."

This, my friends, is called being an annoying person.

And I do it compulsively. Can you imagine having lunch with someone like me? I remember one lunch in particular at our friends' house at which I was doing this non-stop for about two hours. The hostess was very polite -- she even laughed at some of my quips -- but I almost felt the need to apologize afterwards. Except for the fact that she already knew what I'm like, and it didn't seem to faze her. (She must really like my wife.)

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading an article in the Weekly Standard about Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, which discusses the rocky relationship between Sanford and Hugh Leatherman, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. I came across this sentence:
Fowler says Leatherman "just can't abide the governor, and I think the governor feels the same way."
Now, most people would know exactly what this sentence means. In fact, I myself know exactly what it means. But that's not the way my mind works.

If you're an annoying person like me, you look at that sentence and deliberately misinterpret it. If you can't see how, yet, that means you're not an annoying person.

Let me rewrite it first: A can't stand B, and B feels the same way.

Anyone reading that would know that would understand that it means "B feels the same way about A." But because the "about A" is only implicit, you can also interpret it as "A can't stand B, and B feels the same way about B." That is, the governor can't abide himself.

Getting back to Mr. Garrett's letter, I have to point out that he cheated. The Post article said that the elderly should be discussing sex with their doctors, and the correct misinterpretation would be that the article is saying the elderly should be discussing the details of the sex they're having with their doctors, not that they should be having sex with their doctors. And the correct objection for Mr. Garrett to make would be that if they're having sex with their doctors, they should keep it to themselves.

But don't listen to me. I'm just a very annoying person.