F.A.Z.-Column by Emanuel Derman : The Lives of Others

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Bild: Kat Menschik

Observing others from outside their bodies, we hold them responsible. Observing ourselves from inside, we can always think of our personal extenuating circumstances.

          When you get older, you get crotchety.

          My landline in New York rings constantly, even though I’m on the No-Call list. Sometimes it’s the Daily News trying to sell me a subscription. Then it’s an energy company trying to get me to switch providers while refusing to tell me what it will actually cost. And every few days it’s the same robo-caller tape that begins “Ahoy, this is your captain speaking …” and wants me to push ‘1’ in order to get an implausible free cruise in the Bahamas and ultimately buy a time share.

          When it occasionally gets too much for me, if there’s a human being somewhere on the other end, I childishly give them false names (Augustus Pinochet, Dolf Eichmann, Eddie Amin are not eyebrow-raisers)  and reams of false personal information in order to waste their time and mine and prevent them making money.  At other times I curse them in foul language and hang up. I don’t feel bad about being rude to telemarketers because the essence of their job is to harass me.

          In order to keep her job

          I buy a cheap down vest at Uniqlo on Fifth Ave. I wait for one of the cashiers to call me; when I reach the head of the line she beckons to me by shouting: “Can I help the next guest?” I explain to her I’m not a guest but a customer. “Would you like to make a donation for Hurricane Sandy?” she replies. “Definitely not,” I say. “You shouldn’t ask guests to give you money.”

          I buy toothpaste at the Duane Reade drugstore across the street; the woman at the cash register says to me: “Would you like to make a donation to help cure Breast Cancer/Aids/Constipation.”

          “No,” I say. I am polite with her because the essence of her job is not to harass me but to take my money. “I know you have to say this to me in order to keep your job, but it’s very irritating.”

          Because of my endogeneous irritability

          Centerpoint Energy in Houston has been automatically direct-debiting my bank account for six months even though I am not a customer. They won’t correct the error until I give them my customer number, which of course, since I am not a customer, I do not have. My bank refuses to deny them debit access to my account. I cannot get hold of a human being at Centerpoint. I fill out a complaint form on their website and a few days later receive as email that begins: “As one of our valued customers, we want your experience with CenterPoint Energy to be exceptional.” A corporation never lets go.

          An idealistic young relative of mine reprimands me for using foul language to telemarketers. “They’re simply trying to make a living,” she tells me.  “Cursing them isn’t helpful, for them or for you.”

          But I find it helpful. I must defend myself from the corporate onslaught. The people who call me are only pawns, but I have no access to the king. 

          These are all exogeneous irritants, but my young relative is correct. They bother me because of my endogeneous irritability. Endogeneous characteristics can get you into trouble even when no one is after you.

          Every correction becomes the next mistake

          You confide your troubles to a friend; a few days later he suddenly start to speak to you about them, unbidden, perhaps even in front of other friends. You are embarrassed to be troubled and pitied, and you brought it on yourself through too big a mouth. You hate yourself.


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