As I start to flirt with middle age, more things irritate me. I used to be more tolerant of mimes, as long as they stayed where they belong in France. But even knowing they’re walking against the wind a half-planet away brings a familiar and dour Old Testament expression to my face. Coffee for six bucks bothers me. Most, but not all, millennials, bother me.
I share a vivid and horrific vision: a millennial mime, white-faced, shadowing me, daintily sipping a pretend cup of coffee while pretend-polishing an invisible Bernie Sanders campaign button on his pretend black T-shirt lapel.
I can’t put my finger on the why of it. But here is my confession: I am terribly bothered by people in the service industry ending conversations with:
“Not a problem!! —”
I suspect, in their own slovenly tongue, they mean well. But when I hear a 20- or 30-something conclude with: “Not a problem!! —” it feels like there’s something unspoken, left hanging in the air.
Like, “…you jackass.”
“Not a problem!! — you jackass.”
Have you had that experience? You’re in a restaurant. Breakfast is but a memory. You politely try to get the waitress’ attention for not your first refill, but first cup of coffee. You smile warmly, raise your eyebrows as a non-threatening gesture, raise an index finger, make eye contact and ask: “Please? May I have a splash more coffee?”
The server rushes by like the dashed hopes of a third-failed marriage and chirps: “Not a problem!! — ”
It’s me, I know. It’s me and my cursed imagination. I can just SEE the server sprinting to the kitchen where, right behind that greasy door, they’re writhing and rubbing their naughty parts while flipping me off and lewdly sticking out their tongue. Like Miley Cyrus.
They say: “Not a problem!! — ”
Do I respond: “Thank you. Why would it be a problem, needing contradiction?”
And that tone. It’s like some hulking drunk walks up to you in a bar and asks: “Are you looking at me?”
He’s smiling. His voice, calm, measured, polite. But there it floats before you: subtext.
In my wasted youth, fueled by hormone (I had but the one), I might have popped the chap. Hands on my knees as I towered over him, I might have retorted: “No. I am not looking at you, I am looking DOWN at you.” And then I’d sing “Moon River” and make him sing it with me.
Cursed wisdom that comes with age. I wouldn’t do that today. Depending, of course, on the size of the barfly.
“Not a problem — !!” makes me go tilt. There’s some invisible, sub-verbal challenge lurking there. It’s like the person is a deviant Tinker Bell, fluttering about, boasting of her passive-aggressive empowerment: “You’re not the boss of me! You’re not the boss of me!”
“Not a problem — !!” is the millennials’ version of, “I know you are but what am I?” It’s designed to wedge the absolute, annoying last word in.
Overheard at COC’s Upper Level 9.7 Master Debate Class:
“You’re fat and stupid.”
“I know you are but what am I?”
“You’re Rosie O’Donnell.”
“I know you are but what am I?”
“Stop saying that.”
“I know you are but what am I, and, oh, by the way, not a problem!! —”
You know what I hate about that phrase? It’s wiggly. It’s so wiggly, I can’t quite put my finger on why, exactly, it’s wiggly. It’s maddening. It probably has something to do with texting. Somehow, just my being behind the counter or in a booth has separated them from their smart phone. I’m saying: “So how many fries does that come with?” and they’re hearing a throbbing warning: “Keepittogetherkeepittogetherkeepittogetherkeepitto…”
I seek inward. What sort of response do I crave from the Not A Problem People? I say: “Thank you for that dented ketchup packet!”
Instead of a merry “Not a problem!!” would I prefer they reply: “What the hell for? It’s tattooed to my butt as my job description, Dolores.”
Ah. Now we’ve touched on something.
That last reaction seems more real. More honest.
I ask: “May I have the check, please?”
Instead of “Not a problem!! — ” the waiter responds: “Oh. I guess we’re at that magic, Pavlovian moment where I giggle like a geisha, fall onto my back so you can rub my stomach and I pretend I like you so that you’ll grace me, Your Majesty, with a cheesy buck tip. Without the aid of a loving partner, be fruitful and multiply.”
Instead of the usual boilerplate, mindless generational cliché I’d appreciate the honesty. An answer like that would be, well.
“Not a … !!”
Earth’s most prolific humorist, Boston has penned more than 11,000 blogs, columns, essays, books, features and stories. He’s been named both best serious and best humorous columnist in America, is the recipient of The Will Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award, which, in tiny print says, “Not a problem —” under his name.