I had the oddest exchange with someone at work a couple of days ago: one of those incidents which is simultaneously tragic but very funny.
To put it mildly, some of my work-mates are gloom-and-doom merchants – determinedly glass-half-empty folk who can turn any minor or major success into another reason to be miserable. Granted, they have their genuine problems (physical maladies, relatives and neighbours from hell.…, etc. etc.), but nothing insurmountable with a little planning and good humour.
One, for example, seems to be surrounded by feckless male relatives who think her only purpose in life is to wait on them hand and foot. From what we can gather, this is made worse because she also refuses to let them sort out any minor problem or everyday task for themselves.
This week’s toll of grief included a husband who can’t be bothered to fill in his tax form and a son studying abroad who almost daily demands she couriers more techno-toys and sundry useless (and heavy, therefore expensive) items to him, all of which cost a fortune to send and long, complicated forms for customs clearance.
As we were getting stuck into Thursday’s first menial task, having duly recited last night’s family problems, she suddenly burst out ‘We’re all in the gutter and looking up at the stars. I can’t remember who said that, can you?’
‘Well, it was Oscar Wilde’, I replied, ’but it’s actually “We may all be in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”……
….at which point she ran off screaming, partly because this proved she couldn’t even quote a well-known saying about life’s unfairness without getting it wrong, partly because in correcting her I had lowered her self-esteem still further.
The more I and the department’s other art graduate slacker tried to explain that what Wilde was saying is that you can choose to look at the stars instead of the gutter, the angrier and more entrenched in their misery she and her fellow pessimists got. This was, of course, hilarious, but we couldn’t laugh without making the situation worse.
Finally, she howled ‘But I can’t see any stars’, to which I replied ‘Well, roll over and look up, then’.
At which point we two optimists really had to leave the room, unable to restrain our giggles any longer. The Pessimist Party would then have muttered at length about us while we were gone.
I am tempted to say that at least in doing so they must have got some sort of satisfaction, and so everyone ended up happy. Sadly, to suggest that to them in person would probably cause them further grief, so I won’t.