Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Definition of Obnoxious

When I was a kid, I knew how to be obnoxious—even if I didn’t know what it literally meant.

My sisters, who were both older and physically bigger than I, sat on either side of me in the back seat of the station wagon, and they made life miserable by hitting me whenever I crossed the weird plastic strips that defined the middle seat of those old cars.

This was in the days before SUVs gave everybody their own fully-reclining, climate-controlled entertainment center, with DVD players popping down from the ceiling and satellite radio on the sound system. It was even before seat belts became mandatory.

Hence, it was impossible for a squirmy kid not to cross one line or the other during the normal course of a ride. I was always getting whacked until the long arm of my father reached backwards over his driver’s seat, probing for the perpetrator of whoever was causing the muffled cries of pain.

Then I discovered the power of words, and learned that by being something called “obnoxious” I could make my sisters' lives miserable for hours on end.

I didn’t actually know what “obnoxious” meant, but I was good at it. The best part was when they would tell me to “stop being obnoxious,” and I would say, “How can I be obnoxious when I don’t even know what it means?

That especially drove them crazy—so much so that it was even worth the black and blue marks on my arms. Later, when I learned what “obnoxious” actually meant, I realized that as a seven year old I not only embodied it, I had defined it.

But, forty years later, I have discovered a new definition of the term “obnoxious.” It comes not from a seven year old kid in a car—not even from one of the gangly teenage boys with jeans hanging six inches below their Size 24-inch waists who mysteriously appear in my front yard waiting for my daughter to come out and go long-boarding.

It is this: lady sitting in coffee shop dictating notes into her computer.

The lady in question is not sitting in an isolated corner of the coffee shop, nor is the coffee shop itself devoid of other people attempting to work. Three or four individuals come here most mornings when the doors open at 6 a.m. to get coffee, plug in their laptops, connect to the wireless router and begin the day.

And today is no different, except that it is Saturday, and the lady in question is one we had never seen until she came in an hour ago, got a coffee, plopped herself down at a table smack in the middle of it all and opened a Dell laptop—one of the few Dell laptops which, based on the many web-cam videos zipping around the internet these days, are not spontaneously exploding on a desk while some guy who probably lives alone with his cats and writes feverish blogs DISCLOSING IMPORTANT INFORMATION THE GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN SUPPRESSING ABOUT NAKED SHORT-SELLERS AND AREA 59 happens to be filming it for immediate distribution on YouTube.

There was nothing unusual about this lady’s behavior…until she dug out of her briefcase a large air-traffic-controller style headset and put it on her head, and began dictating into her not-exploding-yet Dell laptop.

Now, this coffee shop is not exactly the best venue to dictate things, if for some bizarre reason you feel the need to dictate instead of typing with your fingers, which even Size 24-inch waist teenage boys can do. It is noisy. James Brown plays over the coffee shop speakers, espresso machines hiss and people stand in line talking. So anybody needing to dictate rather than type couldn’t dictate quietly if they had the basic decency to do so, which this lady does not: she must speak LOUDLY so her still-not-exploding Dell can hear her.

Not only must she speak LOUDLY, she must speak CLEARLY and ENNUNCIATE her words for the computer software program, the designer of which should be forced to sit next to her for the rest of his life, or until the Dell laptop explodes and kills her and him both.

Not only does she speak LOUDLY and CLEARLY and with good ENNUCIATION, she frequently inserts a COMMA or a BACKSPACE into her text. And sometimes she says SCRATCH THAT.

Now, I can get a lot of work done in a crowded coffee shop: the noises all blend together and there’s something about the background buzz that makes it easy to focus. But not when somebody is saying things like COMMA and BACKSPACE and SCRATCH THAT very LOUDLY and very CLEARLY, with very good ENNUNCIATION.

So I quickly resorted to Plan B, which is my version of noise-cancellation technology that always works in a pinch: headphones plugged into an iPod, with Arctic Monkeys played loud.

But if anybody knows the secret code that makes a Dell laptop spontaneously explode while some guy who lives with his cats films it for YouTube, please email me a copy so I can insert it onto her machine while she’s up at the counter getting another blueberry muffin. (Apparently, speaking LOUDLY and CLEARLY and with good ENNUNCIATION for an extended period of TIME causes people to STUFF THEIR FACES with pastries).

Or maybe I’ll sit next to her and start dictating IMPORTANT INFORMATION THE GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN SUPPRESSING ABOUT NAKED SHORT-SELLERS AND AREA 59 into the flower vase on the table.

Yes, that would be obnoxious, wouldn’t it?

Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2006 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.


jockgunter said...

OMG, you've just identified the Next Big TERRIBLE thing ! - I've read that the newest dictation software is REALLY good, so I guess we'll soon be hearing it EVERYWHERE ...


MightBWrong said...

I guess it's good that the Windows Vista 'dictation demo' last week in Redmond for some Wall Street analysts - went horribly wrong. Causing most people in the crowd to laugh out loud. Microsoft then vowed not to release Vista until it's ready - I guess we will never see it then. And I like your plan, obnoxious people, for some reason, are less tolerant of obnoxious behavior of others. So, a few carefully dictated phrases aimed at the original offender should keep her from ever coming back - with or without her headset.

ptkelly said...

while i'd like to think it is just an availability phenomenom, i'm convinced that society's concern or regard for others has evaporated - from your incident today to the SUV driving rockhead that changes lanes or pulls out of the parking space without the slightest check over the shoulder or signal.

people just don't care if they've inconvenienced you or infringed on your space/time/rights. as long as they get what the want.

i guess that is just living in the city.

Its_strange said...

Sounds like you need a night at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park NJ listening to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. No weirdos , no Wallstreet or Gov weirdos. No lawyer weirdos ..Just a real blast with real people listening to real music.

Sandy Woodward said...

Well, Jeff, I don't remember you as being obnoxious...just cute as the dickens with a lovable smile and contagious giggle. You probably aren't going to let this one get "in" but this I am definately not making up! S.

Jeff Matthews said...

Well, for anybody who's ever accused me of blocking comments here...yes, that's my sister, and I love her.

imalurkernotafighter said...

Whoa, that is the definition of obnoxious. And I thought the chick who sits next to me at work and insists on conducting all her calls via speakerphone, despite the fact that it's an open-plan office and we have no cubicle walls, was bad. And yea verily to the previous poster, who hopes that the unintentionally hilarious performance of Microsoft's dictation software during their analyst day last week will slow the spread of what could be an insidious new trend.

Bill Gusky said...

Guys, guys, guys. You're all WAY too nice. You're obviously not helping yourselves by being so, but you most especially aren't helping The Idiot Dictater.

Think of this kind of behavior as a cry for help from the decidedly less fortunate.

When someone is clearly being disruptive and inconsiderate, it is only reasonable that someone should simply ask her, politely the first time anyway, to quiet the hell down.

Sure, as someone said above, people are less thoughtful and considerate nowadays. But accommodating and enabling the thoughtless and inconsiderate only aggravates the issue.

The cool thing is, it's usually not just you who's having a problem with it. If you asked her politely to quiet down once and she didn't, I'd lay odds that you could get one or two other people in the place to join you, position yourselves around the idiot in question, and then have an extremely loud conversation between yourselves so that mouth-breathing dictater couldn't possibly get any work done.