Perhaps This Rock Will Help
I was just a kid when the smiley face fad broke out. It was plastered on everything, along with its slogan “Have A Nice Day,” and it was the first time I remember being irritated by a well-intentioned sentiment. From the back of mom’s car, I spotted yet another ponytailed fat man sporting the T-shirt.
“Who are all these people to tell me how to feel?” I said. Nine is a little young to start rolling your eyes at things, and my mother tried to straighten me out before it was too late. “They’re just trying to be nice,” she said.
“I don’t want to think about it.”
“About what, honey?”
“About whether my day is nice. If it’s not nice, it seems even less nice after having the patch on some hippie’s backpack remind me of it. It’s not like I’m going to see it and think, ‘Oh right, thanks for the reminder. My day is nice now.’ Besides, there is no point in defining it. The day is what it is. We must accept it and find an inner harmony.” We were on our way to my karate class and I was getting in the groove.
“OK, hon, we’re here. Have a … class.”
Even now that phrase bothers me. Years ago there was a guy on Pacific Avenue who would say “Have a nice day” from inside a sort of plastic cocoon gathered about him on a bench. He later emerged from his pupal stage as a beautiful pink butterfly, and replaced the phrase with a wan smile, which I liked much better. I hear he’s retired his umbrella and for all I know he’s now working in some boxy office festooned with motivational posters.
You know the posters—they’ve been selling them in SkyMall forever—with their large inspirational photos of eagles or mountain tops above a profit-enhancing concept word, like OBEDIENCE or OVERTIME. I worked at a place that had one with the word LEADERSHIP beneath a photo of an old steamship in heavy seas. Everybody hated that poster, mostly because the leadership in that company was elitist and rude. The poster was placed in our break room, where the bosses rarely ventured. Who was it meant to impress? Was it supposed to spur on us to be like them one day, if only we could learn how to shovel workers into the boiler for more steam?
That entire line of posters struck me as insincere and arrogant, so I was thrilled when somebody realized just how ripe for parody they were and created DeMotivators.com, with a line of similarly styled posters like:
SYNERGY: A code word lazy people use when they want you to do all the work.
PROCRASTINATION: Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.
DYSFUNCTION: The only consistent feature in all of your dissatisfying relationships is you.
Not long ago, I found myself at a philosophical crossroads, depressed and rudderless, and spent most of an evening sharing my angst-ridden thoughts with a friend who texted me the next morning to say she’s left a present on my porch that might help in my quest. I was expecting to find a bottle of wine, since she’d helped me wipe out my supply, but it was a rock. It was a rock with a word carved into it: Serenity.
You have got to be kidding me, I thought. Don’t you know me? In my book, a rock that says Serenity on it is just begging to be thrown through somebody’s window. Hmm, maybe that’s where she was going with it. I had mentioned being angry at people driving too fast down my street. I walked out to the curb, tossing serenity from hand to hand. Surely she didn’t expect me to throw this thing through somebody’s windshield. It was much too small for that.
An older Volvo sped by with a bumper sticker that read, “If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention.” I thought, if you’re so outraged all the time maybe you shouldn’t be driving. You need this rock more than me.
But I didn’t throw it. I decided the thing to do was to return the rock to its own kind. Reverse shoplifting is easy and sometimes fun; consider the Barbie Liberation Organization, an organization that in 1993 purchased a bunch of talking GI Joe and Barbie dolls, switched the voice chips, and smuggled them back onto store shelves. “Math is hard!” said GI Joes. “Let’s go shopping!” Barbie went to new mean-girl lengths with, “Vengeance is mine!”
I found a store that sold platitudinous rocks, which wasn’t hard around these parts, and though the font didn’t match I added mine to the pile. “Serenity, I’d like you to meet your new friends: Peace, Tranquility, Friendship, Wisdom, Wish, Believe, Create, Smile, Hope, Potential, Breathe, Inspire and Meditate. I think you’ll find you have a lot in common, such as a bright future in the doorstop business.” The ironic Potential of the collection made me take a deep Breath and Smile; I was Inspired to Meditate on the Wisdom of Creating Tranquility through something used for stonings, but where there is Belief there is always Hope.
Looking around the store, there were longer but no less trite sentiments on other objects, particularly Asian-looking soft goods. “You are not alone,” said a pillow, which sounds to me like just about the loneliest thing you could ever embroider on a pillow. “This is for you, Granny. Buck up.” Good lord, get her a cat.
I guess I’m just not wired to respond positively to the kind of sincerity offered up by inanimate objects. Inspired by the posters and the dolls, I’ve found a website that will carve whatever you want onto rocks, so if you’d rather have one that says SUCK IT UP or DENIAL or JUGGLE (set of three) or FIRST STONE (only sold to those without sin) or I’LL GIVE YOU FIVE DOLLARS TO PUT ME BACK IN THE RIVER, I can hook you up.