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I Should Stop That

By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter 

The waiting room was virtually silent as I flipped through the least outdated “People” weekly, which was published over a year earlier. I was deep in self-reflection, spurred on by my amazing lack of knowledge of the movie stars portrayed within the shiny pages of the magazine. With each glance at a smiling photo, I became more aware of my age. The only faces I recognized seemed ancient. How could I identify only older actors? When did they become classics?

Suddenly, a loud sniffle broke the silence. How annoying. With pharmaceutically sponsored tissue boxes on almost every flat surface, there was no need to annoy everyone within a mile radius. How rude.

Another sniff interrupted my thoughts.

With horror, I realized it came from me. I was my own pet peeve.

Everyone has a sound, smell or action that they deem incredibly annoying; mine are not unique. A sharp nasal snort is just one. The sight and sound of gum smacking and popping, especially when the perpetrator is engaged in conversation with me, makes me want to yell about etiquette in a very unladylike way. The brash voice of a stranger on a cell phone in public, when I can’t get away, initiates glares and sighs. But these are common annoyances. They are mostly issues of manners or lack thereof.

I check my oldest son’s fingernails almost obsessively to make sure they are short and clean. He knows I need to do this. I know it drives him insane. I even notice when actors have not addressed this particular hygiene need. My son understands that since I am incapable of reprimanding the people inside the TV, I have to chastise him.

I am aware that I am walking the line between acting on an irritation and being a nagging mother, but I can’t stop myself. I am also fully aware that he will probably grow up with a subconscious desire to rebel by growing the world’s longest, dirtiest nails and never showering. I will be deeply disappointed, but not surprised.

Although I seem to have a few issues with minor annoyances that probably irritate others as well, I have a friend who has taken the term “pet peeve” to a whole new level. Barely 15 minutes can pass before she feels a need to express an increase in her anxiety related to one of her numerous grievances.

Sometimes a migraine is on the edge of making an appearance due to the increased noise level of many children playing simultaneously. Sometimes the counter top’s disorganized line-up requires immediate attention and a lecture about order. Once, the tapping of a fork against someone’s teeth initiated a brief, albeit thorough, explanation about

table manners. It started with how noises made during the meal in the Western culture are evil, and it morphed to the general inability of most people to adequately use a fork and knife.

Of course, the clicking of a pen, the incessant drumming of a foot and the rhythmic bouncing of a ball are all acts of horror and personal attacks. Glares and sighs ensue if gum smacking is heard across the room, but if the offender nears my friend, he or she should brace for a verbal assault spoken in a calm but demeaning way.

It doesn’t stop there. An intermittent cough or clearing of the throat will immediately invite queries about health and potential for spreading disease. Of course, if she is the one exhibiting any signs of ailment, then allergies are instantly blamed. Please, please make sure there is germ cleanser in your pocket to prove that you are working on the side

of saving lives and not endangering the entire population of the Western Hemisphere.

Everyone has an irritant or two, an aggravating circumstance that can initiate an anxiety response or anger reaction. But there is a fine line between pet peeves and neuroses. At some point, accommodations can no longer be made for the individual experiencing the angst caused by the pet peeve.

As I sat in the waiting room, reaching for a tissue while avoiding eye contact with anyone, I thought about my friend who is basically incapable of being around other people for an extended period without making her needs known loudly and frequently.

I began to wonder whose needs were more important. My foot, tapping against the floor, ironically began to bother me, as I became more immersed in thought. I suddenly realized this was far too philosophical, deep and distressing. The bottom line was that my nose was running, the doctor was late and as much as I enjoyed a trip into unsolvable problems, I really needed to focus on the magazine in my hands.

Those people are far crazier and I had no idea who they are. I turned the page and sniffed. Geez! Wish I’d stop that.

DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.

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