Let’s Make a Pact

September 4th, 2009

We’ll all benefit if we agree to stop raising the stakes

My wonderful niece was out here visiting from New York and we started talking about the Public Theater production of Twelfth Night this summer with Anne Hathaway and Raul Esparza and how we both desperately wanted to see it.  The Public Theater’s very noble goal is to provide great art for free, which means you can’t just go online and point and click and give your charge card number, which is how I buy most of my theater tickets.    (Apparently there are a few tickets available for each performance for a very hefty sum, but I think they’re hard to nab.) 

Anyway, my niece said that a friend of hers did score a couple of tickets  to a performance, but to do that she had to get to the box office line at something like 4:30 a.m. because people start queuing up then to get whatever tickets are released that day when the box office opens at 8 (or whenever it is).  “I’m willing to wait in line,” my niece said with a sigh, “but not at 4:30 in the morning.  Why can’t people just agree not to start lining up until 8?  Then NO ONE has to get there that early.  But once people start going earlier and earlier, everyone else has to do it, too.”

I felt her pain.  It was a familiar one to me.   That annoying, “Why do some people have to ruin it for all of us?” kind of pain, where because other people are willing to raise the stakes, get up early, pay more money, waste more time, etc., the rest of us either have to do it, too, or lose out on opportunities and suddenly you’re in a mad race with the rest of the world for something that didn’t use to be so hard to attain.

I think it’s time to get off the treadmill.  This new financial austerity of ours might as well give birth to another kind of austerity–let’s all relax a bit, shall we?  Toward this end, I propose a contract between me and . . . well, everyone else in the country.   Some of the major points would run as follows:

LET US ALL JUST AGREE . . .

1.  To line up for tickets and events when it’s the official time and not hours earlier (or the night before.  Or two nights before).  We’ll all get more sleep and be in a much better mood for the actual event.

2. To stop tutoring our children for the SATs.  When I was in high school, studying for the SATs consisted of buying a big workbook, throwing it in the bathroom, and studying it when you were on the toilet.   Now everyone seems to take it for granted that his kid will take an SAT tutoring class AND get privately tutored.  Some of the smartest, most well-educated kids I know have spent hundreds of hours studying for a test that was originally meant to test native intelligence with the result that the SATs now are a test of whose parents can spend the most money on tutors.  This is stupid, people.  If everyone would just agree to stop with the tutoring, we’d be back to an even playing field and we’d ALL save a ton of money.

3. Similarly . . . what’s with all the private coaching going on these days?  My brother was like all-state doubles champ back in high school just from being coached by his high school math teacher who managed the tennis team.  I mean, yes, he had taken lessons over the years and gone to tennis camp, but he wasn’t “supplementing” the coaching with hours of private practice.  Now every kid I know who plays a high school sport also has his own private coach teaching him for hours every week.  Sure, the level of play has gone way up–but toward what end?  Most of these kids aren’t going to end up professional players.  Why can’t high school kids play at a high school level anymore? 

4.  In a very different vein, can we all agree that we don’t have to bring hostess gifts to every single party we’re invited to?  It’s getting so you can’t show up for an enormous cocktail party without a big gift-wrapped something in your hand.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se–I just think it would make all our lives easier if we agree that in the end it all evens out, and you don’t have to bring anything to my house if I don’t have to bring anything to your house.  There, now–isn’t that easier?

5.  To let ourselves look older as we get older.  Why do we have to look as good (if not better) in our forties and fifties as we did in our twenties?  Your body wants to spread a little bit.  Your hair wants to change color.  Your face wants to settle into a slightly different shape. The only reason we’re fighting it with billions of dollars spent in cosmetics and plastic surgery is to keep up with each other–it’s fine to look forty-five if everyone else does, but if all your friends look thirty, you feel decrepit.  Let’s all relax a bit, let that tire creep in around our middle, only dye our hair when we feel like it . . . and enjoy our middle years without feeling like we’re at war with nature.

6.  To just be mellow on the road.  Look, I know you want to get where you’re going as quickly as possible.  So do I.   When you cut me off, all you do is arrive at the next light one car-length ahead of me–and for that you risked both our lives?  But don’t slow down in front of me either–that’s not cool.  Let’s all just agree to drive at a steady ten percent above the speed limit.   I promise you it will work out in the long run.

7.  To bring down the level of our kids’ parties.  Come on.  They’re kids.  Hire a clown and serve cake.   And party favors should be a piece of candy and a little plastic toy that will break in five minutes–what’s with the huge packages of gifts my kids are bringing home that cost more than the present we gave the birthday girl/boy?  Let’s all agree to go back to backyard parties where kids run around and hit each other on the head for two hours and the cake is all homemade and lumpy.  I will if you will.

I could go on but you’ve probably alredy stopped reading.  The point is we need to stop raising the stakes and pull back.  But it only works if we ALL do it.

Please write in with your own additions to the “contract.”

  • Betsy says:

    It occurs to me, (but I could be wrong) that you could get all of that by moving to rural Kansas. Of course, you lose things like Anne Hathaway in the park…

  • Missy says:

    I hadn’t stopped reading. I completely agree with you. Too bad I don’t live in your country. :'( But I’ll promise to stick to your rules as much as I can when I go to Seattle this Christmas.

  • Claire says:

    Betsy, you have a point. A lot of these problems are westside LA or Manhattan problems. But everyone I know who’s gotten disgusted with all this stuff and moved to another part of the country has come back a year or two later, so I don’t think moving is the solution.

  • Katherine says:

    I totally agree. People line up for swim lesson registrations here in Michigan at 4:00 am.

    Also can we agree to not write thank you notes after every kid’s birthday party. Emily Post says it is ok if they already said thank you for the present at the party.

  • Claire says:

    I totally agree about thank you notes. There are so many nicer things you can do with your kid than force him to write twenty-five notes that all say the same thing. Plus think of the savings on postage stamps for us all!

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