Everyday things that puzzle

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By Jack Sparacino
Isn’t it comforting, the old expression that “with age comes wisdom.” Given the millions of things I have yet to figure out, maybe we need to launch an adage re-visitation team (A.R.T.) to see if this saying really holds water.  In the meantime, here are a mere 15 of the everyday things that continue to puzzle me.
1. Mechanical pencils.
OK, I guess they’re convenient if you just can’t be troubled with finding a pencil sharpener (or even a sharp knife).  But the lead seems awfully thin and the points sure break easily.  Plus they’re more expensive than good old fashioned wooden lead pencils.  Pencil me in for wood.
2. Pizzas with anchovies.
Yes, I’ve tried them and yes, some people keep ordering them. As much as I absolutely love anchovy flavor in a Caesar salad and sure like pizza in general, anchovy pizza just seems strange looking and tasting.  Not bad, exactly, just strange.
3. The rarity of accents among Southern TV newscasters.
Don’t most people like Southern accents?  Certainly I do.  So the constant parade of otherwise competent newscasters with interchangeable voices is a bit dull.  Seems like there are more sportscasters with pleasant, local accents.
4. Korean Air TV commercials.
What in the world are they talking about, specifically?  The voice over, or is it just the song lyrics, seem almost indecipherable. (The long-legged flight attendants I get.)
5. McDonald’s coffee ad lyrics.
What language are they speaking/singing and why can’t they just say something like, “Hey our coffee is hot, fresh, and a heck of a lot less expensive than you know who’s.  C’mon in and try a cup!”  Too boring?
6. Paperback books that cost more than $5.
How much can paperbacks possibly cost to publish?  Aren’t they mass produced?  Don’t the publishers want to keep you away from Kindle?
7. Maps without mileage scales.
Alright, we’ve located our destination.  But how far away is it?  Do we have to get on the computer and go to Mapquest or Google Maps?  What happened to those little scales at the bottom of the map that said something like “one inch equals 25 miles”?  OK, OK, map makers are “scaling back.”
8. Imitation vanilla extract.
You’ve decided to bake something terrific, maybe a birthday cake for someone special, or some pastries.  You’ve got your flour and sugar ready, maybe some eggs and shortening.  Seems questionable to substitute imitation vanilla extract for the real thing.  Save a few cents here and there?  Sure.  But jeepers, imitation vanilla extract is made from artificial flavorings, most of which come from wood byproducts or coal extracts.  No wonder if it doesn’t taste nearly as good as real vanilla.
9. The terrible downside of flip flopping.
Seems like if you never change your position or viewpoint, you’re often ignoring new information as it becomes available.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
10. No layout diagrams in department stores.
I need to buy something.  It’s in the store somewhere, probably in house wares.  But where are house wares?  Is that what that sign says way over there?  Is that lady an employee or a shopper?  Should I just ask her anyway?  Hmm, those watches under the counter here look nice.  Now what was it I was looking for?
11. No penmanship classes for doctors?
Yikes, their handwriting is often even worse than mine, and that’s going some.  Don’t they understand how dangerous it might be if someone misreads their instructions?  Of course they do.  Maybe they can text their messages more often if the handwriting classes are full.
12. Dogs are not allowed in this hotel?
Many wonderful hotels (the Waldorf Astoria, for example, in New York City) and countless nice motels welcome dogs.  So how come you guys don’t allow dogs?
13. The relative rarity of really large brim hats in the Lowcountry (and elsewhere) compared to baseball hats, for example.
Sombreros look cool, don’t they?  Also your basic big floppy hat (note I said floppy, not flip floppy!).  So where are they, hiding in people’s closets?  Blown overboard? Sitting in the corner waiting to be exiled to a tag sale?
14. The derivation of “cat got your tongue”?
Yick, this one sounds a little gross.  But cats are nice, and so is silence sometimes.  Even “Ask Yahoo” concedes that no one is positive about the origins of this expression.  Hmm.
15. Why “slippery slopes” are almost always supposed to be bad.
Surely skiers like their slopes slippery enough to ski down, and dry and crumbly or sticky slopes can’t be all good.  Plus, it seems a fair bet that there’s something nice at the bottom of that slope. You know, like a department store with a diagram that tells you where to find real vanilla extract, sombreros, or wood pencils.  And, oh yes, fish free pizza!
Clearly, I need to live longer so I can acquire a little more wisdom.  In the meantime, I’m going to keep quiet about all the things I don’t understand. The cat has my tongue.

Jack Sparacino has a Ph.D. in psychology from The University of Chicago.  He has published over 20 articles in psychological and medical journals.  He is retired from United Technologies Corporation and now lives with his wife, Jane and their two dogs on St. Helena Island.  His hobbies include fishing, clamming, crabbing, shrimping and writing.