Cynthia Oi Under the Sun

Cynthia Oi

Slip-sliding our way
toward a lesser life

THE praying mantis floated on a raft of red-leaf lettuce, its triangular head pivoting slowly as it assessed its watery predicament in my kitchen sink. At the edge of the porcelain, a grasshopper struggled desperately, a lost leg foiling its attempts to escape its predatory cousin.

I had unwittingly brought the insects home in a bag of salad makings, dumping the lot in the sink for washing and trimming before deposit in the refrigerator. Pulling on the tap, I let the water trickle over the vegetables and went to do other things while the basin filled.

When I turned back, there they were.

I don't doubt that the neighbors heard my screeches and yelps in the ensuing battle of the bugs. I won't go into the ghastly details; the PETA-types will be on my tail. Suffice to say that it involved a colander, a wire whip, rolled newspapers, pot covers, a dishtowel or two and, finally, pulverizing deliverance through the garbage disposal.

The next time I bought lettuce from the vendor, I told her about my epic encounter. She began to apologize, but I said I wasn't complaining, that the insects were another indication that the greens she brought to market were fresh. The bugs were still alive and kicking, or at least the mantis was.

She laughed and I was relieved because complaining is a sharp instrument that can be dulled by misuse and she was undeserving.

Not that there aren't others who ought to be at the receiving end of expressions of dissatisfaction. Yet I wonder how many people take the time and make the effort to complain.

I watched as a woman culled through crinkly plastic containers of cherries at a grocery store recently. She selected a batch that she remarked had the fewest spoiled fruit, her companion confirming that the "ones on top look OK."

The cherries were priced at close to $7 a pound. I figured that either she so craved cherries she was willing to pay for the rotten ones or was wealthy enough that wasting a buck or two wasn't much of a concern. More likely she, like so many other consumers these days, was willing to settle for whatever was on the shelf.

If people don't air their grievances, businesses aren't pushed to improve their services. In some cases, companies may be unaware of consumers' dissatisfaction or problems customers encounter.

For example, an airline that offered discounted fares for online bookings didn't know that people using certain computer systems -- me, for one -- couldn't complete credit card transactions to take advantage of e-tickets.

When I called to complain, officials were surprised. At first, they thought I was doing something wrong, then assigned a computer wizard to go over the process with me step by step. Lo and behold, there was a glitch in the program, which the airline promptly fixed.

Complaining does require tenacity, patience and civility, sometimes more than you bargained for. The airline tangle consumed several hours over three days, but the result brought great satisfaction and savings of significant cash for me as well as countless others. It also helped the airline.

Advice-mongers are forever telling us that we shouldn't sweat the small stuff, that life is too short to make a fuss, that you have to pick your fights. Trouble is at some point the small stuff starts piling up. Things that at first seemed inconsequential coalesce into a critical mass of burdens.

There are some matters that may be difficult to correct or prevent. The Pentagon, for instance, is hell-bent on running Stryker vehicles through Hawaii despite objections from many residents about environmental degradation, the lack of strategies for restoring land already destroyed and about elevating the islands' prospects as a military target. But we can't let plans like this go through even though turning them away may be hard. We can't just let them slide. We have to complain.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at:



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