04 January, 2013

It's Friday: Let's Piss Off People Who Say "Life Happens"!

I hate the phrase "life happens".
I hate it.
It speaks to a deferment of responsibility on behalf of the speaker, as though they are absolved of any fault that they may have landed themselves in a less-than-desirable situation. All they have to do is speak these two little words, "life happens", and then they're completely free to do as they please without having to suffer the consequences of their actions.
Hearing these words grates on my nerves and immediately evokes the imagery of your standard, generic paper towel commercial. You know the one. The one with the well-dressed Caucasian soccer mom, arranging a bowl of berries on the island counter, never more than arms' length from her iPhone in a suburban kitchen so antiseptic and clean that even world class hospitals get a jealousy boner from the sight of it. The husband (these ladies are always heterosexual, mind you) is never present as the kitchen is the wife's domain (he's in the Craftsman tools Xmas commercials, in case you were wondering). Out of nowhere, the kids come in, caked head to toe in chocolate or dirt, or the dog, fresh from running through wherever it was that he got wet on a sunny and seventy two day, comes dragging dirty paw prints over the freshly swiffered linoleum. And then that omniscient voice of a failed actress who got into voice-overs instead of pornography to pay the rent comes over the audio feed and says, "Life happens." Sometimes with the inflection on "life", sometimes on "happens", but most of the time on "life". And then we're shown the product:
An ultra quilted with patented vacuum-pocket technology™, triple ply tree killer, with patented select-a-size™ perforations (which really just means it's perforated in more places) that picks up a thousand percent more spilled coffee than the competing brand. It's exactly what you need when life happens. Or at least what this soccer mom needs, shortly before she goes back to leaning against the island counter and drinking a mug of coffee with two hands while looking off into space, contemplatively, thoughtfully.
Life happens.
Even in the commercial, it's OK. Nobody's responsible. The paper towel picks up the mess. No need to teach your kids to wipe their feet before coming in the house or train the dog to not chase after the raccoons in the drainage ditch or wherever. There are paper towels for that.
Life happens.
I'd like to note that none of my friends talk that way. First of all, very few of my friends have kids, live in the burbs, or have dogs. The majority of my friends have cats, actively avoid having children, and live in a city. Our kitchens are hardly sparkling affairs. There are mismatched potholders and ad hoc collections of juice glasses, dilapidated ranges polished up and called vintage, and these places are egalitarian, gender-wise, places of toil and craft. There's a broom in the corner, gunk on one of the stove burners, a drawer with five spatulas where the cork screw is supposed to be, clean dishes still in the strainer, and a paper bag of cheap beer cans ready to go out for the recycling. There's a playful slap on the ass and the occasional honey-can-you-Google-a-substitution-for-marjoram. There is no, however, "life happening". Sure, life is happening, it's just that "life", note the quotation marks, is not.
In my line of work, you could say that "life happens" a lot. Or at least that's what I hear. Generally from flakes of all sorts. I've heard it from catty homosexuals with speed habits, freshly evicted from their apartments because they bounced another rent check. I've heard it from space-cadet strippers who bounce in and out of town every five or six weeks because Arizona didn't "work for them" and neither did Madison, Philadelphia, or Miami. Good Christian divorcés who are in the throes of trying to convince a judge that their living situation is stable enough (in a hostel) for joint custody of their children. And that's not the whole list. Trust me, it's a wide mix of people.
And I'm not devaluing the effort these people are putting into overcoming their ordeals. The speed-freak is trying to straighten himself out in a communal environment where he knows nobody but is pretty sure that nobody is going to play his shit if he has a freak out at two in the morning in a dormitory. He knows he has to be on best behavior unless he wants to get reported to the office. The stripper is working when and where she can until she can find something better and is probably filled with self-doubt as to whether she's qualified for something else. The divorcé is in a shitty situation, freshly moved out of his ex's house and struggling like hell to find an apartment PDQ.
But they all say the same thing happened to them: Life.
Life didn't happen to you. You blew the rent on speed too many times. You thought waiting tables was beneath you for all it paid. You let the stress of work get to you and you hit the bottle on a nightly basis.
I'd like to give these folks the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they're using "life happens" as the short version for "I fucked up". Maybe they don't want to get into their stories; they want to focus on where they are now without bringing up how they got there. But I've never heard it that way. It's always used in the same manner, as a flippant dismissal of responsibility.
The last time a person said this to me, they asked me over the phone if the hostel that I run has a quiet place where they could have a phone conversation. I said that there was always some little pocket of the house people find so, yeah, no problem. She then asked what our policies on loud, perhaps disruptive phone calls was. I was as blunt as possible: "Ma'am, if your phone call disrupts the other guests, we'll have to ask you to leave."
Now, sure, I don't kick people out. Not on the first go around. I ask them to keep it down. If I don't like them or it's the second time, I tell them to keep it down. Then they get the final warning after that. And after that, their money is no longer green here and they have to find somewhere else. Doesn't matter what time, doesn't matter what kind of weather; you fucked up, you kept fucking up, and you're out of here.
ANYhoo... The woman proceeds to briefly tell me that she's going through some turmoil with her (adult) kids (I can guess she's middle-aged by her voice) and that, sometimes, "life happens".
Shirking responsibility.
Her phone calls might get loud and disruptive because life happens.
And I think to myself, "No. Your phone calls might get loud and disruptive because you can't keep your shit together on the phone. Even if it is your kids' fault, you're still older than they are. You should be able to keep your cool and not lose your shit during a phone call. Don't blame this shit on life happening. Suck it up and learn to take control of a situation, take responsibility for your actions, and not yell over the phone.
"Beside that, you're on the phone. How much more futile can you get than yelling over the phone? Yelling accomplishes nothing face to face unless you want to intimidate, humiliate, and belittle the shit out of somebody. If you want to scare them out of their wits that you're capable of flipping right the hell out, yell in their faces. But over the phone? You're nowhere near them. You're ineffectual. You just come across as a raving dumb ass lunatic with no sense of self control.
"'Life' isn't 'happening' when you can't prevent yourself from making poor choices. 'Life' doesn't 'happen' because you don't want to admit to yourself that you're fucking up."
What I said, though, was, "I understand but you can't disturb other guests anymore than I can allow them to disturb you."
Cut to a few hours later.
She arrives.
And, sure enough, she looks like the mom from a paper towel commercial.
So I beg that we actively strive to put an end to this "life happens" nonsense. I say that, from here on out, when we hear someone say "life happens", we punch them in the nose. Hard. And when they ask us why we did that, we tell them, "Shit happens."

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