While waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store the other day, I noticed a very unhappy woman walking through the sliding glass doors with a ripped bag. Utilizing my snap judgment skills, I thought she might be homeless; snap judging again from the way she began to irrationally berate the nearest cashier for said ripped bag, I wasn’t so sure anymore. Could be anyone in LA. For his part, the cashier was extremely gracious and said she could take as many bags as she liked, but this only added fuel to her fire. She then proceeded to whine that she didn’t want multiple bags; she wanted just one decent bag to hold all her stuff. Listening to her tirade, I had to admit that the woman had a point. It’s annoying when those bags rip. Yet moments later as I was unloading my own many double-bagged groceries into the car, I wondered, “Is this where we’re at as a society?” Forget the unemployment rate, rising gas prices and the government almost shutting down. We’re also complaining about grocery bags now?

I know, I know… It’s human nature to complain. We hate our job. Our boyfriend. Our neighbors. We want a vacation. A new car. Six pack abs.

Yet many of us won’t ever have a good enough job or boyfriend or body, so we complain about it. We vent to our friends and family for minutes… err, hours on end. Then we sigh dramatically and say, “But I guess I shouldn’t complain. I have a roof over my head. I have food in the fridge. It’s not like I’m some starving kid in Africa.” And then our friends say, “No, it’s okay. Besides, you can’t compare yourself to that kid in Africa. It’s all relative.”

Is it, though? Why shouldn’t we compare ourselves to that kid in Africa? I’ve used the “all relative” line a dozen or more times myself, but I’m not entirely sure it’s warranted. Why again that logic? Just so I have permission to complain about annoying salespeople who won’t leave me alone or the annoying dryer that never dries my sheets all the way? Because it’s always something that’s “so annoying.” Know what else is annoying? Not having a roof over your head. Or food to eat even if you had a fridge to put it in. Or being torn away from your family at eight to become a child soldier. That’s annoying.

Okay, maybe the kid in Africa isn’t comparable. Apples and oranges you say. But what about that pseudo homeless lady in Ralph’s? Or the panhandlers who magically appear every time I’m at a red light? Poor me. I’m the unlucky schmuck who just missed the left turn signal, and now I have to wait that eternal two minutes while this dude walks up and down the center median with a dirty disposable cup and outstretched hand. So what do I do? I pretend not to see him. I try to find *something* in my purse. Or I change the channel on the radio. Or I just stare ahead at the light as he periodically peeks in my window to see if I have some change to spare.

Every time this happens to me, and it happens a lot, a chill goes down my spine. Somehow his tragedy is my catalyst for complaining because the entire time I’m thinking, “What if that’s me someday?”

I’ve had this conversation with friends as well. What if I become homeless? Of course they smirk and say, “That would never happen.” End of story. But it could happen. Easily. I live in LA, and it’s not cheap here. Gas has been above four bucks for well over a month now. If you want to live in a neighborhood (relatively) free from break-ins and shootings, be prepared to pay for it. Also be prepared for some stiff competition for any and all jobs. Should you not secure that dream gig as Spielberg’s heir apparent, don’t assume the barista position at Starbucks is wide open. I promise that you’ll be up against a few thousand other auteur wannabes.

What’s my point? I dunno. I know that most of the time our whining stems from some deeper need or desire. You hate your boyfriend because you just want someone who listens to you. You hate your job because issuing parking passes wasn’t your intended goal in life. I get it. And sometimes the complaining is just a way to blow off steam. Though in the grand scheme of things, most of the people I know are okay. In fact, we’re the lucky ones. Gas prices might continue to soar, but at least we still have our cars. They weren’t washed away in a tsunami. We might get frustrated with our reps in Washington, but I’m pretty sure we’ll never see tanks rolling down Sunset Boulevard as rebel forces try to take over Los Angeles. Though it would be nice if my landlord finally ponied up and bought a new dryer. I hate damp sheets.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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