Dave Barry

Stress Management 101


This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, July 16, 1995

TODAY'S HEALTH TOPIC IS: How to Manage Stress

Recently I was in my office, with a lot to do, including write a column, when I got a phone call informing me that the electric company had cut off my power.

Years ago, I would have responded to this petty annoyance with a pointless, immature outburst of anger. But since then I have learned that stress management is vital to health. So I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, then punched my desk so hard that I could not make a fist for three days.

Then, using my other hand, I called the electric company, which has one of those automatic call-routing systems, designed by escaped Nazis with the aid of the Educational Testing Service, wherein you must use your touch-tone phone to pass a lengthy multiple-choice test (" . . . if you know your first name but NOT your last name, press . . . "). This is the electric company's way of testing your worthiness as a customer; it's similar to the way knights of old had to prove themselves by slaying dragons, except that instead of winning the hand of a fair maiden, you get put in line to speak with an actual Customer Service Representative.

While waiting, I kept my stress level down by calmly going over the points I planned to make, as follows:

1. You stupid idiots.

2. Give me back my electricity THIS INSTANT.

3. What are you people using for brains?

4. Pez?

While I was refining these points, a Customer Service Representative came on the line and immediately irritated me by -- I believe this was a deliberate tactic on her part -- being polite. She explained to me that my electricity had been turned off because -- get a load of THIS excuse -- I had not paid my bill.

I was furious. The only thing that prevented me from hiring the entire O.J. Simpson defense team and suing the electric company for every last volt it owns was the realization that I had not, in fact, paid my electric bill. You know how you sometimes make a pile of papers that you Definitely Have To Get To Soon, and then you avoid making eye contact with the pile for several weeks, secretly hoping -- you crazy optimist -- that a giant comet will strike the Earth and wipe out all human life and you won't have to deal with it? My electric bill was in a pile like that.

The irritatingly polite woman told me that they could turn my electricity back on that day, but only if I paid the bill in person before 2 p.m. She told me to pay at a drugstore near where I live. (I don't know why she didn't have me pay at the electric company; probably they don't want anybody to find out their secret method for generating electricity, which I suspect involves a carpet being scuffed by a giant pair of mechanized shoes.)

So I had to rush home to get my electric bill, and naturally my car chose that exact moment to be low on gas, so I had to stop at one of those all-purpose gas stations that also sell beer, cigarettes, magazines, hats, beef jerky and hot dogs the  same age as Strom Thurmond. Naturally I wound up standing in line behind some moron who was investing his family's grocery money in some kind of state lottery transaction so complex as to require the full attention of ALL THREE store clerks for about 15 minutes, during which time I controlled my stress level by staring laser holes into the back of the moron's neck and shrieking silently, inside my head, WHY NOT SAVE YOURSELF SOME TIME? WHY NOT JUST SET YOUR MONEY ON FIRE?

So as you can imagine I was feeling very nonstressed when, with 2 p.m. rapidly approaching, I finally got back out onto the highway and immediately got stuck in severe traffic behind a driver with ears the size of pie plates who had just this moment arrived here from the year 1937 and had therefore never seen a left-turn arrow. You could see him studying it, trying to figure it out -- A green arrow! Pointing left! Here in the left-hand lane! Whatever could it MEAN? -- while those of us behind him controlled our stress levels by pounding our horns and then yelping with pain because we had accidentally used the same hand that we had used, in an earlier stress-control effort, to punch our desk.

Finally, with only minutes to go, I got to the drugstore -- a cramped and dingy place selling unattractive housewares on lay-away -- and found myself at the end of a long, Soviet-style line of people paying their utility bills in cash, which they pulled out of their wallets one dollar at a time in slow motion, pretending that they couldn't hear my brain shrieking at them HURRY UP YOU FOOLS but of course they knew exactly what they were doing because they were ALL PART OF THE PLOT, along with the electric company and the big-eared driver and the lottery moron and the black federal helicopters constantly monitoring my movements, all of them working together to RAISE MY STRESS LEVEL BUT I KNOW WHAT THEY'RE TRYING TO DO AND IT'S NOT GOING  TO WORK HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HEY GET AWAY FROM ME YOU

Editor's Note: There will be no Dave Barry column this week. Dave is taking the week off.