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Art Lee: Life’s ‘tee-jus’ (ain’t it?) — Anyway, prevent pain any way

There are lots of things you sort of know about but seldom think about until someone puts those topics to you in a different way and makes you think about them. The University has a program of classes just for seniors but the class leaders are not called teachers; they’re “presenters. (Same difference.)  It was one of the latter figures who recently told our class about something we already knew (well, sorta) and semi-teased the class members by first asking: “What are Americans most concerned with, if not worried about,, as they go through life day by day.?”   From his query he pulled out responses like “money,”  “kids/grandkids,” “food,” “wars,” and to each response the presenter said “no.”  So what are the problems for everyday citizens in their everyday lives?  You’ll be surprised. Finally came his answer to his own question: “The two basic drives in all of us involve the term avoidance and thus the two basic drives that everyone wants to avoid are  —you ready? 1) PAIN  and  2) BOREDOM.

He went on with illustrations, starting with Americans’ No. 1 Way to avoid boredom:  television. Consider that in millions of American homes, the TV comes on first thing in the morning and stays on all day and far into the night. “And this action because people love TV that much?  No, because it simply helps them for being bored,” he said. With the Presenter’s introduction to the topics,  he inserted a personal illustration. Although in his early 80’s, he plays tennis every day.. Why?  “Well, I just need something to do, a need to get away.”  

Then he indicated that each class member was  “guilty” in his/her own way as every one of us is wasting time and energy doing something primarily because it “gives us something to do.”  We’re bored. Too easily bored.

He would wryly add that TV and pain-avoidance go together, judging by the multitude of commercials for medicines to stop/prevent pains, real or imagined or anticipated. You got symptoms of Sciatica? Got ringing in the ears? How about Nerve Pain in the feet? Or Restless Legs or Leg Cramps.? All these pains can be avoided or ended by a quick trip to your pharmacy.

At that point in the class period we were advised to “think about those topics” and “think back to your childhood days and recall the topics of ‘boredom -and-pain’ as you remember them affecting people you knew in your surroundings.” So I did, remembering “way back when:”


In our tiny town composed of almost all Norwegian-Americans, there were only two taverns, LITTLE NORWAY and GORDON’S,  but in the mornings they became the town social centers for elderly  men who came there daily just to sit and talk and play cards (usually Whist and/or Pinochle) and talk some more and grouse and laugh and grumble and cuss and drink beer. Why then and there?  As one man answered openly and honestly:  “Well, it jus’ gives us sumthin’ to do.”  Another: “I look forward to gettin’ out of the house just to keep me from goin’ nuts.”  Another: “Me and the missus get tired of lookin’ at each other.”


Come Spring and well into Fall, non-card-players assembled outside the Hardware Store, showing up both in the mornings and afternoons just to “wissit,” as it was often pronounced. Even a few of us high school kids would on rare occasion sit there and listen silently, understanding the code that we would talk only when spoken to  — which was not often. And why there with these ancient men (some were over 60!)  sitting there blazooing every day?  “Ahhh, it  jus’ sumthin’ to do to pass the time away.”  Never an agenda, topics discussed ranged widely and among the usual discussions were aches-and-pains and medical pronouncements:  “My arter-itis iss boddering me bad tewday.”  Even attempts at medical humor were offered:  “Hey, iss it ta-rue that ‘Carters’ Little Liver Pills’ are only good for little livers? Ha ha ha.”  When any subject would get exhausted, long silences would follow, and these usually broken up by octogenarian Knute Ugland declaring as though he were standing on Mount Olympus:  “Yah-da, den, life iss tee-jus, ain’t it,”  which alleged banal word-use later sent me to the dictionary to find out the word in question was “tedious” . Was Knute right?  Yah da. Or at least for bored high school kids looking for something, anything, to do. But  no one there ever but never suggested that their informal  group was boring. One might think it but not say it. (Boring was such a nasty adjective: A great way for a teenage girl to put down a teenage boy was to declare:  “Oh he’s so boring.”)


All the men would look up every day when they would see Sonja Ruspegaarden come careening  down main street and  swing her Hudson around and park in front of the drug-store. They knew what she was up to. She would hobble to the front door and come out later with a bulging package of medicines,  a ritual that had the headshakers almost collectively say:  ‘That woman has got more pills in her bathroom than can be found in a Rexall drugstore. She must  think she’s got or about to get every painful disease known to mankind, everything from Housemaids’ Knee to Pancreatic Cancer --and wants to get some more pills for all the things she thinks ails her.’ Uff da.

Addenda: Are these above remembrances fair illustrations of responding to those two basic drives?  Are the drives themselves valid positions to start with?  Like all questions that call for opinions, the answers begin with three words:  “Well, It Depends. . .”

(Meanwhile, just in case, turn on the TV and don’t forget the number of your drugstore.)