My brother and I have a contest going. We each try to collect the most useless utterance in the English language.
My brother found one classic example in a self-help book. “Don’t worry about things you can’t control,” it said.
“They’ve got it exactly wrong,” he pointed out. “If there’s something you can control, you should go control it. When there’s nothing left to do, that’s precisely when to start worrying. That’s what worrying is for.”
“Speaking of ‘worry,’” I said, “do you remember that letter I wrote home to Mom and Dad from camp?”
“Of course. It’s legendary,” said my brother. “I remember how they took off to get you like bats out of hell. What did you write, anyway?”
“I said that ‘the imperfection in my eye is almost healed.’ I didn’t want them to worry!”
“And instead, Dad just bellowed, ‘WHAT imperfection? Why didn’t they call us?’ Actually, after all these years, I still don’t know what happened.”
“Well, apparently a piece of rust got into my eye, from being in a lower bunk staring at the bunk above me. Then I rubbed my eye — of course — I must have scratched my cornea, and they had to take me to some kind of eye doctor to fix me up.”
After a few minutes, I started giggling. “Speaking of worry — do you remember what Grandma said that time we cleaned out her garage?”
“I’ve tried to forget,” said my brother.
Our grandmother was selling her house the next day, and everything was packed up and ready—except for some stuff in the garage. So my brother and I went over there with trash bags and paper towels for what we figured would be an hour’s worth of work.
“You youngsters are so thoughtful,” she told us. “Here, use the door from the kitchen so you can keep from getting too chilly with the roller door up.”
That’s how I found myself staring at a row of containers, each more toxic than the last on a shelf that stretched from the kitchen door to the back of the garage:
It started with soda in bottles so old I had never seen those logos outside of a museum; then some old paint cans, mostly empty but with the lids stuck on tight. Then turpentine. Then, in quick succession some poisonous slug pellets. Round-up, Malathion and DDT.
“It’s a murderer’s dream!” I exclaimed. “What are we supposed to do with these? I don’t even want to touch them, let alone put them in the garbage. Did you bring any rubber gloves?”
“Never mind that,” my brother had replied. “I don’t even think it’s legal to throw them out.”
“So what should we do?” I asked. “Call 911?”
“Or a HAZMAT squad,” he said. “There must be someone who can dispose of this stuff safely.”
“Maybe,” I said. “But that would take forever, and the closing’s tomorrow.” Here we’d started out trying to do Grandma a favor and instead we might torpedo her sale.
Grandma eventually came out to see what was taking so long.
“There’s all kinds of poisons here!” I exclaimed. “Weren’t you afraid to have such toxic chemicals right next to your kitchen?”
“Oh, those old things,” she said cheerfully. “I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you.”
“You wouldn’t worry about it if you were me?” I repeated, my voice going higher with every word. “You wouldn’t worry if you were me? Believe me, if you were me, you would worry. The problem is you aren’t me; you’re YOU, happily keeping DDT on the same shelf as your soda water.”
I spun around, taking in the rest of the garage. I might have become a tad hysterical. “I wouldn’t be surprised if these walls had lead paint — and that insulation over there is probably asbestos.”
Just then we heard voices on the other side of the roll-up door. We opened it up— to find ourselves facing the about-to-be new owners of this hellhole. “Hello there!” said the young couple. “We couldn’t resist a sneak peek.”
“Um, hi!” I said slowly, praying they hadn’t heard my rant from seconds before.
My brother recovered first. “Judy,” he said, “why don’t you take them around back and show them the patio?” That’s when he quickly “disappeared” all the evidence into the trunk of his car.
“You’re right,” he said to me as we reminisced. “That line of Grandma’s — ‘I wouldn’t worry if I were you’ — has got to be the most useless sentence of all time.”