Many moons ago - when I was still a young nipper, filled to the brim with optimism and idealism and probably one or two other positive “isms” - my standard answer whenever someone would ask me if I had any pet peeves went something like this: “Oh, good heavens, no. I have no pet peeves; I wouldn’t know what to feed them.”

Later, after I became a husband and the father of two young boys (yes, in that order, even though it wasn’t necessarily the norm at the time), I would typically answer that question thusly: “Nope, no pet peeves. Just four dogs and a couple of turtles.”

These days, alas, I’m a rapidly aging Baby Boomer for whom the optimistic idealism of my youth has been replaced by the reality of a lifetime of experience, and served up with an “Okay, Boomer” chaser by those who seem to think that anything that hasn’t happened in the past five minutes isn’t worth talking about. And one of the more unfortunate consequences of that transformation has been arrival of a herd of pet peeves that trample across the savannah of my consciousness like the elephants in an old Johnny Weissmuller movie.

I remember my parents telling me when I was younger that people pretty much earn the right to get persnickety once they’ve accumulated a certain amount of mileage in their lives. I can’t recall exactly now just how the subject came up at the time; I’m sure one or both of them had expressed an opinion on some burning issue or another and I, in that aforementioned overconfidence of youth, questioned why they felt the way they did. 

All I remember now is that they were both slightly younger when they shared this particular observation than I am now as I am remembering the event and telling you about it, so I’m pretty sure I’m safe in assuming that I’ve reached the stage in life where I, too, can behave accordingly.

And if not, well, just don’t bother telling me so. That’s another thing my father told me back in the day: part of the fun to be derived from this journey towards becoming a crotchety old man is enjoying the act of thumbing one’s nose at those who say one hasn’t the right to be crotchety. 

Some might call this a sign of immaturity, but I beg to differ. I was immature once, too, and this is a lot different. And in some ways a lot more fun; I’ve learned that there is a certain amount of pleasure to be derived from overreacting to minor little annoyances that, in the grand scheme of things, probably aren’t really worth overreacting to.

Like those television commercials when some pitchman or another tells you, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” I know it shouldn’t but, boy, that really, REALLY irritates me. Listen, buster, if I didn’t need it I wouldn’t be looking for it. And if you don’t have it, you don’t get my business. Get it?

Or people who just can’t seem to wrap their head around a concept as simple as the proper way to use an apostrophe. I mean, come on, knowing the difference between plural and possessive is NOT rocket science, people. Or at least it wasn’t when I was in the sixth grade; are they teaching it differently these days? Has instruction in proper punctuation gone the way of cursive writing and simple math? If so, well, there’s another pet that joined the herd of peeves. 

I’m going to need a bigger yard...

Here’s a pet peeve that’s been making plenty of noise from the back 40 of my mind here of late: People who think they have to back into the parking spots when they go to the grocery store. 

I don’t get that. Besides blocking traffic while they manuever their oversized pickup trucks into the wrong position, they then find themselves facing the wrong direction when it’s time to leave - which means they either pull out and drive the wrong way,  or block traffic again while executing the hard turn necessary to exit with the correct flow of traffic. I’ve lost count of the number of near-misses I’ve seen in parking lots when someone who backed into their parking spot has nearly collided with someone else while trying to leave.

Here’s another one that has been bugging me a lot lately: People who insist on judging you because of the condiments you choose to put on your hot dog.

Now I have to preface this one by acknowledging that it is something of a regional dispute. Some of you may recall that, while I was born here in Oklahoma, I grew up in my father’s hometown about an hour south of Chicago. And for some silly reason, people in Chicago have this thing about putting ketchup on their hot dogs. 

Long story short, they don’t like it - which in itself is something I would not have a problem with, if it weren’t for all the name calling and fingerpointing that these Lake Michigan food snobs subject the ketchup-loving hot dog eaters to whenever the subject comes up in conversation. Which it does more often than you might think.

I’ve heard people from Chicago who say things like, “If you put ketchup on a hot dog, you're not an American!” Which is blantantly untrue, because there is absolutely NOTHING in the U.S. Constitution banning the use of ketchup on hot dogs. I have a copy of the Constitution here on my desk, and I’ve checked.

Besides, hot dogs aren't really all that “All-American” to begin with, regardless of what one chooses to slather on them before eating. Have we forgotten that the very name "frankfurter" is derived from Frankfurt am Main, Germany - the city of their origin, where they were sold and eaten at beer gardens?

I’m sorry if it offends the sensibilites of those Chicagoans who like to think of themselves as the arbitors of frankfurter fashion (no, I’m not) , but I don't like hot dogs with any kind of vegetables on it - onions, relish, cucumber slices, whatever. I like them with ketchup, I like them with mustard (sometimes I'll put a little of both). I like them with chili and cheese. Every now and then I'll even experiment with different varieties of barbecue sauce, just for kicks.

But when I want vegetables, I'll order a salad. They have no place on my hot dogs. And the same thing goes for hamburgers...

The sad thing is that, as I grow older, I’m seeing that these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to compiling a list of personal pet peeves.  

I get frustrated with people who who uproot and move to a new town halfway across the country because they say they like it better there, and then spend all their time trying to make their new hometown more like the one they moved away from.


Or TV networks that yank an interesting new drama off the air after only two episodes, but keep bringing back mind-rotting tripe like Big Brother or The Bachelor.

And don’t even get me started on the continued refusal to induct the Monkees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...

Pointless complaints? Yes, ultimately they are - both in the grand scheme of things and in the minutiae of everyday life. But that’s something else my father taught me way back when: If you can’t be passionate about the little things in life, how can you be passionate about anything?

Experience has taught me that the man had a point. So pipe down and pass the ketchup...

(Column copyright © 2021 by John A. Small)