John Carlson: Feeling Put Upon?

Oh, no! The coffeemaker dripped way too long again! Photo by: Nancy CarlsonOh, no! The coffeemaker dripped way too long again! Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

How lucky are we to live in the United States of America? Very lucky, as I am sure most of us would agree.

That’s not to say it’s perfect here.

But as my wife reminds me when I am bitching and moaning about the state of things or some perceived injustice, my problems invariably amount to what are best described, and dismissed, as “first-world.”  Take the other morning. Having hopped out of bed at the crack of 9:30, I was standing in our kitchen with a hangdog look while making whiny, whimpering noises. Then Nancy walked in and rolled her eyes.

“What’s the matter this time?”

Now, I am perfectly aware there are places in the world where a guy could spout some serious complaints. “Dang it, woman!” he might say. “A black mamba, which you’ll recall is one of the world’s deadliest serpents, just slithered through the doorway and is curled up under our kitchen sink … again.” Either that or maybe, “Sheesh, woman! Another Komodo dragon – you know, one of those big ugly lizards with the poisonous drool – has taken over our chicken coop like he’s Colonel freaking Sanders or something.”

Those would be significant problems.

But what happened to me was, I had brewed a cup of java with our coffee machine. However, ten whole seconds after shutting off, it was still dripping coffee drips that somehow wound up pooling on our countertop, thereby forcing me to mop them up! Furthermore, the coffee didn’t quit dripping until another ten seconds elapsed, forcing a 20-second delay in finally sitting down to my morning’s first Toaster Strudel!

As that one reporter hollered way back when the dirigible Hindenburg burned up, “Oh, the humanity!”

There was a time when, hearing that, Nancy would have fixed me with a reproachful stare and muttered a sarcastic, “Ohhh, dapoorbaby.” But this time she just muttered, “Yeah, that’s a first-world problem all right.”

And I had to agree. Compared to black mambas curled under the sink and Komodo dragon spit pooling out in the henhouse, my worries were nein,nyet, nada,nuthin’. As a sensible woman, Nancy was simply reminding me of my good fortune, same as she does when I throw a fit because I’m making a Bloody Mary and discover some thoughtless jerk – me – ate all the big olives.

Which is an embarrassing admission, considering how easy I have it and how easy the rest of the world – the part we think of as the “third world” – doesn’t have it.

Much of this happens in places I’d be hard pressed to find on a map. But it’s even more embarrassing when you consider the percentage of Delaware County youngsters who routinely face issues like food insecurity. Or consider our country’s Desert Southwest, where the selfless group Dig Deep works tirelessly to provide clean water to Native Americans. In a TV report I once watched, folks from the Navajo tribe in New Mexico were questioned about that very basic need. Video showed children gathered around a hose when clean water came spurting out. They erupted with a joy that most first-world kids would have reserved for strawberry slushies.

Absolute joy… for clean water.

And one old woman spoke with quiet resignation of the lengths to which she went to procure clean water every day. The show’s commentator noted how government red tape had stymied efforts to provide it. You couldn’t help but think, OK, let’s get this straight. We killed these folks, slaughtered their buffalo, took their land and probably introduced them to the joys of small pox. So what elsecould we do to them?

Let’s deny an old woman water!

Happily, after that TV segment aired, there was an almost unprecedented outpouring of concern and  influx of donations to Dig Deep from folks flat-out embarrassed and astounded by the injustice in all this. Furthermore, the efforts to fight hunger hereabouts seem to be in full swing among caring people who see local food insecurity issues in this country, not to mention county, as just plain unacceptable.

As for the rest of the world, the real third-world, and its monumental challenges? What can you say? And don’t even get me going on those poor folks in Puerto Rico.

But it’s surely cause for an attitude adjustment among us, the lucky ones.



A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.