Al Batt: Wanting and whining seem to complete us

Published 9:45 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday and Sunday.

I was wearing my “I’ve been to Blue Earth” T-shirt as I pushed a button on my cellphone.

I typically save that shirt for formal occasions, but my “What part of ‘Uffda’ don’t you understand?” sweatshirt was in the wash.

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“What do you want?” was how a friend answered my call.

Stupid caller ID.

It was a good question. What do I want? People always want something.

When I was a boy, during the time when I’d tell the waitress what I wanted and my mother told her what I’d have, I fell in with the wrong crowd–the Christmas wishbooks. They arrived as catalogs from Sears, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward. I was their target audience. I leaped before I looked. I paged through them as kids all over the country did. Those catalogs were a national campfire. I used a leaky fountain pen to circle the items I wanted. I ignored the things I needed in order to concentrate on the things I wanted. I wanted what I wanted and hoped that I didn’t get what I deserved. I wanted way more than I needed. I wanted more than some small countries needed. I suppose it was an unlabeled FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

I handed the stack of catalogs to my mother.

“Any questions?” I’d say, my words brimming with hope. It was a dramatic moment.

One year, I needed a tent. My life would have been wasted without one, like the existence described in an old “Hee Haw” song, “Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery.”

I got a used canvas tent with barely more fabric than holes. It took me only three hours to put up the tent, but it stayed up for nearly three hours. And I did it without a thumb on either foot.

I walked through a store recently. The music playing was, “You can’t always get what you want” by the Rolling Stones. A shopper’s lament.

What do we want?

A friend took me for a spin in his new Tesla. It was tres cool. No gas and no oil. The car was something that he really wanted. It made him happy. It’s nice when we get what we want.

When my feet are cold and I’m standing on ice, I wish I had warmer socks. When crammed into an airplane or bus, I wish I had seats that matched my long legs. When there is none in the bathroom, the thing I want most is toilet paper.

My wants can be as temporary as a paper towel in a spill factory. Maybe cherry pie with whipped cream, an ornament to any day.

One year, I wanted Tinkertoys for Christmas. I wanted to make a windmill. I had the wind. I got Lincoln Logs instead. Lincoln Logs were good, but they were no Tinkertoys. With Tinkertoys, I could build with my imagination, assembling wooden parts in a variety of ways. The possibilities for construction play were endless. The Lincoln Logs measured three quarters of an inch in diameter and were notched so that the redwood logs could be laid at right angles to each other to form rectangles resembling buildings. Additional parts of that toy set included roofs, chimneys, windows and doors.

I moped a bit due to the dearth of Tinkertoys before building a tiny log house. With some additions and modifications not included with the set, I turned it into a birdhouse that when placed near the backyard clothesline, became a nest box.

I got Tinkertoys the next year, but it was too late for me to become a Tinkertoy architect. My life’s path had been set. Both of the toys taught me to use my imagination to build things, but I’d become more interested in birds than in architectural symmetry or finials. It was a good trade. I wanted Tinkertoys, but I needed Lincoln Logs.

It’s human nature, I suppose. Wanting and whining completes us. When we don’t get what we want, we whine about it and are disappointed, but move quickly onto other desires. I’ve found that the easiest way to deal with disappointment is to wear tight shoes for a day. That takes my mind off my discontent.

Dale Carnegie said, “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.”

I’ll bet Carnegie had a windmill he built from Tinkertoys.