letters to people who won't write back, retail

Dear Woman Who Tried To Pay For A 99 Cent Coffee With A Hundred Dollar Bill At The BP On Madison Road This Morning,

We understand that the store’s credit card machine being down was a major inconvenience in your day. We don’t understand why you were paying for a 99 cent coffee with plastic. But that’s another matter.

You know who had even more of a major inconvenience than you, though? Mary, the clerk behind the counter. You’re just one of a hundred customers she had to ring up today. Contrary to what you may believe, she herself did not personally sabotage the credit card machine for shits and giggles.

She also does not generally have change for a hundred. It says that on the door. Mary didn’t set that policy. It’s just that Mary doesn’t want to get robbed (you may have noticed the height markers by the doors when you left), so they keep the drawers light.

We have some suggestions for you to consider so as to avoid this situation in the future. We’re confident these can ensure that everyone has a more pleasant day.

1. Carry smaller bills than Benjamins. Throw in a Grant or even a Jackson for some variety.

2. Brew your coffee at home. Then you can save the Benjamin!

3. Read this essay by David Foster Wallace. It really needs to be read in its entirety, but we’ll whet your appetite by quoting just this much as a teaser.

You get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.


But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.


Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.


But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.


Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest (this is an example of how NOT to think, though), most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.


You get the idea.


If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.


The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.


Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.


Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.


But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.


Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.


This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

This, m’am, is what we would have told you had we had time before you left without paying for your coffee. It was easy of us to assume then that you were getting into your Lexus to drive off and get a Botox injection, but we’re choosing to consider that there may have been other trajectories to your day that are beyond our imagination: that, for example, you had been up most of the night worrying about your sister’s operation this morning, and that you needed a jolt of caffeine to stay awake as you drove to the hospital to sit with your mother, who has just been a wreck throughout this whole thing, and await the news from the doctors. Who knows? We don’t. But since our paths crossed this morning, we just thought we’d drop you a line.


The Vores

letters to people who won't write back, Uncategorized

Dear Woman Who Needed Two Spots For Her Dodge Caliber Hatchback At The Skyline Chili In Oakley,

We’ll admit at first we thought you were simply incompetent at parking. Wow! we thought. Maybe she’s just blind!

But of course we were wrong. What we failed to understand — what sunk in as we sat in our booth by the window at Skyline marveling at your vehicle’s masterful command of two spots in an otherwise filled-to-capacity lot — is that you deserve two spots. Silly us! Here we thought the basic rules of parking decorum applied to you. But why would they? Because, after all, you drive a Dodge Caliber Hatchback!

I mean, just behold this miracle of vehicular ingenuity!


Now that’s a car! You’d better put that puppy in two spots so everyone can get a good look all right! 

Tell us what it’s like being too important for just one, measly parking spot? We’ll be straight with you: we have no idea. We’ve never pulled into a parking lot and thought to ourselves, Dadgummit, another lot without a suitably enormous spot for me to occupy! Looks like I’ll have to take two again. Sigh.

Hey, here comes another car looking for a spot. Ha! It’s a riot watching car after car think it can pull in on either side of you. Dolts!

Look, this guy is pulling into that open handicap spot. And he sure doesn’t appear to be handicapped! But hey, so what if some real handicapped folks pull in and can’t use that spot? I mean, they always get preferential treatment, right?

Not to beat a dead horse here, but it’s worth saying one more time: You drive a Dodge Caliber. What’s the horsepower on that baby? I bet we’re talking 0-60 in, what, eight seconds? And let’s not get started on the torque!

It sure would be interesting to see what you actually look like. I mean, we’ve scouted out the joint while we’ve been eating our black bean burritos, but nobody in here looks like they belong to the topmost echelon of the automotive caste system that Dodge Caliber owners occupy. Of course, if you were here, we would not be worthy even to gaze upon thy holy countenance. You would reside in that spot reserved for the Holiest of Holies, while we could only present our meager offering at the altar of the Outer Court, interceding through another so as to not be overcome — nay, obliterated — by your numinous, radiant splendor. 

Consider this floor plan of the holy tabernacle.


You — and the other deific Dodge Caliber owners, of course — would reside in the small chamber at the top of the diagram where the Ark of the Covenant resides. We, the plebeian peasantry, who would arrive at the temple in our used 2002 Suzuki Aerio and 1995 Grand Jeep Cherokee with 187,000 miles on it, or even — how pedestrian! — on foot, our weathered feet thick and leathery with calluses and blisters from the long walk over desert terrain in our shoddy, dilapidated sandals, would present our two mites before kneeling down in humble submission, foreheads pressed against the hard, stone temple floor so that we could lick it with our tongues should it be thy holy bidding, regretting every little bit of air we must consume for ourselves when it could be better used to thy service, bringing eternal glory to thy exulted self, thy who looks upon divinity face-to-face, thy who should rightfully trample us underfoot like mere ants, oh how we despise our fallen nature, we ungrateful, slovenly, provincial, vulgar Philistines, we who should be content to fill out stomachs with the pods that pigs eat and not this delicious black bean Skyline burrito. Woe! Woe! Woe is us!

Wait, is that you? You appear to be walking toward the Dodge Caliber. Yes, it’s you! Where did you come from? We didn’t see you leave Skyline. You must have been across the street! In other words, not Skyline! Which is curious, because this parking lot is specifically reserved for Skyline customers. 

But listen to us! Such outlandish presumption! What blasphemy has spilt from our lips? WE HAVE GAZED UPON THAT WHICH WE WERE NOT WORTHY TO BEHOLD. You asked, “Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?” Our ears had heard of you but now our eyes have seen you. Therefore we despise ourselves and repent in dust and ashes.

Godspeed to you and your fiery, winged chariot, the Dodge Caliber Hatchback!

letters to people who won't write back, sports

Dear Pittsburgh Steelers Fans,

First of all, congratulations are in order. You backed what was clearly the best team in the NFL this year. Last night’s dramatic, come-from-behind victory will go down as a Super Bowl classic. Santonio Holmes has become the new Dwight Clark. James Harrison rumblin’, bumblin’ and stumblin’ 100 yards for a touchdown just before the half resulted in him, and us, needing oxygen to recover. Former University of Pittsburgh star Larry Fitzgerald had a phenomenal game but was polite enough not to steal the show. Your coach Mike Tomlin, the youngest coach to ever win a Super Bowl, sure seems like a classy guy. And of course your franchise now has more Super Bowl rings than any other NFL team. So, again, congrats.

This doesn’t change the fact you are the most obnoxious people on the face of the earth. It pains me to say this because many of you are in fact close friends of mine. I have lived among you. I have listened to the bleating of Myron Cope on many a Steelers broadcast. You are, individually speaking, extraordinary people of good humor and sound judgment.

When you get together and start waving your terrible towels though, I cannot express just how much I hate you. You mirror the cocky, unsportsmanlike behavior of your team. Your local media champions are smug (Ron Cook), loony (Gene Collier), or reprehensible (Mark Madden, thankfully now fired). Even in the Bubby Brister years, you could not stop talking about the 70s and the Steel Curtain. And they’re called the Bengals, not the Bungles. At least have the decency to call an inferior opponent by its name.

You have every right to gloat. What other team has accomplished what you have? And you are still near and dear to my heart, Pittsburgh. You are a good city. So I implore you to claim the spoils of victory in a spirit of humility and gratitude. Yinz have offered Western culture such valuable things as steel, pierogies and Pittsburghese. When the year 2029 rolls around and the second coming of Neil O’Donnell has led your team to a 3-13 season and you’re banking all your hopes on Kordell Stewart’s third cousin resuscitating your lagging franchise, you don’t have to blather on about Ben Roethlisberger taking such vaunted NFC opponents as Arizona and Seattle behind the Super Bowl woodshed. Please, put down those towels and your Iron City and demonstrate the class which all western Pennsylvanians are capable of n’at.

I know you won’t. But I had to ask.


Ben Vore


letters to people who won't write back, poop, Uncategorized

Dear Man Who Let His Great Dane Poop In Our Yard,

No, no, no, don’t feel obligated to clean that up! We know you’re a busy man with things to do, places to go, widows to swindle and upstanding citizens to hoodwink. You’re obviously far too important a person to be troubled with cleaning up Marmaduke’s herculean crap. (And what a clean-up job it will be! Lord have mercy!) I mean, really, who are we to put our yard in your dog’s way? Let us do the dirty work. Yes, that’s us watching you in the window. We’re waving but don’t feel obligated to wave back or anything. It’s our way of saying, “Thanks for being a good neighbor! You’re helping us get a head start on fertilizing our lawn for next summer, and we appreciate it.” Maybe you and ol’ Duke could stop back this weekend and fertilize the rest of it for us. What’s that? You think you’re free? Great! We’ll look forward to it! After we buy ourselves a shotgun! Bye neighbor!


The Vores

letters to people who won't write back, music

Dear Man Who Was Air-Drumming To Over The Rhine Last Night At The Taft Theater,

We couldn’t help but notice you standing by the stage during the last song before the first encore. We couldn’t help but notice because, although we were all the way up in the balcony, it was still the balcony in the Taft Theater, where everyone has seats to sit in, generally because the entertainment at the Taft is of the sit-down variety. You, however, made the bold choice of getting out of your seat and walking to the very front, stage left. We do not know what compelled you to draw attention to yourself in this way. We’re just saying this is how we noticed you.

At this point we also noticed that you were really into air-drumming. You also dabbled in a bit of air guitar here and there, but air-drumming seemed to be your forte. We enjoy the occasional foray into air-drumming (and air-guitaring) ourselves, although when we partake it is generally in the privacy of our own home. Also, when we do it, it is usually to music that’s, you know, kind of rockin’. And while we like Over The Rhine, we do not feel their strengths are suited to ferocious drumming or guitar shredding. (This is just us.)

One other thing: When you began convulsing and bending and jerking and fist-pumping, it was obvious that the music was taking you someplace, someplace we have never been. Far be it from us to judge, but whatever it is you were feeling in that moment, that feeling was wrong. We’re sorry to be the ones to break this to you. But you can’t say we didn’t try and speak the truth in love.


The Vores