My dad loves the expression “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
He also loves demanding oil when he’s told there is no oil, or that the squeaky wheels aren’t allowed to have it.
Which brings me to another favorite expression of his: “Would it be possible for you to make an exception?”
The lesson I learned from a lifetime of hearing this is that “no” does not always mean “no.”
OK, calm down. Before you get all up in arms and hold a “Take Back the Night” vigil outside my window, I’m not talking about rapey stuff. (Come on, what rapist asks, “Would you make an exception?” Although, now that I think about it, the Reasonable Rapist would be a great press story. And SVU episode.)
I’m talking about cases where you ask for something out of the ordinary, something that requires breaking a stupid rule, and the person in charge claims that they’re not actually in charge; that they’d love to say yes but their “hands are tied”.
I recently called Apple’s help line, and after I read the guy my serial number, he told me, “Looks like your Applecare plan has expired. I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you.”
I said, “Is there any chance you could make an exception? I’ve had so many problems with this Macbook. And I’ve been an Apple customer for 30 years.”
He said, “OK.”
Maybe the idea of someone old enough to have used computers in the early 80s confounded him and threw him off his game. Otherwise, I don’t know why he would say yes.
Because although this “no doesn’t mean no” thing is my approach to life, it almost never works. Except to annoy people. It starts off with a friendly tone of “hey, you’re an understanding person, how about it?” and escalates to choked up outrage and indignation on my part, and eye rolling on theirs.
Earlier this summer, I got a glimpse of how annoying the “don’t take no for an answer” strategy can be.
It was the day of the Gay Pride Parade. Steven and I had to get somewhere that required crossing 5th Avenue, something smart people avoid doing during a 5th Avenue parade. When we reached the middle of the block, we ran into a throng of people, loosely “lined up” to cross the street. We joined the end of it, hoping it would start moving. It did, after about ten minutes. And then the moving stopped.
We’d advanced to a place where we just might make the next crossing, but Steven predicted we wouldn’t. “Watch,” he said. “They’ll cut off the line right before us.”
Eventually, we started to move again. Everyone in the line, desperate not to wait another ten minutes, pushed us from behind and yelled “Go go go go go!”
This is how people get trampled to death.
Unfortunately, it’s not how they make it across the street. Just as Steven and I reached the front, joined hands and attempted to bolt across, two cops stepped in front of us with their arms spread wide and said, “Sorry, that’s it!”
“Oh, come on!” I yelled. “We’ve been waiting twenty minutes!”
A guy next to me, whom I’ll call “Outraged Guy,” joined in. “This is ridiculous! You can’t do this!!”
“Sorry,” the cops said. “We have to stop it somewhere.”
I was about to plead, “Can you please make an exception?” when I realized that an argument with cops in the middle of a sweltering hot parade wouldn’t go anywhere good.
Either that, or Steven kicked me.
At any rate, getting stuck would turn out to be a good thing, because for 10 minutes, we had a front row view of people dancing in their underwear on rainbow-painted floats. And, even more entertaining, this scenario:
OUTRAGED GUY: “Please, do me a favor here. I’m trying to get to work!”
Cops 1 AND 2: Silent shrugs.
OUTRAGED GUY: “Come on! Some of us actually work for a living! Now I’m going to get fired for being late!”
COP 1: “You should have left extra time.”
OUTRAGED GUY: “I shouldn’t have to! All you have to do is let me through!”
COP 2: “It’s not up to us. We don’t make the rules.”
OUTRAGED GUY: “But you DO make the rules! You’re letting people through arbitrarily!”
COP 2: “No we’re not. We’re just doing our job here.”
OUTRAGED GUY: “Oh, very nice, nice job passing the buck.”
COP 1: “We’re not passing the buck, so much as…you’re falling on deaf ears.”
OUTRAGED GUY: “Great! So now you’re passing the buck AND turning a deaf ear. Must be nice. I wish I had that job.”
COP 2: “No you don’t.”
OUTRAGED GUY: “Well why don’t you write a note to my employer, because now I’m going to get fired!!”
COP 1: “No you’re not. You’re not going to get fired.”
OUTRAGED GUY: “Wanna bet? Thanks a lot!”
This was the last thing he said, right before they started to let our group through and he broke into a desperate run. Which, unsurprisingly, was entirely for show. We watched him slow down to an easy trot and then a calm walk as soon as he was halfway up the next block.
Ha. Late for work. More likely, late to get a hotdog.
The lesson here? It’s not that “no” really does mean “no.”
It’s that you can’t change it to “yes” if you sound like a big fat loser.
I’m sure that’s exactly how I sound when I get into these things. But that probably won’t stop me from trying. It’s my way.
What about you? Do you ask for “exceptions”?
Do you crusade against stupid rules, even when you know you’re coming off like a clown? Tell me in the comments.