Words of Advice

There were at least 35 persons in the queue at the bank – so of course I took note of the person who was just before me, and plonked myself down on one of the uncomfortable armchairs.

The two on either side of me were occupied by a cute old lady smelling of lavender, and an acquaintance of mine.

The latter was telling the former what she “ought to get” for her sciatica – because she has arthritis and “they are pretty much the same”. There followed a list of medications which would have Big Pharma companies scampering to sponsor her. The old lady could not catch up – and inevitably she asked for the names of any OTC pills and tablets and capsules to be written down so “she could try them”.

At this point I turned on the self-styled physician and told her that one just doesn’t recommend medication willy-nilly; and of course, this woman countered that “since they were sold without prescriptions” they must “harmless”.

It’s the same with problems. There are some people who would never go to the “right placed” to get advice on their particular problems. When they need to “get something off their chest”, some swear by therapy – or message. Others visit self-styled fortune tellers – or hairdressers, or a friend.

Others take the bus to somewhere, anywhere, hoping to meet a friendly face (tell me about it!). Then there are the people who shop for groceries every single day, hoping to meet a kindred spirit – or join real-life or online social groups for like-minded members. Some winkle out the telephone numbers or e-mail addresses of their favourite media personalities, and open their hearts in a way that is just this side of harassment and stalking.

But there will always be people who do not trust physical or online interaction with fellow humans, people with whom they are actually or virtually acquainted.

There actually exist services on the lines of “write a letter to Father Christmas” – only these are rather more serious affairs. Some businesses offer short-term or “permanent” (whatever that means) storage for documents. These could include diaries, letters, ledgers, or other written matter which, for safety and privacy, one does not want to keep inside the house.

The system works in the same way a bank vault is used to store jewellery costing megabucks. You may withdraw the documents at any time, or ask to be present while they are destroyed.

You can do-it-yourself if the item is expendable. Many self-help gurus suggest writing a letter detailing your troubles, or a letter telling someone exactly what you think of him. Then, you set fire to it… hoping that the CSI people are not around to reconstruct it from the ashes. You can add it to water, and pulp it in your food processor, and use it as mulch. Or you can tear it into a thousand pieces and wait for a windy day…

Am offshoot of this system is the Greenpoint Shredders. These anonymous ‘Greenpointers’ lend an ear similar to that of Father Confessor or a Therapist – but the service is bereft of any religious, psychological or psychiatric undertones. It’s just a plain and simple business transaction. It works, basically, because sometimes one is more likely to tell secrets to a stranger who will not judge or side with someone whom they might know.

These sessions last for fifteen minutes – at the end, the problems discussed are shredded and purportedly “done away with” – rather as if the human mind has an on/off switch.

In Malta, seeing that everyone knows someone’s friend of a friend, this might never work. But there are other options; if you are not finicky, you can by-pass the call-in system and talk to the presenters on radio or television, as a programme is broadcast, without getting a reply.

You could talk to a descendant of Hal. There are several versions of the automated programme called Eliza. This is set to pick up certain words from a conversation and lob back statements and questions based upon them. However, since Eliza is essentially a clutch of binary numbers, she will not know, or care, that you are having fun at her expense. She tends not to understand complicated sentence structures. If you happen to be really desperate for “someone” to listen to you, this could be what tips you over the edge.

This, for instance, is an extremely edited “conversation” I had with the machine – all in the interests of research, you understand.

# Hello. // How do you do? Please state your problem. //# I have a headache //You say you have a headache? //# Yup.//I’m not sure I understand you fully.//# My head aches.//Your head aches?//# No.//Are you saying no just to be negative?//# Since you are assuming I am negative and you are my shrink it is up to you to find out whether or not I am.//Why do you say your shrink it is up to I to find out whether or not you are?//# Are you English?//Why are you interested in whether I am English or not?//# Because your sentence does not make sense.// Why do you say that? # The daffodils have come up lilac this year.//I’m not sure I understand you fully.//# You cannot understand a woman’s mind.//Oh; I cannot understand a woman’s mind? [etc]

[etc]

Can you elaborate on that? //# Sentences that go on with permutations for as long as you do not blow a gasket.//Oh, I do not blow a gasket? //# You might.//You’re not really talking about me — are you? //# No. I am talking about the person who programmed you to misunderstand the needs of people like me who have headaches.//Why ‘no’?// # Because I bet if I write balderdash you will answer no. //Are you saying no just to be negative? // # Nfpfhsytcret. Discoid scooter.//Please go on.//# Faoegfq [on epaosidg] q? ifpwqirfvcnu00rnvaosiuf0 //What does that suggest to you? //# Who knows [etc]

A person’s problem may be simple – to us. But I know some people have a hard time even when deciding what to cook, or what to wear. The wrong advice could tip a person off the edge.

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