Revisited: Thank you for just about everything

I don’t know about you but I’m already just about thanked out.

The wellspring of gratitude and appreciation flowing from our guilty consciences today is enough to put anybody flat on their back. There’s just something about being a grateful person that makes you incredibly sleepy, seeking the nearest couch on Thanksgiving night for a much-deserved nap.

Scientists tell us that certain chemicals flood our bloodstream when we thank and honor those to whom we are indebted. The same hormones that prompt us to choke up when football commentator Howie Long thanks the troops eventually start to back up in the brain, prompting an overall feeling of fullness and, ultimately, coma.

Showing genuine emotion toward loved ones as we count our blessings tends to wear a person out. That’s why I audit my assets only twice a year — at Thanksgiving and on Tax Day, April 15.

Tomorrow, I’ll be ready to go back to the old way of doing business, living in a whirlwind of meaningless, pre-scripted “thank-you’s” offered solely as a way to evoke a certain behavior, usually getting you to leave the premises. These are the devalued, distorted expressions we encounter a hundred times a day, the ones that have so removed the true meaning of gratitude that when we feel the real thing, it gives us a very bad stomachache.

My son and I made a drive around the neighborhood last Thanksgiving, because we always get a kick out of seeing roads emptied and businesses shuttered on major holidays. It’s kind of a fun preview of what he might expect when he drives around with his son some bleak day in our dismal economic future.

“Your grandpa and I used to exchange script for services in these burned-out storefronts,” he’ll tell young Davis the Sixth. “It’s a lot like how you buy roots and berries to eat, except you do it online and we had this thing called bricks-and-mortar.”

Even McDonald’s was closed. As we circled the parking lot to get a closer look at this rare sight, we saw the signs that direct customers through the take-out operation. The first stop, at the big board of burger pictures, simply says “Order Here.” The second stop has a sign which reads “Thank You For Having Your Payment Ready,” a directive poorly disguised as a polite request. Finally, when you pick up your order at the last window, the sign reads simply “Thank You.” What they really mean at this point in the transaction is “Be Gone!”

I get the same feeling at the automated car wash. There’s a large electronic sign that guides you through the steps in the process as you pull your car into the contraption. There’s “Please Enter,” a clear enough signal that you drive into the bay. There’s “Drive Slowly,” “Stop” and even “Back Up” for those who have moved beyond the proper position. When the wash begins, you see a different series of signals, such as “Wash,” “Rinse,” “Underwash,” etc., apprising you of the progress of the operation. Finally, there’s a brief moment of silent inactivity, at which point the sign flashes “Thank You.” This is their friendly way of saying you’re done, though I imagine some dimwits may sit there a while awaiting further instructions. I have a feeling that if you don’t move it within ten seconds, that you get one which reads “You’re Through, Now Drive Away by Pressing your Foot on that Narrow Pedal on the Floorboard.”

Another insincere use of the “Thank You” comes at the large warehouse shopping club. Some of the purchases come in containers too large to put in a bag, which is the traditional way of showing that you’ve paid for the product. So instead, a bright orange sticker gets affixed to the box saying “Thank You,” which is secret code for “This Item is Not Being Shoplifted.” Innocent enough at the time, perhaps, but a little disconcerting when you face several weeks of having a tub of cat litter thanking you every time you go in the utility room.

Finally, I’ll mention the forced gratitude you’ll often see in sports. I used to play a lot of tennis when I was younger and, though far from good, I was generally skilled enough to keep the ball within the court. Occasionally, you’d encounter a twosome on the next court over that had difficulty controlling the trajectory of their shots, probably due in part to the fact they were wearing jeans, street shoes and half-drunk expressions. As their tennis balls trickled from their court onto mine, they’d call out “thank you” as a signal for me to stop what I was doing and retrieve their miscue. Once, a young girl was so wild that she put her ball over the ten-foot fence surrounding the court.

“Thank you,” she called out to me. “No, no,” I responded, “thank you.”

She had obviously been well-trained by her parents to express appreciation when someone did something nice for her. I’m always amused by the teaching technique most parents use when socializing their kids on this critical component of human interaction. The nice man in the sunglasses offers you candy if you’ll join him in his windowless van to help him look for his missing puppy, and your mom stands there and asks “What do you say?” Most children learn pretty quickly to offer a shy “thank you,” though a fortunate few respond “shouldn’t I be wary of strangers?”

By the way, thank you for not noticing that I don’t do Website Reviews any more. However, I did recently check out several sites on the subject of thanks.

There’s one called thanks.com, whose home page reads “The spontaneous thank you: Such power it wields. To awe. To rally. To cheer. And to motivate. But well-timed spontaneity takes planning. We’ve done that part so you can do the fun part.” As you might guess, this is a business set up to take the annoying element of sincerity completely out of the act of an employer showing gratitude to an employee. For a minimal fee, you can generate the “instant certificate, a quick and easy way to turn your heartfelt sentiment into a frame-worthy expression of gratitude.” This can even be customized with a personal message (like the person’s name, typed in all caps), then printed out in your own office in seconds.

You can also buy tangible gifts to show Ingrid in accounting how much you appreciate her overlooking that Spectravision charge on your last expense report. For $12, there’s an origami goose, contorted in much the same way as the actress in that PayTV movie. Or, for a little more, you can get caramel candy apples dressed up in tuxedo packaging, or a customized footstool imprinted with inspirational urgings to “Reach Higher.” Or, you can stock up for any number of future needs with an $18 cache of “appreciation buttons,” including “Wizard of Awe,” “Wow Factor,” “Big Kahuna,” “Grand Poobah of Great Ideas” and “Hello, My Name is Fran Tastic.”

The site thank.com offers thank-you cards, notes, letters and gifts. They include convenient templates — for example, the proper way to express appreciation for a recent job interview, where you simply print out a sheet and hope that your potential boss’s name is “Mr. or Mrs. Blank.” They offer other sample letters as well, though this part of the site was temporarily unavailable when I tried to look (thanks for nothing). You can also order funeral cards and memorial plaques from thank.com, though I’ve always thought it a little impolite to thank someone for dying.

At thankyou.com, there’s a rewards program where you can earn points toward future purchases. What stood out for me here was the Testimonials section, letters written by satisfied customers who bought tires, rented a Cadillac for their Nashville vacation or “finally got that meat slicer I’ve wanted for some time.”

Lastly, just for fun, I checked out nothanks.com. It bills itself as a “lifestyle resource” and includes such features as Christian dating, where I imagine “no thanks” gets said quite a lot.

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One Response to “Revisited: Thank you for just about everything”

  1. Nora Firestone Says:

    Ah, you forgot http://www.ThankingOfYou.com, the original Web-based forum for posting and receiving those genuine messages of thanks that recognize, affirm and honor the people who’ve made a difference in our lives. Really, you should check it out 😉

    And good post; thanks! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

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