TODAY WE discuss Life's Eternal Disappointments, those people, places and things we visit time and again, hoping to be uplifted, only to suffer the same old crashing let-down:
Coffee from a vending machine.
No matter where you get it - highway rest stop, office canteen, college student union - it's always the same.
It always horrible.
It's always watery. It's always tasteless.
And no matter what other button you press - extra sugar, extra artificial sweetener, extra non-dairy creamer - it still tastes like swill.
This never, ever changes.
You could save yourself some time and aggravation and just toss the 75 cents down a storm drain.
Your driver's license photo.
Every time you go to the MVA to renew your license, you think: This time, it'll be different. This time my picture will be fabulous.
So you make sure to comb your hair just so. You make sure to look directly at the camera. You make sure to smile.
Doesn't matter. Your photo is always terrible.
If you're a man, you look startled and vaguely guilty of something, as if someone had just interrupted you while you were burying three more bodies in the cellar.
If you're a woman, you look grim and distracted, like the operator of a day-care center shut down over allegations the kids sat in front of the TV all day in soiled diapers.
Low-cal or fat-free salad dressings.
Kraft, Wish-Bone, Ken's Steak House, Marie's, Hidden Valley, Newman's Own - what difference does it make?
They're all awful. If the word "Lite" appears anywhere on the bottle, it's always unsatisfying.
Let's face it, what you crave is a salad swimming in thick bleu cheese dressing. The kind with 400 calories and 61 grams of fat in every tablespoon. The kind where your next move is to pick up the phone and schedule an angioplasty.
But you're trying to be good, lose a few pounds. So now you're reduced to picking listlessly at a small garden salad with a fat-free Italian vinaigrette dressing.
Mmmm, yummy. Tell me: When did your life start to unravel so swiftly?
Office grab-bag gift exchanges.
Remember when you were a kid? A few days before Christmas, the teacher would sing out: "Don't forget, boys and girls, tomorrow's our holiday grab bag! Make sure you bring in a nice, inexpensive gift for another member of the class! It'll be fun!"
But you were a gullible little sap and didn't know any better. So that night your mom took you to Woolworth's to buy a cool model race car or a neat set of coloring pencils to throw in the grab bag.
Then the next day, everyone got to pick a toy out of the grab bag.
You ended up with a plastic kazoo. And a broken heart.
Well, nothing's changed, my friend.
Only now, 35 years later, when your office has a grab bag, you're liable to wind up with a Loretta Lynn mouse pad.
Or a Dilbert coffee mug.
Free gifts with magazine subscriptions.
Cheap sports watches, ugly sweatshirts, useless calendars - the junk they send you for subscribing to magazines is always under-whelming.
I once subscribed to a sports magazine and received a phone designed to look like a football.
To make matters worse, the sound quality of the phone was horrendous. To anyone on the other end of the line, I sounded like a man talking into a football.
My advice on all these dopey free gifts?
Save them for the next time your office has a holiday grab bag.
Quickie portraits by boardwalk mall artists.
The scenario is always the same. You're strolling along and come upon a stand run by some art school dropout with the beard, the sandals, the whole get-up. For a few bucks, he offers to sketch your likeness (using a pen or charcoal) in under three minutes or five minutes or whatever.
"Oh, go ahead!" the person with you always says. "It'll be fun!"
So you pay up and plop yourself down in his worn canvas chair. As the artist studies you intently and his hands fly across the paper, he makes small talk. Where you from? Baltimore? Is that right? Great town! Steamed crabs, right? Yeah, I was there once. ...
Sure enough, he's done in a few minutes.
Only the finished product never looks like you.
It looks like Peter Lorre. Or maybe it looks like Charles Durning. But it sure doesn't look like you.
In fact, you know that stick figure your 6-year-old drew? The one hanging on the refrigerator with the banana magnet?
That looks more like you than this does.
Anyway, readers, do me a favor. Send me your suggestions for Life's Eternal Disappointments. Mail them to me care of the Features Department, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore, Md. 21278-0001. Or e-mail them to email@example.com.
If I'm not too depressed by your entries, I'll pick the best ones and do another column on this subject next month.
Not that it'll do any good. These things never change.