Putting Passive-Aggressiveness to Work in 'Little Annoyances'

New York Times reporter Ian Urbina has collected tales of people who fight the world's bureaucratic routines in their own special way. He tells Scott Simon about his book, called Life's Little Annoyances.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Life contains kajillions of small aggravations--the cards that sprinkle out of magazines, the hours forever lost that are spent on hold, the cross-examination for personal information you can get just in buying a pair of socks. Ian Urbina, a reporter for The New York Times and frequent freelance writer, has collected a catalog of anecdotes about people who tried to fight back against these aggravations. It's called "Life's Little Annoyances." Ian Urbina joins us in our studios.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. IAN URBINA (Reporter, The New York Times): Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And this is--I hate to sound like a pop psychologist, but this is classic passive-aggressive behavior.

Mr. URBINA: It is. Passive-aggressive behavior, I think, is often dismissed as childish and purely negative. But what interested me was that a lot of fairly clever and creative and often irrational and humorous behavior comes from it.

SIMON: You write about a man named Jonathan Wren, who doesn't like it when he's asked for personal information by a cashier.

Mr. URBINA: He has this funny script that he goes through in which he--when asked his name, he has this made-up, ridiculously long and complicated name. It's got 40 letters. I couldn't pronounce it; he can. And as the cashier is trying to type in the name, he doesn't help them at all with spelling. And then once he's done with that, he gives them a really long and made-up mailing address. On and on he goes.

SIMON: A number of people figure out things to do with those subscription cards in magazines.

Mr. URBINA: Blow-in cards...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. URBINA: ...because they're blown into magazines so that they fall out and you get--they get noticed. Yeah, I thought that was one of the most clever ones; very simple, a guy who just opts not to fill them out, and at the end of a month or so he mails them back. And since they're pre-paid, the advertiser--the magazine gets hit with the expense.

SIMON: A lot of the annoyances that you detail which people try and combat have to do with the telephone and telephone marketers. In the end, there's not much you can do to break through a phone tree, is there?

Mr. URBINA: The one tactic I did come up with for that was someone who had found if you press the non-English option, often you get an operator who does speak English, and you get one much more quickly than if you follow the road you're supposed to follow.

SIMON: Of all of these strategies for fighting back that you pass along, is there one that you find the most appealing or that people seem to respond to the most?

Mr. URBINA: There is a guy who is frustrated with the adult bookstore that was near his house. It attracted the wrong type of clientele, and so whenever he drove by he would honk his horn and wave enthusiastically at patrons going in or coming out. And he would be driving by quickly enough that the patron wouldn't know whether they actually knew that person or not and he would sow doubt in their mind.

SIMON: Ian Urbina. His new book is "Life's Little Annoyances." Thanks very much.

Mr. URBINA: Thank you.

SIMON: And it's 22 minutes before the hour.

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