The Art of Aggravation

Kristin K. Fouquet

© Copyright 2001 by Kristin K. Fouquet

My mother had a great idea for a present for my grandparents' 60th anniversary, December 13, 2001. She requested that family and friends write stories about the couple to be included in a scrapbook. This is my story for my grandfather, John Mittelstaedt, Jr.

Humor is indeed subjective and over the years I have found that the often misunderstood brand of humor called aggravation is used primarily for the amusement of the aggravator rather than the poor victim of the aggravation. Aggravation, to some, may conjure up such synonyms as annoyance, irritation, and exasperation while others, mostly aggravators themselves, would see it as just a good-natured elbowing in the ribs. However, even a good-natured elbowing in the ribs can become quickly tiresome and lead to unwanted consequences. Aggravation can be fun but it's best to know your victim's threshold for it.

 My brother, being two years older, had that temporary advantage over me as a youngster and therefore found it to be his privilege as the older sibling to pester his smaller female counterpart. Our mother has recounted to me a couple of stories involving our early sibling rivalry. One story involved me as a teetering toddler in white ruffled rubber pants taking unsure baby steps as my rascally brother seized the opportunity to try to run me down in his brand new toy race car. The other one involved an old aluminum can we housed our toys in. Apparently, my brother came upon me playing inside the empty can one day and attempted to close the lid on me for good; I think he missed his days of being an only child. Little did he know then that these careless acts would mark the beginning of my juvenile vendetta.

 In childhood, we had an uncle who used his aggravation wiles to wicked heights of terror to torment my brother and me. We weren't the only ones he aggravated to this degree; my mother claims he has a nephew who dares not go near him to this day. As a young girl, I figured out that this uncle had learned his keen aggravation skills from his aggravating father. So it was in my grandfather that I sought to learn the ways of aggravation and cast my revenge on the brother who had used his higher-ranking sibling advantage on me just a few short years before.

 To christen my apprenticeship, my grandfather bestowed upon me the nickname "Aggravation". I decided that this new nickname reflected the certainty that I would excel in the art, rather than the less attractive possibility that I was just being a pesky kid to my busy grandfather. Seeing that I was serious in my quest for the skill, my grandfather taught me how to wiggle my eyebrows. This was a menacing tactic to warn or alert the victim that she or he had just been or would soon be aggravated. My tiny junior eyebrows did not wiggle as effectively as my grandfather's larger bushy ones but I practiced a lot in the small mirror on my pink plastic vanity. My aggravation lessons didn't last very long, just a few pointers and then I was on my own to use the craft creatively and as I saw fit. I anxiously awaited situations in which to hone my skills, eager for any opportunity to aggravate my unsuspicious brother.

 My first attempt backfired horribly. It was early in the evening and my brother was lying on the living room floor listening to the family's hi-fi stereo. He appeared relaxed; supine with his eyes closed and head resting on a shiny beanbag chair, completely unsuspecting. This presented itself as the perfect opportunity for some prime aggravation. I wiggled my eyebrows but, of course, he couldn't see them. Such is the way of aggravation, I began jumping over his limp body. This, of course, he did notice. Back and forth, back and forth, I jumped giving my little body an aerobic workout, ignoring his pleas for me to stop. Feeling a bit lightheaded from my shortness of breath and the sheer joy that came from the knowledge that I was actually in an act of aggravation had me giggling as I jumped. My giddiness came to a flying halt when I hit his aggravation threshold and he deliberately lifted one of his legs. Oblivious to this sudden retaliation, with my next leap I collided with his leg and flew across the room hitting my head on the edge of the stereo speaker. The price for my novice aggravation skills was a bloody black eye. To further my punishment, there were plans that evening to attend a car show and since my mother could not find a babysitter, I was forced to go with them. There, I looked at vintage automobiles with my good eye while I held a kitchen towel packed with ice to my new shiner.

 Theft was another attempt at aggravation. Several times while we were playing with toys, I would declare "Mom is calling you." I imagine he was somewhat skeptical, not actually hearing her calls with his own ears, but he would always run off to find her like a good son should. During his absence, I would hoard and hide his favorite toys. It worked a couple of times leaving my brother confused about the whereabouts of his toys, but alas, my mother was too smart for me; she'd come in the room and ask me if I was "sneaking toys" again. I'd just wiggle my eyebrows.

 I decided my next move would be to appeal to his appetite. Like a good fisherman, I needed bait to reel in my prey. I was always trying to play "Mommy and Daddy" with my reluctant brother. This scenario involved having my brother pretend to come home from work and I would have dinner ready for him on my tiny plastic set of table and chairs. This was not a boy's idea of fun, so I would tempt him with snacks like bologna sandwiches that would serve as the imaginary dinner. It worked. As he came home from "work", I brought him his "dinner" on a paper plate. I watched with anticipation as he bit into his bologna sandwich. A look of utter disgust came across his face and he quickly spit it out and dissected the rest of the "bait" he was holding; along with the bologna and some partially masticated white bread was a layer of hard raw potatoes. I suppose it's a good thing I chose something that just tasted yucky and not something that would have actually made the poor kid sick. At the time, I found it nearly impossible to keep my eyebrows still.

 Timing was essential for what would be my final act of aggravation and I managed to pull it off without a hitch. I was able to gather the necessary item without detection by parental eyes. I was even able to make preparations in my brother's bedroom without his knowledge. All that was left to do was to wait. He finished his nightly chore of brushing his teeth. He then kissed my parents goodnight and proceeded to hop in his bed. My silent anticipation would be greatly rewarded. A loud shrill scream was heard throughout the house and my parents ran to my brother's room. There, they found my victim trembling with shock. I had covered his sheets with ice cubes and their presence was most unwelcome by his unsuspecting pajama-clad body.

 My mother, failing to appreciate my adept skill, told me to stand in the corner. I was familiar with that corner from previous punishments. I knew every curvaceous line in the grain of the faux wood paneling in that corner. As my mother changed my brother's icy wet sheets, I realized that I wasn't in too much hot water because I suddenly heard my father's contagious laughter. He was on the phone with my grandfather relaying the latest outcome of my aggravation lessons. I started laughing too. Even my mother gave in. She'd later say that the funniest part of my aggravation attempts was the look on my face as I waited for my brother to "get it". Apparently, she found my mischievous facial expression adorable; this allowed me to get away with some pretty crafty tricks for a while. But this time, she felt I had gone too far and she asked my grandfather to have a word with me. I was summoned to the telephone and he told me that I had done a fine job aggravating my brother, but it was time to stop. Looking at my cold shaking brother, I willingly agreed and wiggled my eyebrows at him for the last time.

 From time to time, I must admit that I do use aggravation as a device for my own amusement but usually only on people who are closest to me, like my poor friends and loved ones. Also, truthfully I cannot claim to really know when I am approaching someone's aggravation threshold. I often tease my good-natured husband to his limit, which results in a swift remark, "Damn love, you're so aggravating." I usually stop my annoying teasing at this point but inside I'm wiggling my eyebrows in guilty delight. My grandfather, the master of aggravation, taught me well.

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