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Piques in the Valley 

Simplify your life and pass your annoyances along.

An epiphany creeped up on me during last week's episode of Ed, the sweet, whimsical sorta-comedy that is by far the best new show of the season. I've been meaning to tell you about Ed since it premiered last fall, but I was afraid it would pull a Northern Exposure on me. Remember how Northern Exposure went from can't-miss to can't-stand-it in the space of about a week?

It was right after Dr. Fleischman had his way with Maggie, or maybe she with him. Whatever the case, what once was a marvelous collection of oddball characters living in an exotic, far-off land suddenly felt like a bunch of obnoxious relatives who had just moved in next door.

Anyway, Ed is delightful. It's about a recently divorced lawyer who moves back to his small home town to open a bowling alley and to woo the woman for whom he had had the warm, trembling thighs all the way through high school. He is hindered in his pursuits by a group of well-meaning but often bizarre friends including the alley's manager, whose get-rich-quick schemes include selling exorbitantly priced "Fine Corinthian Turkeys" at Thanksgiving.

This particular episode of Ed concerned the book Walden being taught at the local high school. According to the show, the book's message is to simplify one's life by removing all the extraneous pursuits and petty distractions. That's weird; when I read it in high school, I thought it was about this dorkwad who couldn't catch any women, so he went to sulk in the woods. Or maybe that was Grizzly Adams.

After the show was over, I had to go to the store. As I got in the car, I thought about that simplifying stuff. It sounded good. I thought I'd start by blocking out petty annoyances.

But suddenly, there's a commercial on the radio sponsored by the wireless communications industry, urging safe cell-phone use while driving (the reigning oxymoron of the millennium). It urges dickhead cell-phone users to go to a Web site to learn more about safety. Yeah, I'm sure that an idiot who feels the need to talk on the phone while maneuvering a 2,000-pound vehicle through heavy traffic is going to take the time to turn on the computer and go to hownottobeansshole.com.

I come to a stop and look at the fast-food place on the corner. It says: "Green Burrito." I thought, is it really wise to call something "Green Burrito"? I had a green burrito once. I found it in my trunk, in a bag I thought I had thrown away weeks earlier. It was about twice its original circumference and it was really ... really ... green. I guess I could have satisfied my hunger and fought off a variety of infections at the same time.

Further along, nailed to a telephone pole is a hand-written sign that reads: "I LOST 40 POUNDS IN TWO MONTHS! Free samples."

Of what?!! The 40 pounds of stuff you lost? Do you have it in a bag like the time Oprah wheeled that wagon of grease onto the stage and said, "This is what I lost! This is what I lost!"

Please be more specific. If you mean free samples of the crackpot diet drug you took, the one that had you vacuuming your house at 3 a.m. and then volunteering to do your neighbor's house at 4, just say so.

A few more blocks down, there's a sign at a car wash that says: "Phone Card: 531 Minutes. Only $10." But then, in smaller print at the bottom of the sign is an asterisk, followed by "One Call."

That means you can indeed get 531 minutes on a call, if you make only one call and talk for eight hours and 51 minutes! Otherwise, if you make multiple calls, there's an up-front service charge for each one, so your minutes diminish accordingly.

At the next light, I looked over and there was a big truck next to me. It was one of those sewer trucks, the kind driven by the people that you figure no matter how much they get paid, it isn't enough. I looked at the side of the truck and it said: "GROSS SEPTIC AND DRAIN SERVICE."

Is that supposed to be funny? Is it like one of those jokes you learned as a kid about how Seymour Butts is destined to grow up to be a proctologist? The poor Gross guy had no chance.

(When I went home later, I looked it up in the Yellow Pages, and sure enough, there it was. It's surrounded on either side by doctors named Gross. I don't know if that would bother me all that much, having a doctor named Gross. Especially when you consider that the name directly preceding the first Dr. Gross is that of a surgeon named Gropper.

(You have to assume that a fair number of people are going to mispronounce that name. Plus, he's a neurosurgeon, which means that he should be a bit more precise than, say, someone who does cosmetic surgery on rich, bored white women or the ER guy who treats gunshot wounds on Saturday night.)

At the store I needed to get some frozen whipped cream, which, while it never included any cream and had probably never been whipped, was at least frozen. The sign said, "Buy One, Get One Free."

I asked the store manager, "What if I only want one?"

Perturbed, he responded as though he'd been asked that question a million times, "Well, you can't have one for half-price!"

"That's not what I was asking. What if I only take one?"

"Why would you do that?" he asked.

"I only need one."

"It's full price," he insisted.

"That's OK, but how will you explain it to your computer when you have an odd number of those items at the end of the day?"

Having passed my annoyances on to another, life suddenly felt better. Even simpler.

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