One of my favorite movies of all time is Monty Python And The Search For The Holy Grail. Among the many entertaining scenes from that particular movie is a group of knights who keep changing their name who demand a shrubbery from passing people as part of the toll. There are at least several elements of humor to this gag. For one, demanding a shrubbery was a pretty ludicrous toll, considering that few travelers bring shrubs along with them. For another, the demanding of tolls at various fords, bridges, and other “gates” was a notorious way for nobles and even nations to gain money. As these choke points controlled access to and from areas, those who possess these choke points can profit greatly from the control of relatively small geographical territory. Thus in the Middle Ages a noble could charge certain customary fees to all travelers who crossed into his domains, something which tended to discourage travel, usually charging more for horsemen (since they were presumed to be wealthier) as well as Jews, on account of popular prejudice.
In this light, it is perhaps ironic that one of the patriarchal promises given to Rebekah in Genesis 26:40: “And they blessed Rebekah and said to her: “Our sister, may you become The mother of thousands of ten thousands; And may your descendants possess The gates of those who hate them.” It is an important matter to possess a gate, or other narrow access way, like bridges or passes or fords or straits or important canals. The possession of these gates controls access, and this can be an immensely important matter whether on the large scale or the small scale. For reasons I do not entirely fathom, I have long found myself in the position of dealing with gates. During my time in Thailand it was frequently my responsibility to open and close the gates at night, controlling the legitimate access into and out of the school where I taught. I have written about Levite gatekeepers at some length , and even about cultural gatekeepers who do a poor job at their task, most notably the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame .
So it is that as I have noted before  that I sit right by a noisy door that is the main entry and exit for the department that is around me. Everybody knows that I hate having this location, whether they have seen me flinch as the door’s loud beep goes off or when people pat my shoulder or shake my seat from behind, or whether they have only read about it online or heard me mention it in conversation. Being the sort of person who is not generally used to having my requests granted, it still remains puzzling why I would be the person who is placed in this particularly unfortunate and high-traffic area, except that it has allowed me to converse with many coworkers as a low-effort kind of networking, given that as long as people come in and out of the office looking for my boss or my neighbors, that they will often want to make some kind of friendly comments with the person guarding the door.
Being the sort of person who tries to make the best of irritating or annoying situations, my particular location has been the source of a lot of grim and somewhat self-effacing humor. I jokingly call myself the door troll, for example, and ask the name or a password of the many people who request me to open the door for them when they leave their keycard at home or on the desk because they are absent-minded. Of course, any good troll demands a toll for those who come along one’s path, and being a fan of ridiculous jokes, I demand a shrubbery from the people who demand that I open up the door for them, often several times a day, because they cannot be bothered to keep track of their keycards like they are supposed to. Often such people at least have the good sense to look guilty when I open the door with a mildly critical look on my face as I have to move my seat to open the door, and that is usually cause for at least a mild glare.
How does one cope with irritations and annoyance in such a way as to make it more possible to deal with what one is not really able to change and what is not worth fighting over? Throughout life I have adopted a wide variety of coping measures with the absurdity of life. For one, I write a lot, seeking to lower the internal pressures at the cost of making those pressures externally known, which has unpredictable consequences. For another, I have developed a large capacity for dry and pointed wit, at the cost that my wit tends to unerringly find the most awkward and uncomfortable areas to operate without any deliberate or conscious intent. Another response has been to muse and ponder, to analyze and seek to understand why it is that certain situations irritate me so much, and why I tend to find myself in those situations so often. Here too the results are unpredictable, as sometimes one can know what bothers one and why, but not be able to effectively control the circumstances that bother, being limited to trying to cope as best as possible. Perhaps someday the knowledge may be of use, though, even if not today. In the meantime, I demand a shrubbery from those who would seek to rouse me from my private reverie by their presence by my door.
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