Putting in Your Two Cents

Advice used to be free, but now you can hire someone to advise you about almost anything. This trend started with computers. Two guys were sitting around in a garage and one said: "Hey, I've got an idea. Let's invent something and get the whole world dependent on it. Like, you know, a drug or something." The other guy said, "Hey, yeah! We'll make it way more complicated than it needs to be, then we'll write a lousy instruction manual for it. All our friends can quit Burger King and get jobs helping people figure out how to work it." Thus, from the computer's virtual rib, geeks created consultants so computers would not be lonely.

Ever actually read a computer manual? At best, you get a loose translation from some foreign language: "Not careful hands may damage stuffs on the motherboard." Inelegant perhaps, but clear. It's your mother's basic: "Don't touch it. You'll break it." The worst? Manuals written by failed authors of Make-Your-Own-Adventure books. By step 5, you have successfully established an Internet connection or nuked a third-world country -- it's hard to be sure. By Step 7, you're convinced that if they'd just reveal the magic word, everything would be fine. But no! They make you try every profanity your father taught you.

Then you call the consultant.

So, fine. Computer consultants are necessary. But what about the other folks with advice for sale? Wedding consultants have been around for a long time. Help me here. What's so hard about getting married? I have friends who've done it dozens of times. You get a ring, you get some flowers, you say some version of "You betcha," then Uncle Murray gets drunk and tries to polka with the groom's father. Chances are, with your family, the money for a consultant would be better spent on a good janitorial service and a month of rehab for Uncle Murray. Chances are also better than fifty percent that you and your betrothed will eventually hate each other and will have to hire another consultant (a.k.a. lawyer) to decide who gets to keep the only crystal champagne flute that survived Uncle Murray's crash landing into the cake table.

O.K., I'm getting a little negative here. There must be many fine reasons to hire a consultant. Hey, I've heard of corporate image consultants. Aren't these former oil barons who couldn't get elected to anything? Or maybe retired Avon ladies who can help Microsoft decide whether to go sultry or natural this season. Pouty lips are in, I hear. Even for a Fortune 500 company, a little collagen goes a long way.

Then there are the consultants who were never consultants before. Once, they had occupations like mechanic, but now they're Personal Transportation Maintenance Consultants. I heard someone at the local diner refer to the dishwasher as a Serving Ware and Utensil Hygiene Specialist. (Barney seemed unimpressed with his new title. He hockered a good one and spit it in his Styrofoam Skoal Receptacle.) But my favorite was the police officer who informed me he is now classified as a Vehicle Momentum Reduction Consultant. "Sign here, please, Ma'am."

That's all fine. Call yourself whatever you want as long as my car goes (but not too fast) and my water glass doesn't have goobers on it. I'm really bugged by consultants who promise to teach me to do things myself -- the anti-consultant consultants. They write books on "How to Write Your Own Will" or "How to Lose Thousands in the Stock Market Without a Broker." They profess to restore our personal power, to help us take back our lives from high-cost experts. Martha Stewart falls roughly into this category. She could come over and cook the damn soufflé, but no, she convinces me that I'll feel better about myself if I do it on my own. She makes millions, my oven explodes, and I call the Appliance Resuscitation Advisor who, for an $80 fee, tells me where to buy the eighty-five-cent part and four hundred dollars worth of tools I'll need to fix it.

I wish I could capitalize on all the consulting that's going around. But most of my experience stems from having had a mother, and now, being a mother. I suppose I could tell you that you have a wonderful personality. But really, when are you going to do something with that hair? There. Now I'm your Self-Esteem and Reality Coordinator. That'll be ninety dollars, please.

Kris Christensen teaches creative writing at Corbin Art Center. She offers her services to The Local Planet as a Jocularity Strategist.

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