Sweaty and stupid.
That's how people usually feel when the
rage hangover kicks in. After the steam has left your ears and the red
receded from your cheeks. You're usually left hoarse, winded, sweaty
That's how my new pal Amber probably feels about
now. Two weeks ago, Amber (her real name is Stephanie, but I promised I
wouldn't use it in print), e-mailed me to tell me what a sophomoric,
insulting and boring writer I am.
That's not – by a long shot –
the worst anyone has ever called me. But what struck me was Amber's
rage. I can't print the whole e-mail because this is a newspaper and
not a prison yard, but the gist of it was that she didn't like the
subject matter of my column and that somehow the fact that I'm a Jewish
married woman with a child makes me unintelligible to readers of The
Orange County Register. (For this, I blame our Yiddish translator, who
is clearly sleeping on the job.) And while she was on the topic of
Register readers, she asked, in mouth-foaming all-caps: "DOES THE
REGISTER KNOW YOU STILL WRITE FOR THEM?"
I suspect they do. But
what I'm less certain about is how someone could pick up the paper,
look past all the true outrages reported in the news section and get
her panties in a bunch over a silly column. I think my column ran
alongside a piece that taught readers how to "pick up a boy" – this is
not the stuff that will advance Western society and political
discourse. This is the stuff you read while on the treadmill, when a
commercial comes on and you have to stop undressing Matt Lauer with
But Amber roared at me, full throttle – and I,
because I'm yet not old enough to know better, decided to engage her.
I'm glad I did. What I learned from her will likely help me the next
time I feel the need to choke a chatty checkout girl – or when I'm the
one getting stink eye.
I have yelled at people for things that
I eventually found out they didn't do. I cursed a hideous blue streak
of obscenities in front of my grandmother when I thought some dazed
driver hit our car – only to realize later that I had been the one at
fault. I once jumped out of my boyfriend's car to scream down a drunk
driver in the middle of the night on the Southside of Chicago.
after every one of these instances, I ended up feeling sweaty and
stupid and wondered why in the world these things set me off. Why
couldn't I control myself better?
Chris, who bears the
distinction of being my angriest friend, says people subconsciously
pick fights over small indignities because the big stuff is simply too
"People feel powerless about everything in their lives,
and so they either accept that they're powerless or they get angry
Amber seemed to concur:
"I have plenty of thoughts on world events, depressing and infuriating. However, Kim Jong's e-mail wasn't printed."
So, was I a scapegoat for North Korea's nuclear proliferation? That's kinda cool, actually.
makes being the subject of a stranger's outsized anger seem like a kind
of public service. Something we can all get behind. It's a lot harder
to get worked up by someone's instant hatred for your screaming child
if you realize they don't want to kill your kid, they're just working
out their disgust over the genocide in Darfur.
So the next time
someone flips you the bird in traffic, don't get indignant. Realize,
instead, that it's just the guy's abbreviated way of saying, "PCBs in
the environment are turning female polar bears into hermaphrodites and
threatening the entire species, and that frustrates the hell out of me!"
Can't get mad at that guy now, can you?
Also realize that the person with the outstretched finger will go from consternation to contrition in a matter of minutes.
sorry if I insulted you, really," Amber wrote a day after flaming me.
"One major thing about having anger is the remorse the angry person
gets after the rage subsides."
That's OK, Amber. We all need to rage.
And afterward we all feel sweaty and stupid.