Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jane Goodall needs to study us.

Two of the distinct advantages to living in a big city are the variety of people you meet and the fantastic odds that you will see some of those people freak out while in public. Don’t get me wrong, small town America has it’s fair share of dingbats who wig out at the slightest perceived slight. But living in the big city compresses even more people into stressful conditions that evoke the freak out episodes on a much more frequent and intense order.

There are three main reasons why you should never go ape shit in a public place:

1) The cops might show up and throw you in the hooskow for being a nut.
2) You really look like an asshole.
3) Folks who see your tantrum WILL tell their friends and family what they saw and your own freak out might get back to you, Friend of a Friend style.

Most instances of asshole behavior in the city just get ignored, or brushed aside as part of daily life. For example:

“He couldn’t get behind me in this lane so he cut me off to get on the off ramp AND he gave me the finger when I honked my horn. What an asshole.”

“She wants to argue with the customer service desk monkey because she can’t get her freaking laptop to connect to the hot spot at Starbucks. Jesus Christ…”

“They think it’s fun to blast their music at 3AM on a Wednesday morning after getting home drunk from a night at the club. Must be nice to not have to worry about getting to work in the morning.”

Same shit, different day, different city. That sort of thing doesn’t really draw a bit of attention in any town, no matter how big or small. But big city freak-outs, thrown by big city freaks, on a big city scale, can be impressive. The best stick with you and become stories that you pass down from friend to friend and co-worker to co-worker. They become legends in their own right.

A few years ago I was in Publix. I was heading down the cereal aisle to get grits or oatmeal or Lucky Charms, whatever it was that I needed. I became aware of “something” happening down the aisle because of yelling and the blurry peripheral vision of movement by a rather large man. When my attention focused I spied the “Comic Book Guy” from The Simpsons, freaking out. “46 cents! Another God Damn 46 cents! I’m sick of this greed!” Dude was slamming boxes of cereal into his shopping cart and I do mean slamming them. He threw two in like he was John Smoltz, freezing a batter with a quick moving fastball. “Greed! Greed! All this GREEEDDD!” and he was slamming one box into the side of the cart, over and over until it split open and Cocoa Puffs sprayed just like in that scene in Flashdance, the one where Jennifer Beals’ body double sprayed water off her body while writhing to music, making this-then teenage moviegoer a very aroused young man. I was awestruck by this beast of a man.

So, as he tossed the remains of Cocoa Puffs into his cart and high heeled it out of the aisle, I followed in hot pursuit. I simply had to see what happened next. It’s a bit like watching an action movie. You simply wait for the next action sequence. I get to the end of the aisle and Comic Book Guy has moved directly to the checkout line and he’s got no one in front, so he’s slamming crap onto the conveyor. “Sir, sir! Please don’t throw your food.” The checkout lady was begging. Dude was mumbling and slowing down with the hardcore slamming. I guess he sensed he was walking a line between checkout and County lockup for a couple of hours. I didn’t hear everything that was said, but he made it out of the store and I got to see the lady at the checkout providing classic relief.

With one hand on her hip, weight shifted to one foot and an up curled lip sneer, I could hear her “Tsk, tsk, tsk.” sounds from 10 feet away as she watched him leave the store. She looked my way for a brief moment, locked eyes with me and I saw the words floating in her head, “What an asshole!”

Another favorite is my best impatient yuppie on the interstate story. I was stuck in morning rush hour traffic on 285 one morning. This was after we had several days of serious soaking rain and the DOT had been doing some work in the section of road we were on. It’s stop and go traffic. The kind that takes 20 minutes to go one mile. I’ve got the radio going and sipping my coffee, thinking of how deep the shit is going to be for me getting to work late that morning and it suddenly occurs to me that the person behind me is laying on their horn. Not honking or tooting it. They are laying on it in long blows.

So I look in the rear view mirror and see a visibly flustered guy. The dude suddenly scoots off into the shoulder and as he’s going by I can see he’s calling me the child of an illegitimate consummation of love. He shoots onto the gore separating 285 and a surface street onramp and cuts off another car, disappearing into the distance and beyond other cars in front of me. “Wow, what an asshole.” I thought.

Traffic creeps ahead and a few minutes later I come to the point where the onramp has merged with 285. Up ahead, on the soft shoulder, which has been drenched with pouring rain for days and is now a mud bog, I see the guy who just went berserk behind me. His gorgeous maroon BMW sedan is resting bumper deep in mud, wheels spinning furiously and going nowhere. By time I get window to window with him I can see he’s on the cell phone and yelling like a mad man at someone, arms flailing. What an asshole, indeed.

So, where am I going with this? What is the point of this post? It’s a simple reminder to all of us to chill out over the day-to-day bullshit and not freak out in public. If you are going to go ape shit let it be for something worth going ape shit over. Go ape shit over the economy, the war, the failed leadership of this nation. Go crazy when you talk about how it’s like playing Russian Roulette every time you go to the grocery store to get food to feed your family. Don’t go into a rage because your latte wasn’t mixed just so by the Barista monkey. Don’t act like you have fire ants eating your rectum because the line at the post office is 12 people deep and you don’t even have your Delivery Confirmation slip filled out when you do get to the front of the line.

The difference between being an asshole and having a legitimate gripe isn’t always in the way you present your case or even about the context of what you are bitching about. The difference is in how the folks around you perceive your actions. Yes, you may be totally pissed off that you can’t get that wireless router to work, but then again, most of us have dealt with the same problem and we know the problem wasn’t Customer Service monkey related, it was the monkey looking in the mirror causing the problem.

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