I was walking out of a children’s clothing store with a toddler. A man coming in held the door for a second. “You’re welcome,” he barked as I passed through. OK, I was too distracted to notice him or thank him. But did I deserve such a harsh rebuke?
In a moment of Carl Paladino, Mel Gibson and Tea Party madness, we are living in angry times. A patron outside a Brooklyn bar last week kills a man whose little dog is tied too close to his little dog. An 82-year-old theater producer on the Queen Mary 2 doesn’t like being told by a man at her dinner table to shut up or to hear him say there are too many Jews onboard, so she tells him to fuck himself and ends up locked in her cabin. “She tends to get belligerent,” a passenger told the New York Post.
Demonstrators angry about a gay student’s suicide at Rutgers (where, ironically, a Civility Project for teaching courtesy and respect was in progress) recently had to be physically separated from other students. Also, anti-gay attacks were reported in Chelsea and the West Village. Congress is a war zone. Anti-Muslim militias are on the rise around the country. Sarah Palin is, too, of course, and likens herself and her fans to fiercely protective “mama grizzlies.”
Never mind that she doesn’t say what’s actually threatening her children. The anger gives everyone a reason to get worked up and bare some teeth. YouTube is a national archive of celebrity tantrums and meltdown, from Bill O’Reilly to Christian Bale and Michael Cera.
You’d think that in an age when everything can go viral, the famous would practice some self-control. Yet rage seems to work for all the cable pundits these days. The angrier you are on a reality show, the higher your ratings, even if you’re Gordon Ramsay and your vitriol has been linked to two suicides.
So where is all this anger coming from? It could be the economy, or perhaps it’s the tinderbox of the world right now. Yelling gives people a voice and a sense of control, even when they have none. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times suggests the Tea Party is more a teakettle because it’s about spouting off steam more than anything else. If not blood, people want revenge. Perhaps that’s why Angry Birds, which gives power to the injured and wingless, has become such a popular video game right now. It recently inspired a New York Times Magazine columnist to gleefully declare, “I hate everything!”
I’m only slightly more selective than that in my hatred.
Let’s see. Street fairs that give nothing back to the city but traffic jams and fried dough. Idling Fresh Direct trucks blocking streets in Manhattan, where markets and gourmet shops are within walking distance. Texting pedestrians you have to step around on sidewalks. The ones coming at you with umbrellas. Loudmouth parties at expensive restaurants. Impossibly arrogant doormen like the ones at the Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Slow drivers in the left lane.
And, of course, the criminally inept. The other day, after my Long Island Railroad train was canceled, the next train to arrive an hour later was listed on the wrong track. I missed it and ended up delayed two hours.
I complained to a station employee. Instead of being defensive, she was apologetic and conciliatory. It didn’t get me home on time, but it made me feel better.
It also made me think that there’s hope, even in these mad-as-hell times.
Look at Pete Rouse, Rahm Emanuel’s successor. He’s known for his gentle cool, not his bluster. “He puts out fires,” Tom Daschle told The New York Times. “He reduces friction.”
But does he hold doors open for people without expecting a thank-you?