Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Anger Management

Funny -- most days, the title comes last, after I've discovered what it is that I've written about.  Today, though, I knew what this entry needed to address, long before I touched the keyboard.

And it's been a day -- one of those when I wonder why I go to the pharmacy once a month, pick up all manner of medication, bring it home, and take it as prescribed.  (Or, another way to look at it might be -- God help me, if I didn't go to the pharmacy, etc. etc.)  Because I spent most of the day crying.

Not for any particular reason, other than the usual sense that my life is pointless, that my dreams have all evaporated long ago, and that I'm just waiting around for some physical system to fail.  That, and the fact that, no matter where I look, I can't find my grommet setter.  It's green, and I know where I last saw it.

And I want the grommet setter, because I want to use eyelets on my Combat Paper piece(s), the making of which fills me with a kind of combined terror and horror -- terror, that I won't be able to come up with anything worth looking at, in the time remaining before the show is installed; horror, that what I make will be so gruesome that it will wound the very men and women I hope to support in this endeavor.

But, in any case, I needed a grommet setter, and the only place I could think of to find one was at one of the Arts'nCrafts stores that, like Home Depot, have put the smaller, 'real' art supply stores out of business.  I figured, since I wanted to go to the gym today anyway, I might as well combine that trip with a jaunt out to travel-friendly Route 10, where you have to know ahead of time that you can't actually turn onto Route 10 unless you turn before Route 10, which you don't know until you arrive at Route 10, where you can't turn...  I think most of New Jersey has grown up because people gave up trying to get where they'd originally intended, and built houses by the place where they couldn't turn onto... Route 10...

But I get somewhat ahead of myself.  While I was grunting and straining in the Strive Room (Strive being the new Nautilus equipment, which is painted an eye-jarring yellow, with purple padded seating -- perhaps there's some science to this, to get the heart going?  To encourage one to leave the room as soon as possible?  Or because there was a terrific deal on blinding yellow enamel?), and while I was musing on other things, to take my mind off the grunting and straining, I thought about anger, and how it's often tied into depression (I'd already decided that, it being spring, I could just explain away my tear-stained face as 'allergies' and leave it at that.  No one cares anyway...), and then I had a couple of memories.  Ah, memories.

One from deep childhood consists only of this -- I wanted to bite someone.  No one in particular, that I can recall (this was long before the orphanage.  And there, biting would have been much too intimate), but I was quite specific about how I wanted to bite.  With my back teeth.  Hard.  Because I knew I could, even as a child, exert quite a lot of pressure with those molars of mine.  I wanted to bite.

Later than that, but still before the stay in the orphanage, I got into a furious fight with my friend Wanda, who lived next door.  Her family had the blond cocker spaniel chained up behind the house, and her brothers baited the dog, to make it meaner than necessary.  And one day, the dog got loose, and bit my brother Glenn, while the rest of us squeezed in between the flimsy screen door and the closed kitchen door,  hoping that Glenn would suffice. 

But the fight with Wanda didn't concern the dog.  In fact, I don't remember what it was about.  I do recall, though, that I grabbed Wanda by her right hand, and spun her in a circle around me, and then let her go, sending her sprawling onto the grass.  Then I stormed off to my house, where I noticed that my father and mother were watching the whole thing, and seemed somewhat amused.  And in the time it took me to walk perhaps fifty feet, I had actually pushed this outburst of anger into my own past, so that, by the time I got to the kitchen door, I was firmly convinced that the fight had happened the day before.  I think my parents were pleased that I had done this at all, as it was so boy-like, and not my usual behavior.  Maybe I wouldn't turn out to be a homo after all. They were worried about that.

Years later, while I was a junior in high school, I was at home in the kitchen, and my father was coming toward the house, from the alley where we left our car.   Suddenly, he doubled over in obvious pain.  I wanted to go out to him, to see what was wrong, but my horrid grandmother, who was in the kitchen too, stopped me from opening the door.  After a few seconds, he straightened up, and continued on his way up to the back porch.  "See," she said, with the most pride I'd ever heard her express about my father, "he's got so much anger.  But he just keeps it inside."  Unaware that he had been observed, or that he was the topic of this snippet of conversation, my father came in, got himself a beer, and went down to the basement.  To the 'work bench'.

A year later, hear the end of my senior year, I was cleaning the house, as usual, on a warm Saturday.  I was on the second floor, scrubbing the floors, and preparing to work my way down the inside front stairs, and my step-mother and horrid grandmother were getting ready to do the grocery shopping.  I reminded them that I needed to go to the library, to do some work on a book report.  They grudgingly gave their assent, so I put the bucket and scrub brush aside, and went into the bathroom, to get ready to take a bath.  I didn't want to go to the library sweaty and grimy from scrubbing.

'What are you doing up there?' my horrid grandmother wanted to know.  I explained that I wanted to take a bath.  'Well, if you need to take a bath before you go to the library, you don't need to go.'  And with that, the two women slammed their way out the back door, and across the yard (past the place where my father's anger had momentarily gotten the better of him), to the car.  I stood in the upstairs window, watching them leave, and I was nearly blind with frustration and rage.  I sat down on the steps, and without realizing what I was doing, I began to pound on the wall opposite me.  Pounding and pounding, unable to stop, even though the paint was cracking, and the plaster was crumbling, and soon I was looking at two gaping, gritty wounds in the wall.  Dusty lath with crumbled bits of plaster sticking to them.  The stairs littered with destruction.

I wasn't allowed to go to the library, wasn't allowed to do my homework, because I wanted to take a bath.  I cleaned up the mess of plaster and paint.  When my stepmother and horrid grandmother got home, they told me to bring the groceries in, and before I could say anything, they saw the damage in the hallway.  I made up some lame story about how I'd lost my balance while I was scrubbing, and had made those holes as I tried to keep from falling.  Which, in a way, was a kind of truth, if you think about it. 

What was most unusual was that I was never punished.  The wall was fixed.  The holes were never mentioned again.

Now, it's 1985, and I live in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment in Hoboken NJ.  I've just been given a promotion at my job with Morgan Stanley, in their uptown offices at Rockefeller Center.  My boss -- who was preeningly proud to be known around the firm as 'The Dragon Lady' -- had offered me a position as evening shift supervisor.  One considerations, in deciding to take the offer, was that I would be able to afford therapy.  Which I knew I would need, because I would be working even more closely with 'The Dragon Lady'.

The therapist I found had offices on 34th St., and I would see her in the afternoon, before going uptown to work.  One day, I was late.  I hated being late.  I was very angry about being late.  And I told her how angry I was.  I said I wanted to throw myself in front of a subway train, and then drag myself up 33rd St., to the Empire State Building, where I would haul my all-but-dead body up to the top floor, and then throw myself off.  Because, I told her, I couldn't be dead enough.

She said this seemed to be a lot of anger, and how did I feel about that?  I forget where things went from there.

Which brings me to... today.

Let's see.  I threw a pair of glasses across the basement, because they kept sliding off my face as I was trying to work.  (At least I didn't bite them)  I screamed and cursed because, instead of having the requisite three hands necessary for what I was trying to do, I only had the standard issue of two.  On the way to the gym, I became fixated on a driver ahead of me in Milburn -- someone who was obviously thinking about anything but the 3,000+ lb vehicle she was nonchalantly allowing to take her wanderingly down the street.  The McCain/Palin and anti-abortion bumper stickers didn't make me like her any better.  But I kept my cool.  More or less. 

When my workout was done, and I managed to get my car onto Route 10 (the tiny 'U-Turn' sign was posted beyond the actual U-Turn, and required cutting across three lanes of traffic to reach this retroactive opportunity to get to my actual goal...), I found the store I was seeking, and went inside.  Aside from the overwhelming scent of cinnamon and carnations, it was everything I would have expected.: five thousand aisles of gidgets and gadgets, with no floor map, or 'You Are Here', or any indication of just what they might mean by 'Hobbies'.  Or 'Paper'.  

I did locate an actual employee, who led me to one aisle, where I could buy something I didn't need, but when I pointed out that no, a leather punch is not the same thing as a grommet setter, she led me to a totally different part of the store, where we found plenty of grommets, but in terms of the actual grommet setters themselves...  She shrugged her shoulders and walked away.

(The same thing had happened, at Home Depot, a few weeks earlier, when I'd been looking for nuts and bolts.  Like you do, in a hardware store.  I found the nuts all right -- nice packets of 100, so I picked up two.  When I went to get the corresponding bolts, what an amazing surprise.  Not only was there not a single bolt to fit these nuts, there wasn't even an empty place where the correct bolts might have been.  I found an employee, who came over, looked at everything that I'd just examined, and then turned to me and said, 'There aren't any.'  And walked away)

Why am I so constituted, I wonder, that things like this are so irritating to me?  Is it the waste of my time and energy, all of which is met with bovine indifference?  Is it the irrationality of a store stocking, say, grommets, without bothering to stock, say, the implement which would actually make these grommets... useful?  (Nuts and bolts, same thing)  I'd made the investment; I'd done my part; I'd shown up; I'd braved the wilderness; I'd explained my goals; I was there to spend money; I was met with the wide, uncomprehending eyes of drugged cattle. 

And this is why the scene of my father, doubled over in the back yard, makes such sense.  As I was standing in the checkout line of the Arts'n'Crafts emporium (alright, I did buy some grommets, because I'm going to tear the basement apart brick by brick, until I find the stupid thing.  It's green, remember?),  and as I was just aching to spew some vitriolic nastiness at the checkout boy, hoping that he would burst into tears at my ferocity, I just knew I couldn't.  And I had one of those terrible sinking sensations, when I'm almost unsure where I am -- feeling so angry and so helpless and so angry at being helpless, and there's no place for it to go...

Except inward.  Yelling at that poor cashier jockey would do zero, except to make me look like a total jerk in the eyes of the general public, who had no trouble finding their bunch of dried grass, or box of colored makers.  But I desperately want someone to suffer for this.  And the next closest person is... me.

Apparently Aristotle said something pithy about anger -- how difficult it is to know when to express it, and how difficult it is to express it properly, when the time is right.  How nice for him.  He's dead.  My alternative is to contemplate suicide. 

Not that I'd actually do anything so labor-intensive and productive of mess.  I just want someone to suffer, and I want to be really sure that the suffering is sufficiently keen and deep -- and who else would know that, but me?  The main problem with suicide, though, is that it's a one-shot deal.  If, as in the case of my tardy arrival at therapy that time decades ago, I could pile one self-inflicted demise atop another, and then go to work the next day, why I would have killed myself countless times already.  Oh yes.  Lotta rage. 

And really, it's not just about the grommet setter, is it?  It's about the job treachery, and the heart betrayal, and the maternal indifference.  It's about the brother drifting into dementia, and the friend's son, burned beyond healing and strapped daily to a stretching bed, to keep his seared body from closing in on itself, the way a burnt body will.  The impenetrable mysteries of how to create an art career, the appalling accumulation of apparently useless creative potential, the steady, irreversible dwindling of time and energy. 

How does one manage?  How does one channel?  How does one focus, and deal appropriately?  I feel as though I've just barely scrambled up a palm tree, and the tsunami is pulling at my ankles.  My grip is loosening.  In moments, I'll be slipping in.  And it'll be 'way, 'way over my head. 


©     2012         Walter Zimmerman

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