I’m older now and I don’t ever lose my temper any more. I just hope this always remains true. It’s not gone away, you see, my temper. I can still feel it inside sometimes. A sort of a seething.
I have always had a phenomenally bad temper. It was one that rarely showed its face. One that wouldn’t ever be a hazard to family or friends but also one that was large and unwieldy when it finally did show up.
I won’t bore you with the stories. I’m older now and I don’t ever lose my temper any more…
… until the moment I might.
I’m writing about this today because I could clearly feel the seething last night. I was there again, standing on the edge of my bad temper, looking in. I can batten it down now, I’ve learned that. I just worry that one day I might not succeed and, let’s face it, I’m too old for this crap.
Last night it was the old ‘queue jumping’ thing that brought on those old feelings. I was down at the local petrol station/convenience shop, queuing behind four others with my emergency milk. The other till, the one closest to the door, was unmanned until, suddenly, it wasn’t. From nowhere, a youth was there, cash register on, open for business.
A weedy baseball-capped shit-head then walked straight in the door, glanced at our uptight stupid little queue, went straight for the new empty till, and started into an inconsequential scratch card transaction.
I muttered under my breath, not too quietly, “Look at this shit, now,” and the lady in front of me in the queue glanced back at me nervously. She sensed the beginnings of a seethe and perhaps knew where such things sometimes lead with some people.
I stormed over and stood behind the lottery card interloper and spoke back to the woman who had been in the queue in front of me, the now-nervous one. “I’ll let you in here if it comes free.” It was part ‘trying to fix things’, part passive aggressive point making to Scratchcard Man, who couldn’t have cared less.
He just stood and examined his scratch cards and mumbled and twitched and…
And the other queue started moving now and the guy who has been behind me showed no interest in letting me back in. I stared at the neck hairs of Scratchcard Man and my breathing started to come shallow and harsh. It isn't any single thing that sets off a rage, it is very much the 'straw that breaks the camel's back' syndrome. At another time, none of this would have mattered but, at this moment, this guy had serious straw potential. There was an old familiar precipice looming up ahead and I was jogging right towards it.
Anyway, nothing happened.
The scratch card man finished eventually and left without a backward glance. I paid for my emergency milk and went home. Like I said, I’m older now and I don’t allow myself to hang-glide gleefully over the edge of my rage. But I know very well how it might have played out. No part of that scenario is any fun.
What if Scratch Card man had not simply gone away? What if he had reacted to my seething at the back of his neck? It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, I was telegraphing pretty hard. What if he had turned to me and said something like, “Do you have a problem with me, pal?”
Well then I would do what I would generally do. Fearing actual conflict, I would have turned into the sort of ‘Brillantined Stick Insect’ that John Cleese used to portray so well (though I don’t use the stuff). I would deny any problem on my part and would bid him to continue with his highly-important scratch card transactions. I would back down to the point of grovelling, anything to avoid a row.
But, still, in the back of my mind, a precipice would have inched imperceptibly closer.
Supposing he then did not choose to return to his business. Supposing he fancied a piece of me, this little smart-ass annoyed punter clutching his milk. Supposing he pushed me or grabbed my lapel and breathed his hot scratch card breath all over my face.
Then, alas, I would be gone.
The thing that never happens anymore would have happened and be would have been all-over long before I ever knew anything about it. Shop property, bystanders, windows, personal injury, repercussions, all would be of no regard as the rage took over, completely and utterly and, then, what would be, would be.
This event might last only a moment and when it was gone there would be an overwhelming sense of regret and embarrassment and self-loathing. It was never glamorous or cool like the unleashing of a rage might be in a movie. It always seemed tawdry and childish and totally without merit.
So thank heavens that I don’t do it any more
One final thing. I said earlier that no part of it was ever any fun. ‘Not quite true. In the losing of my temper, there seemed to be one moment, perhaps not even real, perhaps imagined, where all the chains were suddenly off, where it didn’t matter what happened from here on in. For the next few seconds, all control was gone, all bets were off.
A momentary wonderful feeling.
And I must never get it again.