Sunday, September 16, 2007

Short Fuse

Stand back, I may be about to blow! In the past, you could've described me as mild-mannered and been spot on. But as I age, I find myself easily erupting; and some recent flare-ups have made me wonder: Am I alone in my new volatility, or are other traditionally tame people experiencing similar behaviors? And, is having a short fuse so bad?

To start you thinking, I've shared two tantrums and hope you'll confess to a few of yours. For inspiration, I've included pictures of some famous hot heads.

Here goes: In my childhood (see "The Division Street Princess"), I was the classic good little girl. I can't recall ever talking back to my parents, raising my voice, or stalking off a sidewalk game. If challenged, I'd likely cry, or run home to mommy. Adolescence continued the same pattern and first marriage tussles typically ended in silence rather than a strong defense.

I admit to losing it a handful of times with friends, daughters, or second spouse. But I don't count these as authentic blow ups because my anger dissolved in tears. The following blow-ups, though, where absolutely no aqua was in evidence, made me feel 10-feet tall.

The first occurred on the CTA Blue Line. Husband Tommy and I were seated near exit doors when a male passenger leaned over the metal bar, smiled at the two of us, then dropped his pants to show off his …..

Because Tommy was partially blinded by a patch over one eye (recent cataract surgery), he didn't catch what was going on. I, instead, leaped from my seat and erupted in profanities. "Get the f@#$ off the train!" I shrieked. I don't know who was more startled, the flasher, other passengers, or me. I continued screaming until the offender slinked off the train, hiking up his pants on the way out. I felt like Wonder Woman!

Number two for your enjoyment took place during a discussion with a neighbor (known to be a feisty guy). We were in the midst of a debate, when he switched from the topic at hand to a personal attack. "You're retarded if you believe that!" he threw at me. "Shut the f@#$ up!" I returned. (You'll note I have a preference for a particular epithet.) He continued on, Tommy intervened, then pulled me home. Again, no tears, just a feeling of triumph.

(In the interest of full disclosure: I wound up writing my neighbor a note apologizing for my outburst because I realized his anger covered a raw spot. “Let’s put this behind us,” I suggested. He happily agreed. But I still count my initial rage as evidence of new boldness.)

I can't guarantee future outbursts won't find me dabbing my eyes and seeking a tissue. And I can't predict what will set me off. So, this will have to serve as fair warning: Watch out who you're messing with. I may be short, but…


Guilty Secret said...

Great post. Someone had to tell that flasher. Good on you for being that person.

Betsy said...

Hee, oh Elaine, I'd do the same thing! I'm a pretty calm person up to a point and then forget it. My favorite story is too long for here but I recently gave what for to a surly Jewel employee.

Anonymous said...

Your blog was great. I’ve been missing it.
No, as I age, I blow less. For me who has always been rather bold, to say the least, aging has caused my fuse to lengthen. Mort’s the same.
I love your new feistiness. However with the flasher, next time, kick him in the balls!

BAC said...

I've been using the "F" word a lot lately, and I think with good reason. The war, the economy, health care ... actually, just about anything on the nightly news. Your response to the flasher was excellent!


Anonymous said...

Elaine: some of us are getting more patient as we age. If you reduce your stress - which I hope you can - you should be less likely to flare-up and you might live longer. I say let the hotheads blow - as long as they are not blowing my way.
l'shana tova

Elliot Z

Anonymous said...

Hi Cuz:

I actually have mellowed with age, much like fine wine (or perhaps more accurately like certain cheese that's been left out a little too long).

Nevertheless, there are certain things that really tick me off -- like the time several years ago when I was walking my first dog Dexter, & a guy walking his dog had the temerity to be upset when Dexter (a miniature Australian Shepherd -- a breed not known for gentility) wouldn't stop lunging & barking at this fella's dog.

The fact that Dexter weighed all of 25 pounds, & this other dog -- a
plodding, bovine mix of some kind with a perpetual low growl -- easily weighed at least three times that much, didn't faze Dexter at all. As a puppy he would encounter Mastiffs & stand his ground, putting his paws up on their faces, yapping at them until they gently batted him away.

He eventually learned fear, but he rarely backed down from a bigger

This big dog & his owner were a semi- regular fixtures in our
neighborhood. Like his dog, he plodded sullenly up & down the
streets of our little community. Other dogs turned on their heels at
the sight of his, & he made no attempt to ingratiate himself.

I always kept Dexter on a pretty short leash as a matter of habit,
but this time he had gotten away from me -- & was running around the big dog, obviously trying to herd him. The owner, with a dull expression that perfectly matched that of the dog's, began kicking at Dexter, as I ran up. "Stop kicking my dog!", I yelled. "Look what he's doing!", yelled the owner. I pulled Dexter away, &, my voice dropping to it's lowest register (when I sound about as menacing as Bea Arthur), I looked into his witless face & screamed "FUCK OFF!!" He gathered his dog & his dignity, & marched off.

A few years later, I learned from other people in the neighborhood
that the dog owner is a nice guy, & I have no reason to doubt it. But nobody kicks my dog.

Dexter died in '05 -- he ate something that he shouldn't, & his
kidneys shut down. As he lay dying in my arms in the clinic where we
had brought him, I regretted a lot of things -- mostly that we didn't
have more time with him. But one thing I'll never regret is that I
exploded in defense of him.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff – sometimes “shut the fuck up” is the only sane reply (particularly in the present cultural climate). And I might add that a dear friend of mine, who’s been known to blow a gasket when told to “calm down,” refers to herself as “local hothead."

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Well , "Tuley cousin," I see you are going through "that age" where patience can wear a wee bit thin. Not too worry, it will pass, and what now annoys you will soon amuse you. Example: I return the finger with a smile and a salute: someone gets in line ahead of me: no problem. "May I help you with that package?" If a door is slammed in my face, hmmm, I need that little bit of exercise. and on and on. expect those little personal idiosyncrasies of the human race,and you'll find yourself chuckling about it later. try it. saves a lot of wear and tear on the ol' body system. and heaven knows we don't need anymore wear and tear.( as an aside, some lady in an article responded thusly when a pants dropper did his thing: " I didn't know they came that small") cheers.

Anonymous said...

that flasher should be castrated


Anonymous said...

I find myself relaxing and not getting to excited about much. It takes a lot to get me going

Aunt Jackie

Anonymous said...

I too will wear dark glasses the next time we see each other so that you cannot see the fear in my eyes. I had no idea my little sster had become a tough broad. Next thing you know, you'll be taking up Twai Kan Do.


Anonymous said...

cute ma
who was the fiesty guy?
i would have shot back at him too


Anonymous said...

Amen sista..., I wish I could have been on the train to witness that one and the other one I just want to know who the guy was. See you soon. Holly

Anonymous said...

Dear Elaine Balboa

If I ever get into a bar room brawl or an alley fight...I want you covering my back!!!


Kris Cahill said...

I also blow up when provoked, and am otherwise quite warm and happy. The older I get, the better this feels, so I understand you feeling like Wonder Woman. Good for you! One thing I've learned about myself over the years is that as I have given myself permission to feel anger, (something denied me as a child), it is healthier for me. Hooray for feeling what's really there!

I enjoy your blog and will check out your book.