Friday, October 5, 2012

Anger and Ultimatums One of my favorite ways of blowing off steam or working off a case of mad is to pull weeds. Several times a week I go out in the yard, put on my gloves, grab a trowel and a pair of pruning shears, and go to town on the buttercups, Stinking Robert, blackberries, and dandelions. Pulling weeds make me feel better, and it makes the garden look better. Doing chores in the house can have the same effect. News of someone’s death, for example, has sent me into the bathroom to clean the tub and tub surround to within an inch of its life. The activity vents the energy released by the shock, and it is not an activity that requires a completely present and with-it brain, and I end up with a clean bath tub. Unfortunately, physical activity can have an opposite effect. Instead of letting the steam escape, it can remind me of old, unvented steam. I can be putting the bed back together, neatly arranging the piles of blankets, sheets, and pillows that are our bedding, and will start thinking of something that bugs me. Today it was exercise, or more accurately, people who push exercise. People sometimes have encouraged me to exercise. They mean well. I do not have any argument with people who are active. I admire and respect them, and wish I was more like them, truly. But. When somebody tells me I should get out and walk in order to lose weight and take some pressure off my bad knee, all I can think is, if you haven’t walked a mile on a knee with no cartilage left, and lived through the pain for several days afterward, you don’t know what you’re talking about, so shut up. See, this is the problem with doing some physical chore. Rather than calming emotions, activity can rev them up, and you might end up saying or doing something rash. When I turned 18 I came home from college to visit my parents, and my beautiful cousin Nancy was there to visit. One night during that fateful weekend Nancy and I took my father’s pickup for a drive. We went out to a movie. My parents were not at home. It was the first and only time I took a car without permission, but I figured it would be okay. It would have been all right, too, if that Jeep Gladiator (I want to give credit where credit is due) hadn’t opened up a hole in its engine and dropped all its oil on Highway 1 somewhere between Soquel and the Freedom Boulevard turnoff. That might not have been a total disaster if I’d known enough to turn the engine off as soon as the oil light came on, but I was young and ignorant and instead thought, oh, I’d better get home right away. The engine kept going almost a mile before it ground to an oil-free halt, with all its now hot and oil-free parts wedged tightly together. Yep. I learned a lot about the working of the internal combustion engine that night. A couple of weeks later when I was back at college and expecting to stay there for summer school, my father was working around the ranch. He got to thinking about how I’d ruined his truck – he was a farmer and I had ruined his truck! A few days later I got a call at college from my mother saying I was coming home and getting a job and learning the value of money. She told me my dad had been out working one day and got mad as hell – and who could blame him? See, he’d been doing some physical job and it served to focus and stoke his anger at me, and it came out as an ultimatum to me. I came home from college all right. My parents came and picked me up, and on the three-hour drive home we got into an argument – I think it was over whether students should get letter grades or pass-fail ratings, not that the subject matters. We were a little north of San Ardo on 101 when the fireworks started, and our relationship was all downhill after that. Within a couple of weeks I had moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Alameda with my beautiful cousin Nancy. I got a job in San Francisco, met some kids who went to dances at places called the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore, started dressing in striped pants and smoking dope, and before you know it I was renting a room made out of a stairwell in an apartment building on the Panhandle, doing temp work in the financial district for money, going to those dances, and hanging out with the other hippies on Haight Street, and laughing at people’s ignorance when they called us beatniks. All because the truck broke and I didn’t know what to do, and my father lost his temper and handed me an ultimatum. Changed my whole life, and I couldn’t tell you even now if it was for better or worse. So watch out for those temper tantrums. Think real hard before you deliver an ultimatum. You never know what you’re unleashing, although it is nice if it turns out that you end up with a clean bathtub. That’s something. Note: That night my father came and towed the truck home, and he didn’t say a word, but when we got back to the house my mother greeted us and escorted us down to the hall to my room where she quietly let loose with the laughter she’d been holding in. It turns out that once back in the 30s my dad was changing the oil on the truck he had then, and he left the truck sitting with the oil drain plug out and went to do something else. Nancy's mother, Chick, needed to give a visiting boyfriend a ride home, and decided to drive him in my dad’s truck. So they hopped in and drove off, and within a very short time the engine ground to a halt. So I did to my father’s truck the same thing Nancy’s mother had done about twenty years before. My mother thought that was rich. It’s nice to remember now that my mom had some appreciation of life’s little ironies

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