“And there’s always a place for the angry young man, with his fist in the air and his head in the sand. And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes, so he can’t understand why his heart always breaks.” — Billy Joel, “Angry Young Man,” from his “Turnstiles” album.
I am, I must confess, an angry young man, keeping in mind of course that young is a relative term.
I am, after all, younger than dirt and rocks, Hershey bars and aspirin, Carnegie Hall and Wrigley Field.
Young or old, I am, nonetheless, angry.
Big things make me angry, like hate, intolerance, bigotry, injustice and the designated hitter rule, but I am just as liable to fly off the handle over something much smaller, like a paper cut, toilet paper on my shoe or a telemarketer calling at dinner time.
Mine is a volatile, explosive anger — in volcanic terms, think Italy’s Vesuvius instead of Hawaii’s Kilauea (which has been erupting continuously since 1983). It is there and just as quickly gone.
Usually, however, my anger leaves footprints behind, like a dent in some nearby object, or damaged feelings in a nearby person.
I am not proud of this trait, it is just a fact of my life. For the most part, my bride ignores my outbursts, while the cats simply hide under the bed.
My bride is the polar opposite of me. Her anger is a slow-building, long-lived thing, simmering like a teapot on a hot burner, finally erupting like a gout of angry steam. The difference is, if you take a tea kettle off the burner, it will cool fairly quickly. Not my bride. She is still mad at me for stuff I did decades ago.
Anger is a toxic thing, staining everything it touches. A little bit of righteous indignation is one thing, but flat-out, unmitigated anger is like a boil that cannot be lanced — hot, infected and painful.
I have gotten so angry in my time that I have thrown and broken any number of objects. Anger can be expensive, so now any time I get mad, I work it off by attempting to crush a golf ball with my bare hand. I’m still trying.
Thankfully, I have never grown as angry as a man in Wichita, Kan., did recently. He was in the self-checkout line at Walmart and got mad when he couldn’t complete his transaction. He began cussing out the machine, which in turn made another customer mad. The second man confronted the angry customer, and an argument ensued. A third angry man became involved and eventually punched the first guy, knocking out his tooth. Cleanup on aisle five.
In a way, the guy was lucky to only lose a tooth. A recent study by Harvard researchers found that angry outbursts can be fatal.
In the two hours after an angry outburst, a person’s risk for a heart attack increases nearly five times and the risk of stroke climbs more than three times.
People who are only livid occasionally are at only marginally higher risk for heart attack or stroke, the study found, but the perpetually irritated are cruising for a coronary.
For those who are outraged five times or more per day, their fits would result in some 158 extra heart attacks per 10,000 people among those with low cardiovascular risk, while among people at high risk that number grew to 657 extra heart attacks per 10,000.
I’m doomed. My family has a history of heart disease, which is a prime risk factor, I am overweight, don’t get enough exercise and don’t eat right, so I figure the next time I hook my tee shot out of bounds, I will just keel over in an ill-tempered heap.
To lessen the risk of heart attack, people who tend to be angry must avoid traveling to Grand Rapids, Mich. I’ve been to Grand Rapids, and it’s a nice enough place, but the city commission there recently voted to amend its city code, striking the line “No person shall willfully annoy another person.” So now, it is perfectly legal to be as annoying as you can in Grand Rapids.
That isn’t the only issue with Grand Rapids’ city code. Apparently, if a police officer tries to pull you over for a traffic violation there, it is legal to ignore the cop and keep on driving (which, I suppose, also would fall under the category of being willfully annoying).
I’ve got to control my temper. I must try anger-management techniques like deep breathing or thinking calming, happy thoughts. I don’t want to die with a scowl on my face and a curse on my lips.
That would make me furious.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.