Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Anger Management

  Last week, someone wrote to me telling me I had an anger management problem based on a conversation we had the week before. My first thought is, ‘So What? We all have anger management problems.’ I tend to be very blunt in the things I say and this wasn't the first time my observations were taken as personal attacks or judgments rather than me just saying what I’m thinking.

  I can think of only one time in the last few years that I lost my temper past the point of no return. I took my son Matt to play in a chess tournament and in the first round this guy I’d met casually from previous tournaments came right over to me as soon as his game was over and told me he had this completely winning position, but lost it because he was stupid. I mentioned that maybe it was a winning position for a computer, but not for his playing style. This got the guy so upset, he started cursing me out and eventually stomped away, telling everyone who came by what an ass I was for saying something like that and who the hell did I think I was anyway and on and on and on. This went on for over an hour and when Matt’s game was over and while he was hanging out with a bunch of other young kids going over his game, this guy comes walking over, sticks his hand out and says, ‘hey, no hard feelings’ or something like that. I really dislike people who spit whatever comes out of their mouths or do whatever they want, and then just want to pretend like it never happened because they say they’re sorry. I can deal with being cursed out, but if you don't really mean it, why even start? I like to think if I say something, I mean it and will for quite a while. In this case, I just snapped. I stood up and cursed this guy out using every curse word I could use in every combination I could think of (including some combinations that likely hadn’t been invented yet). I was so mad I was hoping this guy would take a swing at me, but then he says, ‘Hey, I’m just trying to be the bigger man here’. That sent me off even further. I told him if he wanted to be the bigger man, he could get on his knees and perform a service that would probably cost me a few dollars in Las Vegas (not in those words exactly). I don’t think there was much of a comeback to that and the guy left and didn’t give me any further updates on his games for the rest of the tournament. I did sort of apologize at the next tournament I saw him in. I went up to him and said I wished the incident had never happened. A truce was declared and we have exchanged pleasantries (but not Christmas Cards) whenever we have met since.

  I didn’t manage my anger very well at the time. I would have been better served by shaking the guys hand and moving on, but being reminded of anger management shortcomings got me to thinking about how other people I have known managed their anger in a positive way.

  I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but a teacher from my High School, Mr. Glackin, was very good at anger management now that I look back. Our homeroom was right next to his classroom and our teacher was rarely there after taking the attendance. We would be in various stages of altered consciousness (it was the seventies) and would rarely if ever stand during the pledge of allegiance. One day, Mr. Glackin (who was quite bear-like at 6’5” and 300 pounds with mutton chops and well known for his foul temper) noticed our slacking off during the pledge. Confusing our hungoverness and other altered states with a lack of patriotism, he barged into the room and started screaming at the top of his lungs that if we didn’t want to stand during the pledge of Allegiance he would break every bone in our bodies and then we would have an excuse not to stand. Needless to say, we all sobered up, woke up, and stood up. Mr. Glackin probably couldn’t get away with that 35 years later and I don’t know if that’s good or bad thing, but he certainly accomplished his objective by managing his anger.

  The best case of anger management I’ve ever seen at a chess tournament came at the Hawkeye Mind Challenge in the spring of 2005. I was in the middle of a terrible tournament (throwing away a piece on consecutive moves in round 1 and being crushed in a 400 point upset in round 2), and found myself at the end of the room with all the other players that had lost their first 2 games. Sitting next to me and on the other side of the table was a big, muscular guy I’d never seen before. His name was Steve. He noticed that I had a headset and a CD player and yelled at me “TURN THAT DOWN”. I told him that I had permission from the tournament director to use the player and besides, it wasn’t even on at the moment. Steve then told me in a half shout, “WELL, KEEP IT DOWN”. Play started a few minutes later. Steve’s opponent was a high school player from West Des Moines who was no bigger around than Steve’s forearm. I was playing an older fellow who was in his first tournament in 7 years. At one point the high school player who was next to me opened a bag of Reese’s Pieces and started eating them. Strictly speaking, it is not allowed to eat at the chess table, but I don’t know anyone who has ever complained about it or enforced that rule. I don’t know if Steve knew the rule, but when he thundered “STOP EATING”, the kid next to me put the bag of candy away.
  Eventually Steve lost a piece and sort of curled up into his chair, sitting sideways with his arms grasped around each other and his face curled up into what can only be described as a giant fist. When he moved, he would pick up his piece, slam it down, and bang the clock so hard that my table would shake. Once, Steve made his move, banged the clock, and after a few seconds yelled “MOVE!” His opponent said (very quietly) “I’m thinking about my move.” A player is allowed to take as long as they want for a move, but after a few seconds, Steve yelled “HURRY UP!!”. I thought about calling over the tournament director, but I was playing bad enough already without having my head snapped off like a beer can top and kept quiet. Besides, it looked to me as if my opponent was even more distracted than I was since I was winning our game. The high schooler looked more and more uncomfortable, made a couple of hasty moves, and lost a rook, where upon Steve uncurled, stopped banging his clock, seemingly calmed down, and won the game. I gave him the (private) nickname ‘Psycho’ and it became one of my favorite tournament stories for a number of years whenever the subject of over-the-board intimidation came up. 'Psycho' managed his anger well enough to win a game he had no business winning.

  These are all great stories, but nothing that will help MY alleged anger management problem. I’ve been reading the book ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff...and it’s all small stuff” by Richard Carlson. Chapter 82 says to lighten up, so I thought I’d listen to some music to see if it would make me less angry. I oscillate between listening to mixes featuring John Lennon, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, and the Grateful Dead and when I opened up my music player, the Johnny Cash music was up.

The first song was ‘Tennessee Stud’
“We pulled our guns and he fell with a thud. I rode away on the Tennessee Stud.”

Next up was ‘Delia’
“First time I shot her, shot her in the side. Hard to watch her suffer, but with the second shot she died.”

‘Folsom Prison Blues’ was next
“I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.”

Then came ‘Cocaine Blues’
“Early one morning while making the rounds, I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down.”

And the last song on the mix was ‘Sam Hall’
“And I smashed in his head. And I left him laying dead. Damn his eyes.”

  I felt a lot less angry after listening to some music, so I guess it worked. I don’t think Johnny Cash was ever translated into Arabic, which might be why everyone is so angry in Egypt.

  I also have more proof that I’ve solved my alleged anger management problems.  It is impossible to be angry when you are calm enough to have beagle puppies fall asleep in your lap. You’ll notice that none of the Egyptian protesters have any beagle puppies falling asleep in their laps.