Grace Notes
A hopeful newspaper column ~ by Natalie Costanza-Chavez
About Fear > Shopping-Cart Anger (real men)
Shopping-Cart Anger (real men)

Grace-Notes #20 – to run on Sunday, August 6, 2006
Shopping-Cart Anger

Not so long ago, before email, students used to leave notes on my car. Sometimes they explained an absence or a late paper. But usually they were sunny things written on a fly-by “Hi! Have a great semester! I’ll visit!”

One winter day, I trudge through the snow-meltings and ice to arrive finally at my car. I get in and see a note on the windshield. I smile. Something nice. I get out, grab the note, and open it. Fury jumps off the page. Angry penciled letters holler at me for parking incorrectly. The note is vile and violent. I look down. Sure enough, most of the cars in the lot are shifted half a space over – when I’d arrived on campus that morning the snow was almost a foot high. It was impossible to tell where the parking lines began and ended, so I parked in an open space beside two already parked cars. Since then the snow has melted, cars had come and gone. It was now apparent I had missed the lines.

Even though the person was long gone, I could feel the anger come off the paper and stick to me as if the words had been glued and thrown. This was years ago, but I thought of it the other day, because it happened again – in person.

I was waiting in a slow line to leave a store. The young man in front of me was already angry – I could feel it coming off of him in waves. He was the kind of building explosion that makes others avoid eye contact and hook-arm young children close. I eyed the young woman he was with, worried about her. We moved toward the lot; they were heading for a car not too far from mine.

I hung back, swung my cart around, unloaded my groceries and forgot about the angry boy – I needed to return a call, write something down, find Chap Stick in my purse. I left my cart beside my car and got in. Yes – I admit – not often, but sometimes I do this. Next thing I know he is in my car window, furiously jerking the cart off its wheels and spinning it around. He is seething and red and yelling in a stab-word “I-wish-I-could-hit-you” way.

I am afraid. I lock my door. My windows are up but I can still hear him fume as he jerks the cart to the caddy across the lot and heads back toward a red truck and the young woman seated in the front. She looks tentative, imploring, used to this.

He sees me looking and screams directly at me, arm in the air, pointing. I turn over my engine and leave.

It takes time to step out of his anger – I have to keep trying to shudder it away. It fell with such blanket power that just being near covered me in it. Anger is a palpable force that can knock you over if you get in its way. It can also eat alive, from the inside out, the person riding its wave.

Driving away, and less threatened, I actually felt sorry for this kid – he wasn’t more than 18 or 19. I wondered what was so bad in his life that my grocery cart under a tree released a tidal wave of rage.

I didn’t feel sorry for his girlfriend – for her I felt fear. Too many women become adept at soothing and side-stepping and treading-oh-so-softly to keep a boy-man from blowing up. Too many women are good at becoming invisible and quiet, breath-held bundles, brains spinning smart and in-wait for the normal to come seeping back. Even one woman thinking it her job to control such a train wreck is one too many.

Venting your anger on a stranger, through a note, or a car window, or ways more dangerous still, is not tough and is not impressive. It’s pathetic.

Real men don’t punch holes in walls or threaten harm. Nor do real women.

Surely we’re teaching that catching hold of emotions as they threaten to fly-away crazed is the hard thing to do, the grown-up thing to do? Surely we’re teaching that engagement works best with calm words – not “I dare you” taunts, not fists, or violence, or intimidation, or brandishing grocery carts like four-wheeled bats? Surely?