Thursday, April 19, 2012

We're Only Human


 Stacy Snyder - parentunplugged - We're Only Human - Bobby Knight throwing chair


There is nothing as memorable as that moment in your life where you lose touch of your groomed, proper, and professional responses and bottleneck into an abyss of irrational thought and behavior.  Some people are lucky enough to do it private, behind closed doors, where they are the only witness.  Others, like me, do it in front of someone or a group of some ones.  The least fortunate of us, do it in outright public where many people can see, or worse yet, someone gets it on video.

I’ve always been enthralled by others’ public meltdowns, which probably accounts for the karma involved in me having more than my fair share of my own semi-public unravelings.  I remember my first taste of it came in the form of Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight throwing a chair in anger across the court during a game against Purdue in the 80’s.  As an Eddie Haskell-ish junior high student at the time, I laughed my ass off!  I joked about it for days and could not get enough of the reruns on TV.  While I recognized it as inappropriate, childish and disrespectful behavior, especially for a role model, I moreover appreciated it for its demonstration of man’s lack of perfection.  He wasn’t a God; he was a man with limitations.  It literally represented to me the saying “we’re only human.”

I don’t know if it’s the alter ego of the perfectionist in me coming out to admonish myself for being such a freak of nature for always demanding everything be exactly right that allows me to so thoroughly identify with people who lose it in public or if it’s just an addiction, like being an ambulance chaser, or watching really bad reality TV shows like Mob Wives.  In any case, it’s been a source of wonder and enjoyment for me over the years to see people, not even famous people, just any people, lose their cool in public.  It can be a mother in line at the reception window of the pediatrician office yelling about the wait, or a business-suited pedestrian giving a thoughtless driver the finger and pounding on the hood of the car to show the driver that he has the right of way, or my own toddler throwing a full-on physical temper tantrum over no more candy.  It all provides the same fodder to me….people behaving badly.  It just plain out happens.  Sometimes you just can’t hold it together.  Maybe it was a bad doctor’s report or an unfavorable work performance review or a cheating spouse or a sick child or a $200 traffic ticket or just a shitty day…who knows what events motivate people to act the way they do, but the one thing I do know is that we all tend to lash out from time to time based on how much baggage we’re carrying around with us.  It’s not right, but it does happen and to me, it’s funny.  

One of my favorite recent examples of public breakdown was Chicago Mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Brawn’s televised mayoral forum last year, where in an angry outburst, she accused an opposing candidate of being “strung out on crack” for not noticing her in her twenty years of office.  She DID NOT!  I didn’t just smile or cover my mouth in shock or even giggle.  I had a full-on belly laugh for ten minutes where you can’t control yourself or even attempt to stop…the kind that makes your stomach hurt the rest of the day because you used muscles in your gut that you didn’t even know you had.  Even now, a year and a half later, I don’t even have to watch it on YouTube to remember how it hit my funny bone.  Again, I realize her comment was offensive and unprofessional, yet so insanely hilarious that I just can’t let go of its ridiculousness.  Like Bobby Knight, Carol was forced to take responsibility for her actions by losing face and credibility.   That’s how it goes.  

Having had one of my own “memorable meltdowns” just months before, I could completely empathize with Moseley Braun; I’ve been in her shoes, though on a much smaller scale.  I’ve been in business long enough to have established quite a polished set of acceptable daily verbiage that’s not reserved just for business.  It should be used for everyone, as you never know when your neighbor or yoga partner may become your client, your child’s teacher, or your boss.  However, recent years of being a stay-at-home-mom have dulled my skill set, to put it mildly.  Since most of my daily interactions are on the personal level and rarely breach the professional standing, I’ve lost touch with my aforementioned business communications.

What happened in an altercation two summers ago can only be described as what insurance and warranty companies always refer to as a Force of Nature.  My normal personable, complimentary, yet factual and persuasive style of doing business stroked out to a temporary loss of control over my words and actions.  It was over something trivial, which in my opinion, is always the way it goes down:  some small, insignificant event or conversation that sets people off, which is really just a cover for a whole shitload of pent up anger, or your emotion of choice.

I had rented an apartment in Chicago for my family, after having owned my own home for the previous six years.  We had enjoyed living in the apartment for almost a year when the rent was raised by, what I thought to be, a substantial amount for the upcoming year’s lease.  Having just moved my family across the country less than a year before to this apartment in a new city, I was not stoked about moving again, so thought I’d do some research on the current rental market in the area and use the results to negotiate the rent with the landlord.

The data dictated a new course of action, though, as the going rate for apartments in the area was running a good $400-$500 less per month than we were already paying on the old lease.  We decided not to renew, found a new apartment, and arranged for movers.  I knew the landlord was a stickler for details, so when it came time to have the apartment cleaned, I didn’t even consider hiring a cleaning company as I would usually do in a case like this, as I knew they wouldn’t clean thoroughly enough to appease the landlord.  I decided to do it myself, and I got my family settled into the new apartment and headed out early one morning to clean the vacated apartment rental.  I spent the day cleaning the apartment top to bottom like it was my own home.

When the landlord showed up to do the walk-thru, he complimented me by saying I’d done an incredible job cleaning.  He said there were, however, just a few things to review.  While the list was short and easy to accommodate, I felt the list petty.  I was physically and emotionally tired after moving and cleaning, and when the landlord unintentionally struck a chord with me, it in turn initiated my Fight or Flight response.  The Fight overpowered the Flight and I snapped with the force of a speeding freight train.  I told him he was crazy, a nitpicker, and that all he cared about was money.  I told him he had a shitty reputation on the street, he acted as if his property was the Taj Mahal, but that he treated it like Sanford and Son.  I told him all he ever does is take, take, take and expects everyone else to give, give, give.  I mimicked him, I screamed and cussed at him, and then I mocked him by telling him I’d meet him back same time tomorrow for the white glove test after I took care of his list.  I had literally lost my entire touch with reality.  My rant was probably two minutes in length, and I probably could have kept going for a while longer, had it not been for my family waiting for me in the car downstairs.  The landlord and I sparred with words for a while, but finally the look of shock on his face pulled me back into this stratosphere.  In his eyes I could read his recognition of my craziness.   I had lost my damn mind.

Of course I hyena-laughed for almost an hour that evening at myself because of my ignorant rant.  Just like I laugh at the public mess-ups of others as a way to process our own human fallibility, I also find it soothing to broadcast my own acts of coming undone.  As Wayne would constantly tell Garth, I was forced to “take my Ritalin.” I apologized the next day and the situation blew over.  There’s no doubt, though, that I lost credibility, even if just with one person, for a period of time, if not indefinitely.  There’s also no question, that I lost credibility with myself for a time.  For me, though, an obsessive and sometimes compulsive person, it’s just a wonderful reminder that I’m human and it’s OK.