“How was the fundraiser last night? A lot of people?”
“The usual suspects. You know, the elementary school schmooze at warp speed.”
“Get anything good at the silent auction? Last year, I bought a bunch of gift certificates.”
“I got two tickets to a concert. My buddy Jeff yelled at me for underbidding and told me to pay more so the school got more. I told him to go scratch. The school still gets the money. I mean, the items are donated, and I saved $100 on the tickets.”
“Damn straight. Jeff probably likes people to think he’s rolling in the dough. Anyway, do anything after?”
“Yep, went out to dinner. You’ll never guess with who… Mike and Lisa.”
“Mike? Lisa’s great but he’s a loose cannon. We once went out to dinner with him and he almost punched the valet. I couldn’t wait to get out of there!”
“I know. You never know which Mike you’ll get. Mike Myers… so funny. Or Mike Tyson… rage over the ravioli. All or nothing with that guy.”
Dinner with Mike. What was I thinking? A guy who can wrap you in a big bear hug the minute he sees you, or go all ape shit at the slightest provocation. Like a flip of a coin, it’s either heady conversation over a beer or you’re beating your tail out of there at breakneck speed (before he breaks up the place).
I don’t get it. We live on peaceful lanes (actually, there is a Peaceful Lane in my town) where we’re supposed to stop and smell the flowers. Why are there dads ready to get into brawl at every four-way stop? A simple “excuse me” from an unintended bump and they’re ready for a throwdown… and not the kind with Bobby Flay.
Picture rage among the rose bushes. Beautiful Saturday morning, and two guys are duking it out at the local Trader Joe’s over a parking spot… or possibly the last jar of organic honey. A dad screaming at the CVS counter over the price of a prescription. (Paxil, by any chance?) The occasional free-for-all of fisticuffs in a place where the freedom to be you and me rings with the school bell.
I’ve seen the 0-60 acceleration, especially with Mike. At his son’s four-year old birthday party, the pizza delivery man was late. Ten minutes late. As Mike and I talked, I saw the blood pressure start to rise along with the balloons decorating the table. As the driver approached, apologizing profusely for getting lost, Mike’s complexion went tomato-red in seconds.
A full jet stream of invectives bombarded the driver upon his sunny arrival. Mike hovered over him like a drone. The kid rock tunes were drowned out by Mike’s relentless barbs and insults. We all stood frozen, holding the hot slices of pizza.
And then within 90 seconds, it was over. The driver, visibly shaken, ran for cover under a towering elm tree and then off to his car. Mike, transformed, us, transfixed, returned to the party as the soothing sounds of our suburban jungle echoed through the trees. Welcome to Saturday-afternoon fights among the flora.
Why the rage… the rancor… the ripping apart of the fragile suburban patchwork of camaraderie and calm? I wonder… is it the pressure over the daily grind of keeping up, and paying out? The need to succeed to keep one step of the Joneses and Johnsons in cookie-cutter, Girl Scout cookie neighborhoods? Or just someone who’s going through the terrible 42’s?
Maybe it’s brought on by boyhood dreams lost among the weeds and 12-hour workdays. Fiduciary paradise gained, and something irrevocably, intrinsically lost. Being tied down to 30-year mortgages and long-term annuities until that last college tuition payment sets you free to wander (or hobble away on bad knees). Wanting to be responsible… respected… relaxed but bursting to break the rules of civility and courtesy.
Am I wary and judgmental of guys like Mike or a bit envious about their ability to blow the leaves off the trees that envelope us? Many of us mildly manage our lives among our manicured lawns, revealing nothing of our spring, summer, fall or winter discontent with the status quo. Just ripples of bubbling frustration as we hike along the brooks and streams that flow, like days into each other.
Should we? Could we? Would we be more like Mike if we gave ourselves the chance to throw conformity out with the Tuesday and Friday trash? A monthly pass to yell at someone for talking on the cellphone at the movies, or confront someone about parking in two spots? To scream from the back deck of your life “I’m mad as hell” even if no one but the squirrels are listening?
I ponder… but for now, instead of blowing up, I’ll keep blowing the leaves out of my garage. What’s ten more minutes of waiting when you’re enjoying your slice of suburban life?