In the middle of winter last year, I was walking to work in some awful Wellington weather. I got to a pedestrian crossing, glanced up to see an oncoming car that was slowing and walked out. While the car slowed it didn't actually stop and its bumper just missed my leg as it went by.
Maybe I was listening to some loud music, but something made me turn and flip the driver a middle finger. As I did the window was already coming down and abuse was hurled at me. I kept walking. The car, a BMW if that helps with the imagery, did a U-turn and pulled up next to me.
The man, of course it was a man, stepped out and berated me. I yelled my opinion of his driving back at him and went to walk away. Then he called me a faggot. I turned and told him to fuck himself. Then he made a comment about my mother. I walked back; it was, in the mildest sense, on.
This guy was slightly shorter than me and wearing shorts. I remember this for two reasons: firstly it was not shorts-weather; secondly I may have made a comment about them in the course of events. In the back of my brain I figured he must've just come from the gym down the road. In fact I was making quite the back-story for him. A property developer or maybe real estate agent who was on his way back to some ugly McMansion in the suburbs, angry that his advances on gym bunnies were rejected.
But that was the back of my mind. Most of my brainpower was put into inventing the best swearwords I could as we stood nose to nose shouting at each other. Afterwards I noticed that people were watching us from nearby buildings.
In the end I'm not sure what caused us to stop. Perhaps a dawning realisation that the next step was almost certainly physical. We turned with parting comments; his about me being clearly homosexual and mine about his "cute shorts". He then sped off to wherever it is arseholes go and I kept going to work. Shaking with rage-induced adrenalin.
Rage. Injustices are easy to find and ranting on twitter or via a blog is so simple. Yet that rage is also so impotent. We yell at the TV and the news doesn't change. We complain about the ill-thought-out processes of our office but nothing comes of it. We have become used to this system. Anger, venting, no change.
But when this rage is physical, when there's a balding homophobic man in shorts, screaming swear words into your face, suddenly this is real. There may be action.
I have replayed this scene over and over in my head. I don't think I would've hit out first. I wonder if he thought the same. I haven't been in a fight since I was a kid, could I actually act on the rage that I throw at the internet every day? I often think that the dicks who comment on Stuff articles would never say those things to your face because they'd be slapped. But would we actually slap them?
See, I just don't know. In this last year I have been joyously happy, bottoming-out depressively sad, and burning with rage; and I have had all of these emotions levelled at me too. The first two can be useful emotions, getting you to do things. Generally though, (impotent) rage just gets you angrier. And so, rage fuels the internet. Whole websites, memes and t-shirt empires are based on being angry at something. Tweets are written about the death and destruction that will occur as fiery anger spills forth from a person slighted by a slightly annoying pop-up.
The world is a short, angry BMW driver who almost runs you down. You yell in his ugly face, you invent new words and language to attack him, you imagine all of the horrific violence you would exact on him, and then… nothing. You wait for the next rage trigger.
If you're expecting me to go somewhere with this, you're shit out of luck. I was just quite angry the other day and reflecting on the phenomenon. But I feel that I need to say this: I am sorry that I made you angry.