I was looking for parking the other day at the local grocery store and immediately located a middle aged man, with just a few groceries, loading his vehicle. This was probably the most simple and mundane of tasks, not requiring much effort since the amount of plastic bags he had in his cart was probably fewer than twelve. Yet he seemed to relish in the idea that I was anxiously waiting for him to finish and leave so I could park my car. Clearly he was in control and he milked the opportunity… so much so that another person came, loaded their vehicle and left before this guy finished. I ended up taking that spot instead, with some level of satisfaction that the guy with control issues never got to achieve a power-play orgasm. Clearly he would have climaxed while backing out ever so slowly, suddenly stopping for traffic that wasn’t there. Still, I was completely pissed off at this obvious and pathetic need to control.
Cars give us a unique opportunity to control. We feel protected and secure surrounded by this mechanized transport of steel and glass, thousands of pounds worth, with the ability to cause great destruction or even death. Although vehicles are made to look pretty, sleek and luxurious, we’re all too familiar with their darker side and what they’re capable of. Put a person with serious control issues behind the wheel and you’ve got a toxic combination. You know the people I’m talking about, maybe you’re one of them. The left turn arrow turns green and they’re still finishing up a text message while ten cars wait for them to begin moving. Some of these cars contain people late for work, a job interview, a doctor’s appointment or all three.
And then it happens, someone honks their horn in disapproval and the shit hits the fan. The control freak behind the wheel graciously accepts your invitation to a dual. They are not the least bit embarrassed they didn’t notice the light change, they are instead infuriated that you would question their authority, their temporary but very real vehicular Alpha status. As horns blaze, they move forward, but only at a snails pace, rubbing their fleeting social position in your face while making others wait for the next turn cycle. Sometimes this abusive display of power continues with high speed passes, fingers out the window, and audible, but indiscernible uses of the English language.
There are of course other ways to control, and sometimes the intention is completely benign, but once enacted, must be followed to completion. When I was a cashier at Winn-Dixie during my late teens, a very nicely made up lady came to my lane with about five bottles of white wine. We had a strict policy regarding alcohol purchases and had to ask anyone that looked 30 or younger for an ID. I did so and at first, the very nice and pretty lady felt it was a complement, and thanked me. When I asked her again she looked at me with a puzzled expression. “Are you serious?” she questioned me, becoming visibly irritated at my need to see her identification. I explained that we have to ask everyone that looks 30 and younger to which she shouted “I need to see your manager! I’m late for a wedding and I need this wine, I don’t have my ID with me. This is absolutely ridiculous!”
My manager came by and apologized for the inconvenience but told her if I asked for her ID, that she needed to produce it. She was beyond upset and stormed out of the store as the bookkeeper behind the service counter said to me “I’m glad I’m not going to that wedding, they’re won’t be any wine there.” While this display of control was necessary and justified, it began to evolve into something else, into a social treat of sorts for me and my co-workers. We could enjoy the moment with little or no guilt, being that we were on the right side of the situation. Let me remind you that the initial intention was to uphold a policy and not break the law. This shouldn’t be confused with the person that knows they’re in control and looks for ways to exercise it in every possible fashion. These folks usually work at airports.
I was looking forward to my trip to San Francisco one early morning, while going through the TSA security check at Miami International Airport. The previous evening my friend Dan had stopped by my place to wish me safe travels and had an idea for a clever prank. I had this plastic gel like insect you could squeeze and green goo would pop out of it’s abdomen, while lights flashed and loud growling noises played. He slipped it into my carry-on bag and I wasn’t the wiser. As my bag emerged from the x-ray machine, it was handed to a TSA employee that stood behind a stainless steel table. He asked me to bring my belongings with me, as he needed to check my bag with a probe. With boots in hand having been removed from my feet, I followed instructions and approached the table, placing them on top of it. Quite suddenly the handsome Latin TSA employee began shouting “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER put anything on this table! I didn’t say to put anything on this table did I? Why aren’t you following instructions!” It was very clear to me that someone desperately needed an opportunity to take control of his life and I was the obvious choice. The situation could have been handled completely different, but clearly he needed to express his authority when the moment presented itself.
So what’s the deal? Why do the examples like I just described seem to be occurring much more frequently on a day to day basis? At least it seems that way to me. Why does everyone want to control so much lately? Perhaps it’s because as of late, we feel utterly powerless in the new way we live our lives as Americans. Nothing is guaranteed anymore. We thought we could chose our next leader and we couldn’t. Almost 66 million Americans didn’t see their candidate win on election night last November. We thought we were safe enjoying a night out on the town or even at church, but now even the most common and cherished of activities have been scarred with violence and death. The unexpected has become the expected, and that leaves people feeling very scared and powerless. So it makes perfect sense that when given the opportunity to be in control of a situation, people are acting on it, abusing it, and in growing numbers.
Hopefully we can recognize this as a symptom of a larger problem and start healing it, start finding ways to work with it. Or at least come to the realization that no matter how shitty life is out there, we’re only making it worse when we decide to make the lives of others more difficult. We’re just becoming part of the problem, part of the system that we despise so much. Maybe that can be our own form of protest to the toxic media, the fake news and the corrupt. Maybe we can just be nice to each other in spite of it all. Instead of giving someone the finger, lend them a helping hand. Make a person feel safe and comfortable instead, understand their point of view and perhaps the need to control will change, and the green arrow won’t.