It’s always One Thing or Another … a lighthearted look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.
By Mark McNease
Anger is a quick and easy fix, a rush injected straight into the vein, but it’s poison, and I named it. I asked for it. I ordered a lifetime supply.
Observing the current cultural and political climate, I’m reminded of a scene from the westerns once so popular with American moviegoers. A bartender in a grimy, dusty saloon, says to a weary customer, “Name your poison.” The customer asks for whisky—they all drank whisky in the movies, with names like Rot Gut and Dead Eye—and the bartender serves him from a bottle on the shelf. The customer throws back a mouthful from a greasy shot glass, grimaces as it burns its way down his throat, then smiles, slaps the glass on the counter and orders another one. That sure felt good.
Today we have many things to choose from besides whisky as we name our poisons. We have twenty-four hour cable news channels to make sure we’re alarmed, angry and indignant. We have addictions of a breathtaking variety, from sex to nicotine to apps making us feel special with every little balloon bursting on our smartphone screens, while data miners dig further and further into what remains of our privacy. But like that weary cowboy in that filthy saloon, we like the way it feels going down and we order another one.
You name it, we can become addicted to it. What we don’t often examine is our own part in picking up that bottle or iPhone, engaging in that repetitive, toxic behavior, ordering that poison. Anger feels good. It gets the adrenaline going. For people who spend much of our time working, trudging, daydreaming because we would rather be in a world we imagine than the one we inhabit, be it the fantasy world of the lottery player or a greater America we believe once existed, getting really, really angry reminds us we’re still here.
Anger also has the effect of bringing us into the moment—a place in which we spend very little time. Maybe it’s biological; maybe anger and fear are what helped us stay alive when something larger was waiting around the corner to eat us, and fury was a necessary tool for survival. But now it is not. Now it’s a tool for destruction: of ourselves and our communities. Our politics, our perceptions of the world and our reactions to them. Anger is a quick and easy fix, a rush injected straight into the vein, but it’s poison, and I named it. I asked for it. I ordered a lifetime supply.
I don’t know if a species so addicted to rage can survive. We’ve done fairly well so far, given the odds of us making it out of the trees and into office cubicles. The other primates probably laughed at us, saying to each other in some primate language, “Are you serious? Homo sapiens? Pa-leeze!” We showed them, and now the planet’s stuck with us, and we’re stuck with each other. I believe there’s a way out, and it begins with naming our poisons. Looking at each of them and saying, “This, I chose.” And, “This, I no longer choose.” It isn’t easy, but even the cowboy vanished, taking his rotgut with him into a shootout on the street where he died forgotten. He’s gone, and his poison with him. Let him lead the way.
Mark McNease is the author of seven novels, two story collections and various short fiction. He’s the co-editor of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award finalist), as well as the co-creator of the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors.