Why I May Never Make A Good New Yorker

Remember in The Princess Bride* when the Six-Fingered Man says to Inigo Montoya, "Good heavens, are you still trying to win?  You have an over-developed sense of vengeance."?  (Here's the link if you want to see it, but be forewarned that outside of the context of the movie, it's a bit violent.)  I think that's my problem.  I have an over-developed sense of needing to be Right.

(You didn't click on that link, either, did you? You never click!  I go through the trouble of linking and then adding the html code so that it opens in a new tab and you never even click. Throw me a bone and click for once, would ya? Sheesh.)

When I was a kid, my family took a trip to Greece.  I was looking out of the window of the hotel room in Athens and I saw two cars try to turn in front of the other one.  Brakes screeched, the drivers rushed out of their cars and began shouting at each other.  Pretty soon a crowd gathered, everyone adding their opinion and gestures and it looked like things were about to get really ugly.  Then the two drivers laughed, threw their arms around each other, slapped each other on the back, got back into their cars and drove off.  The crowd dispersed.  No harm, no foul.

See, no one took anything PERSONALLY.

On Saturday, I was trying to pull out of traffic to get a parking place in front of a coffee shop.  Another car had pulled into the space directly ahead of mine.  The driver kept backing the car up until there was no room for me to maneuver into my space so I threw my signal on and tried to leave my space to get back out into traffic to park farther down.  (I hadn't had any coffee.)  Then the driver put her car into park, got out of her car and stood shouting at me on the sidewalk.  "I was BACKING UP!" she yelled, highly indignant.  "I was BACKING UP."

I guess she wanted MY space and I had really inconvenienced her by making her park one whole parking space farther away.

I had Ana (12) in the car so I didn't say anything, just waited until the coast was clear, pulled back out of my space and parked a few spaces farther down.

But MERCY, I was MAD.  I said incredibly cutting and clever things to her IN MY HEAD. She was right in front of us in the coffee shop and I said some really obscene things to the back of her (you know, IN MY HEAD.)  SHE, meanwhile, moved on and went about her business, poisoning the lives of everyone else she interacted with that day. (Seriously, I heard her say, "I was here FIRST" when the guy next to her tried to place his order before she did.  He looked like he shared my vocabulary IN HIS HEAD.)

I was still angry when I took Ana to piano and I think this was a contributing factor to my slamming my thumb in the car door. I was SO having it out with that woman IN MY HEAD.  I was using phrases like, "I'm sorry you had to walk an extra FIVE WHOLE FEET. Let me rush home because that's where I left the World's Tiniest Violin." and other...you know, CLEVER things. (Some of them were clever.  No, really.)

I'm still crabby about it.

See, I think I have an over-developed sense of...taking things PERSONALLY. Five years from now, I will still be mad at this anonymous rude woman.  I'm still mad over things that happened when I was in the workforce before I had kids, TWELVE YEARS AGO or longer.  My second grade teacher hated me.  I'm still mad at her! I'm still mad and embarrassed by the anonymous note about my dog. (That's a link and apparently, I'm going to be mad for forty years if you don't click on it.)

I've talked to a few friends about how I hold on to things because, you know, I have this uncomfortable feeling that by doing so, the rude/angry/obnoxious people WIN.  Long after they've gone about their business, I'm still carrying around anger and wishing I wasn't.

One friend suggests that I do some sort of visualization where I leave the slight/memory/issue somewhere along the road.  (This friend says there are a lot of overpasses along the highway acting as repositories for stressful incidents/events.)  I've tried that but my need for some sort of justice for these rude and unfair people seems to trump any kind of visualization. I just can't let it go.

Another friend suggests that I won't ever be a New Yorker until, like the Greeks, I give voice to what I'm feeling at the time. I was talking to my daughter Ana about this and I told her that it always takes me a long time to think of things to say and she said the French call this, "the wit of the staircase" because it's the thing you think of to say after you've already left the room.  Yeah, I'm cracking up the staircase crowd.

(As an aside, would it actually surprise any of us if it turned out that Ana SPOKE French?)

Anyway, I'm open to suggestion.  How do you all let go of these meaningless, petty little annoyances instead of letting them ruin your day?  (In my case, my week, my month, my decade.) 

*Yes, I've been using this movie a lot lately in my writing and no,  I don't know what it means.


Bullwinkle said…
Darn ... I really hoping to find the answer, if not in your blog, in the comments. (sad face)
Susan said…
I have learned over the years that people act the way that they do for a reason (Transactional Analysis theories). TA was very helpful while I was still teaching, defusing problems and opening up lines of communication with parents (especially angry parents) and children as well as co-workers. Rather than take things personally, I try to imagine why the other person behaved in that way. In your example, the woman obviously wasn't just rude to you but to the world in general. It wasn't aimed at you personally. She was having a very bad day for whatever reason or she behaved like that all the time. Either way, you have to wonder how hard it must be to be that cranky. She can't be happy. Rather than react to her in the same vein, imagine being able to say to her that she seems unhappy and asking if she wants to talk about it. It's helpful to think about the possible reasons she had for being so rude (keep in mind that I have never been to New York so maybe that's just normal behavior there) (if so, how sad and unpleasant). I think that you were wise to not give her the satisfaction of being rude back since that's obviously what would have been very rewarding to her at the time. You modeled the correct response for Ana by doing nothing.
Kerry said…
I used to deal with this by blogging. I was always annoyed with someone and could find blog fodder every hour. Then I stopped blogging and realized how negative the whole process was. Now I just try to let it go right then, rather than even having that conversation in my head. Just take a deep breath and wish peace for the other person. I don't remember where I heard it, but it was something about wanting something for someone else MORE than you want it for yourself. I really want peace for myself, and I really DO want it for those other people as well.

I'm also very witty inside my own head, and I keep myself well entertained. :)
smalltownme said…
I clicked on a link, I did, I really did.

I have the same issues. I feel for you. People piss me off all the time and I just sit there, MENTALLY IN THE RIGHT, but I don't want to get into some kind of psycho confrontation about it. It drives me crazy.

Like at school/work, they keep changing the way we herd the kids into the new cafeteria. No way we do it is ever right. And I relive it every night.

So off which mental bridge should I drop that baggage? There's a nice high one nearby...
tanita✿davis said…
Ugh. Too close to home!!

I have grudges against my in-laws for things that literally happened sixteen years ago. I remember freakin' everything and have total recall on what feels like every slight in my life.

But, the thing is... I hear you about effective vs. right. And in this case, it's ineffective to hang onto such crap. It's odd how human nature wants to hug things that hurt. We cling to our wriggling porcupine of resentment, insistent that it is OURS and we have the RIGHT to hold onto it. And okay: right? Yes. It is indeed ours. Effective? Um... not so much.

It's a bit hard to walk through life living graciously AND holding onto a thirty-pound squirming mammal that shoots spines. You gotta put something down.

I find that "putting something down" takes place really well out loud. "Okay, well, THAT pissed me off. That was obnoxious and rude. I'm letting it go, though." Mainly I think what our psyche wants is our anger acknowledged, and if no one acknowledges it, we have to hang onto it like a dog with a muddy carcass until someone wrestles it away from us so it doesn't mess up the whole house. We have the ability to acknowledge ourselves, to parent ourselves, to comfort ourselves. And if you're acknowledging yourself and your feelings and not the other STUPID PETTY VICIOUS IDIOTIC woman, you can even say stuff that's Ana-safe, and she'll get a good example of how to be pissed and live with it.

That's how I deal - but a.) I have no kids, b.) I've never been to New York, and c.) I tend to park way away from everyone because I tend to have fender benders ... in driveways... :) (Yes. I click all of your links.)
Tenna Draper said…
Tapping her on the shoulder...holding my cell phone set on video...

"Excuse me...I have a column locally that shows video of people who behave badly in public. How would YOU like to be my next column?"

Barb, I had to get therapy. If you can't expose or rid yourself of your anger, you will end up with an ulcer or a heart attack. You need to find a safe place to vent your frustration.

Being a duck, just doesn't cut it sometimes.
Barb Matijevich said…
Bullwinkle: I think you were just early! There are lots of good suggestions NOW!

See, I think New Yorkers (at least where I am on Long Island) are like the Greeks--quick to anger and take offense but then it's OVER for them. I am not predispositioned to process things the way they do and I'm not going to change them. But I have to learn to not take it personally. OR I have to learn to take it personally but then let it go.

I'm so not good at letting it go.

But you all are so smart and so understanding. I'm going to try acknowledging my anger (out loud), sending peace to the person and then every time my mind starts to replay things, I'm going to send some peace to myself. I don't know if it will work but anything is better than this porcupine.

You all are amazing. Thank you!

Libby Fife said…
I am the same way and I am tired of being told that I am "flawed" somehow. I keep thinking of Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck where he says, "What's wrong can never be made right." I think this is what is so galling about not saying anything. Plus, how come people like that woman don't seem to suffer any ill effects from their behavior yet we still talk about it days later? I just hope that when I get to the other side my "high road behavior" is rewarded:)
ToyLady said…
I suspect, like so much else, it's something we have to PRACTICE.

It's just not natural to shrug that kind of thing off - like the drunk guy who circled the block then pulled up beside me at a convenience store and started yelling at ME for following HIM because he thought it was a COP behind him.

Um, like 25 years ago, that was. So yeah. (And boy, did my steering wheel hear plenty of snappy comebacks - after he's peeled out of there! Which, now that I think of it, is probably just as well, I mean, Cranky Drunk Guy + Young Woman Alone + Late at Night = not a good idea to further antagonize him, huh?)

I'm sure there are people who can just say, wow, what a jerk, and go on with their lives, giving it no more thought than that - and I suspect they've consciously worked at it. Either that, of I just suck. (But I kind of don't think that's the case - mean people suck - not me. Or you.)

I used to have a friend who referred to that as letting people "rent space in your head." Only I guess they're kind of squatting there, aren't they, in my head, since they're not actually PAYING ANY RENT or anything. Huh.
The Dister said…
I clicked! I clicked!
Anonymous said…
I very much resonate with your column! Imagine my response to what I'll call my surprise divorce...can you imagine how angry I was and for how long? Many of the books (and I read 'em all) say you have to forgive. But HOW? Isn't that exactly your question? For me it was counterintuitive and deliberate. I went out to the woods behind my house and talked to "the staircase crowd" and told my ex just what he did (and I had lists, oh YEAH I had lists) and how I felt it. After every one, I said "I forgive you."
You know what, it didn't work! not right away. But I did it again and again and eventually, having "the list" helped a lot. That way I didn't worry about them getting away with it, I had THE LIST.
Barb, why not write a list of all the times you didn't wreak vengeance and could have. You can take it with you to meet St. Peter but in the meantime you don't have to live it!
Anonymous said…
A wise friend said to me once "put it in a balloon and let it go" -- some of the best advice I've ever been given. It only hurts YOU to hang on to it, not the other person -- so let it go!
Maggie said…
What do you get out of holding on to the grudge? What's your payoff? Find that out and you will begin on the path of letting go. Oh, and you'll also achieve spiritual enlightenment just like the Buddha.
Linda said…
tanita, I LOVE the "wriggling porcupine of resentment" imagery! The other one of heard that sticks with me is that not letting go, or not forgiving someone is like "drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." Good column, Barb. Maybe it comes down to that us "others" can't let go of things and the "happys" can?
knittergran said…
I heard this once and it makes great sense to me:
Holding a grudge is like taking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.
knittergran said…
ooops-someone beat me to that one.
stashun said…
I can totally relate! I had this same problem. Along with holding a grudge, I also resented when poorly behavied adults were given a free pass by everyone. It seemed that the lady who cut in line without being confronted got off scot free while all us nice folks got the shaft! Well, I realized that those mean people know they are acting poorly and they are paying a price. They are the people who end up NEVER happy. My main problem was that I felt used and I was mad at myself for being a wuss. It is true that it is important to be heard even if you end up having an uncomfortable moment. I realize that if I am heard, I let go of the grudge. It can be as simple as saying (with a smile), "I am next in line." If they don't agree or still push ahead, I might let it go or say something else. I just make sure I never get confrontational or rude. I stay calm and collected because even if they ignore me, I SAID what I needed to say. That really helps me!!
Unknown said…
the princess bride has all the answers to life.

I get over a grudge like this by claiming a moral victory. I was right, they were wrong, I know I was, and i get a gold star on my "rightness' sheet.

On a more zen note, my dad, a Bhuddist, always says "I wonder what went wrong in her life this morning that she felt the need to act that way?" makes me feel petty when i have been railing at the chick in my head, but he's right...
Susan said…
I have to admit I can be the same way. I can also, on my better days, make myself look at the other side, think of what kind of person behaves as they do and feel sorry for them and those who have to be around them all the time as opposed to me who just has a little run in and can avoid them from now on...letting it go. And sometimes I say something but I do not shout or swear.I generally suggest that their behavior is obnoxious, rude or otherwise not fit for public.

When I say something I must be open to being insulted, which is generally what those kinds of people tend to do in response to being confronted. Since I already know I am a fat old bag, it doesn't tend to bother me - (that is generally the insult that they choose to hurl.)

Sometimes I stew a bit. Sometimes I blog about it. Did you see my post about the jaywalker?

P.S. I am a link clicker, promise.
Being from NJ, I can tell you what's wrong - you didn't answer her right away. You need to vent while it's happening. Believe me, in NY, no one would even notice. It's normal. I totally would have replied, "Good for you!" Or, "Well, I wasn't!" Or, "I was parking!" And walked away. End of story. Even a simple "So what?" would suffice. It doesn't have to be witty.

Think of it as learning a new language. Truly, a NY'er transplanted into the South can never figure out why those people just don't say what they mean! I'm not criticizing the South; I know that, by living there, I can come to appreciate their different style of communication, bless their hearts. Neither style is morally superior, in my opinion.
Lynn said…
I am dealing with this right now. Guy broke my heart four years ago. Keeps popping up at social occasions when I least expect him. He thinks, because I have [mostly] forgiven him, we are still friends. And he should sit at my table. And talk about what a "sweet little family" my kid has. And pat me on the shoulder. Sunday night it happened again, and I took him aside and quietly went all Steel Magnolia on him. (Bless his heart.) And I finally got the apology he should have given me four years ago. Now, maybe, I can finish forgiving him.
Lynn said…
P.S. I clicked on the first two links, but not the third, as I remembered your post about the anonymous note. Thank you for the film clip; very cathartic.
Anonymous said…
Just get fed up and start yelling. You'll feel better! :-)


ps I'm a NYer. Moved a year ago from LI, but grew up in Yonkers.