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Stevie wonders "Are you happy? Or angry?"

Steven Schindler

Special to the Village News

A year or so ago, I decided to pick up a sport I had stopped playing a couple of decades ago: ice hockey. The last game I had played in, when I was in my 40s, resulted in a trip to the E.R. Fortunately nothing was broken, except my enthusiasm for playing ice hockey. An opposing player apparently didn’t appreciate the fact that I had just scored a nice goal, and on the very next play, he cross-checked me from behind into the boards. It was a dirty play, and I think he received a two minute penalty. I received back pain for the next eight weeks and a bill from the emergency room at St. Joseph’s hospital in Burbank.

It wasn’t until I recently started playing ice hockey again in Carlsbad, with me now in my 60s, that I realized there are two kinds of hockey players: Happy players and angry players. I play with players over 50, and the same holds true now, as it did back then. And like taking a slapshot off the helmet, it struck me. It’s not only on the ice, it’s in all walks of life.

No matter what the situation, take a step back and observe. There are happy (fill in the blanks) and angry (fill in the blanks). Drivers, standing-in-liners, relatives, co-workers, sales persons in a store, sitting next to a stranger on a plane, no matter what! The vibe is immediate and very telling. Some folk’s natural facial expression exudes friendliness. Happiness. Others? Unfriendliness. Anger.

I remember reading an interview with John Lennon long after The Beatles had broken up. He was asked about his legendary temper in the waning days of The Beatles when they were breaking up for all the world to see. He responded that he was going through a nasty divorce, the press was vilifying his new love, Yoko, on a daily basis. The Beatles manager had died of a drug overdose, and the band, which he had started, was falling apart artistically and financially. He was under enormous pressure, and what came out of his mouth in the recording studio wasn’t, “Oh my, I’m under such pressures!” It was him screaming at his bandmates with something like, “Ringo! Why the hell are you playing the tambourine like that?!”

There’s an old Danish saying: We grow too soon old, and too late smart. And when I think about certain things I’ve witnessed in a life soon entering into my seventh decade, I can see that many times there were circumstances I didn’t understand.

I had a very close friend from first grade until sophomore year of high school. He was a hilariously funny kid, who was adept at imitating any one of the Three Stooges, or shouting something that would crack up the entire class much to the dismay of various teachers. His father was on crutches and could barely get around. Although many of us were poor, we lived in apartments that were tidy and clean. His was not. We sometimes saw his disabled father have fits of temper, but didn’t think much of it. We were kids.

It wasn’t until a neighbor schoolteacher, who was giving me a lift to high school, put it in perspective for me. I mentioned that the friend was acting strange and had been caught shoplifting at Sears, and started hanging out with some bad kids from another neighborhood. And subsequently, our group of friends cold-shouldered him and excluded him from our clique. The teacher said I should understand that the friend had a tough life. His father was disabled and an alcoholic, couldn’t hold a job, and was known to exhibit violent behavior. They were even poorer than most of the families on the block.

I felt horrible. How could I not realize that there was a reason for this friend to behave abnormally? I could have reached out, and offered more of a helping hand to this troubled friend than I did.

How many times when you’re going the speed limit or even just above, you look in your rearview mirror to see an enraged person cursing, screaming and offering a one finger salute at you because you’re not going fast enough for him? I remember George Carlin saying “Ever notice that anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac? And anyone who drives slower is a moron?” It’s easy to give in and give back what you’re getting from a mad driver. But if you read the local crime news, you know that many road rage incidents end in trips to the morgue, not the birthday party.

I think it’s important to remember that everyone has a backstory. And even though we have no control over what aggressive and belligerent people are going through, it’s always better to follow the wisdom of a trusted friend, teacher or even Abraham Lincoln who once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” We make choices every day. So try to be a happy player, no matter what you’re playing at. Not an angry one.

Steven Schindler’s latest novel is “Fallout Shelter.”


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