Amir and I were filming in an alley in downtown Manhattan yesterday and I had an absolute meltdown. This older man who lived above the alley open his window and started yelling at us to be quiet. Since we had a permit and New York is loud anyway, we just went back to shooting. But then he opened up his window again, mid-take, and really let loose on us. He promised to ruin every take by yelling over it unless we left. He tried to get our producer to fetch our permit, as if, from two flights up, he could verify that we should in fact be there. He threatened to call the cops (which he did). At some point all of the years my mother and our society spent teaching me how to be civil and polite vanished from my brain and were replaced by one overwhelming urge: Scream at this man.
I don’t know if you “suffer” from bouts of extreme rage but, my word, it is cathartic. I just unloaded on this guy, challenging him to come down to the street, unleashing, in my finest New York-ese, a tidal wave of curses and composing an improvised lecture entitled “Why You’re a Crusty Old Motherfucking Asshole of the First Order.” The everyday annoyances you accumulate living in New York build in your chest until some dick comes along and taps that well, at which point they all come pouring out at once. While this clown was being rude and obstinate, my rage didn’t all stem from that. My anger came from traffic jams around the Barclays Center, losing a metrocard with $50 on it, paying too much for rent, having my neighbor watch Netflix way too late and way too loud and 10,000 other little issues New Yorkers force themselves to suffer through. This guy was just the loud, aggressive, entitled straw that broke this camel’s back.
It was all over in 2 minutes maybe. When our cameraman promised we’d be done in ten minutes, the old man promised to set a timer. And that was it. He didn’t return and I calmed back down (though our director said my energy was really good for the few takes after the incident).
I’ve had moments like this my entire adult life. I remember one particularly funny instance where I got into a loud screaming match with a CollegeHumor ad sales rep over some piece of content I had posted that he thought would lose us an ad deal. I was defending an editorial team’s right to dictate the content, he was pointing out that without sales none of us would have jobs. It’s an argument as old as editorial and sales departments. What made it notable was that at the time I happened to be wearing a giant mustard costume. So from my ivory tower, atop my high horse, I’m screaming about editorial integrity while dressed like an asshole. It must have been funny to watch.
While I would like to not be this way, I think I’ve figured out the trigger. In the dozens of rage meltdowns I’ve had since turning 12 the common thread has been unprovoked yelling. Someone has aggressively started yelling at me and that has triggered some sort of kill-or-be-killed chemical in my brain that makes me be even louder, even more agressive and even more angry. I will never, ever yell at someone if they do not yell at me first because, as everyone knows, yelling is not a good way to win friends and change minds. It just makes people mad - some, like me, more than others.
There’s just something about being yelled at, as an adult, that I cannot deal with. It is the way you deal with bad dogs and bad children, creatures that cannot be reasoned with. They can only read loud emotion, not subtle reasoning. But I can be reasoned with because I am a grown man so when you yell and scream at me, you’re insulting my intelligence. You are saying ‘you’re as dumb as a child or a dog and this is the only way you’ll learn.” Not true. Yelling at me is, in fact, the only way I won’t learn.
When the cops showed up to the alley for a noise complaint - almost a joke in lower Manhattan, the loudest place in the world during the week - they were very friendly, polite and funny. They checked out our permit and let us get back to work. That is the way to deal with people and get things done. If they had come in there screaming at us and threatening to shut the production down, I’d like to think that I would have kept my cool. But a piece of me knows I’d be writing this from a holding cell.