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Al Batt: Wrestling with a plastic bag

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I spent time in the produce department trying to open a plastic bag.

Why don’t people eat more fresh fruit and vegetables? It’s because of those irritating plastic produce bags.

My fingers finessed the bag open and I filled it. Fueled by a shopping list, I pushed my cart to other parts of the store with a vroom, vroom!

It was a masterful performance. Academy Awards are given for lesser performances. I had all I could do to keep from applauding. The actor par excellence was a small child throwing a temper tantrum in the candy aisle. The little boy wanted a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and his mother didn’t want him to have one. She’d ignored his “I want” whining routine and that sent her son into a full-fledged temper tantrum. He cried, wailed and flopped on the floor. His utter and total despair was evident to anyone with any sense of hearing within a mile of the store. I had an admiration for the tot’s technique and appreciated the entertainment he provided, but I felt sorry for his mother. It’s much easier to enjoy a tantrum when the one displaying it isn’t a relative.

I had a temper — and I knew how to use it. I got mad when I didn’t get my way. I got mad when I did get my way. I got mad when we lost in sports. Coaches told me to get mad. And they said I should walk it off when I showed them my severed leg or two. Most anger is misdirected and/or self-destructive. I’ve sat in the stands as fans yelled cruel things at basketball referees. That anger might be why it’s difficult to find people who want to be sports officials. I got mad when I didn’t get a perfect score in spelling. I got mad when the world didn’t do what I wanted it to do. My mother reasoned with me. She told me to count to 10 before becoming angry. I counted the seconds. One Mississippi, two Mississippi or one one-thousand, two one-thousand. I tossed in other placeholder words like elephant, chimpanzee, hippopotamus or crocodile.

A friend told me his lawyer had said there was nothing heirs fought about more than who gets the John Deere riding lawn mower.

A guy I knew named Happy enjoyed mowing the lawn. I side with James Dent who wrote, “A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.”

Happy taught me a lesson without wanting to teach anybody anything. He was a good guy except when things went wrong. Happy had an ill temper he’d perfected with age. He had a vocabulary to go with his temper. Happy could string swearwords together like Whoopee John did with oompahs. A hush fell over a crowd if Happy’s John Deere riding lawn mower misbehaved and he produced a diatribe that made his green John Deere riding lawn mower blush as red as a beet.

I stopped by when the grass was tall and Happy’s temper was short. His John Deere riding lawn mower was of diminished usefulness. It refused to start. Happy skillfully slid profanity into that quiet space. I felt sorry for the mower. Happy was using a wrench on a rounded nut when the wrench slipped and Happy skinned his knuckles against a treacherous portion of the lawn mower. Happy let out a yip, grabbed his injured hand with his good hand and did a few steps of that “I’m hurt” dance men are known to do. I winced. Seeing someone skin knuckles hurts any man who has ever skinned his knuckles. I was amazed at the dexterity dancing Happy demonstrated. Once the pain subsided to the point where Happy realized he might live, he blew a gasket. He called the poor mower every name he could think of. He might have called it a Cub Cadet. In anger, Happy threw a wrench as hard as he could at the John Deere. Happy had a black belt in lawn mower repair. The wrench hit a tire and ricocheted back, hitting Happy in the face, breaking his glasses and bloodying his nose. Happy was out of words and stared at the lawn mower in disbelief.

I gave him a standing eight count.

Happy’s kids wouldn’t be fighting over his John Deere riding lawn mower.

Since that day, I’m slow to anger because of Happy and the flying wrench.

I’d rather be happy than be Happy.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.