All the rage

Aug 18, 1999 at 12:00 am

I’m filled with a fuming, bubbling peevishness that has no real explanation except perhaps my own deep-seated psychological issues.

Of course, nobody else besides me (and perhaps the Lizard of Fun) should give a damn about whether I’m annoyed by the preponderance of geek chic on television, or going squirrelly over the unnecessary billions of dollars the government is spending on space exploration.

"And you think I care?" asks the Lizard with a yawn.

Which is exactly my point, I explain. My own issues, from whether to paint my toenails pink or red, to how much income tax I’m going to have to pay next year, are just that: My own issues.

Except that I’m currently driving. That changes the whole game.

Thinking about income tax gets me agitated. It reminds me of work, and the fact that I’m running late, which in turn reminds me that I’ve got a stack of bills that are a week overdue, eight loads of laundry to get washed and a houseful of takeout containers to clean, and all of a sudden I’m in more of a hurry and I speed up and change lanes, thereby inadvertently cutting off the driver in the red suburban assault vehicle just behind me. He honks furiously (deserved), flips me the bird (reciprocated), and tailgates me all the way to the next exit (overreacted).

Suddenly, my own issues have become a public safety hazard.

"Listen, Freak Girl," says the Lizard, once we’re safe on the service drive. "You were supposed to get all these violent impulses out of your system yesterday when we were playing Carmageddon. Quit aiming for the pedestrians – this is real life! Sheesh!"

I look at the Lizard, baffled. It continues.

"If you want me to take over driving, just ask. But scaring my eyeballs into my pants isn’t really the best way to communicate, not to mention keep yourself out of the road rage statistics."

I’m even more confused. "What statistics? Rage? I’m not enraged. Maybe absent-minded."

"Uh-huh. Some self-proclaimed road rage expert says there are 2 billion episodes of road rage in this country every year," the Lizard explains, straightening its shades. "I think you just participated in the two billion and first."

Two billion episodes of road rage. Forget for a minute the questionable aspects of that statistic, which is neither substantiated nor verifiable and therefore completely useless, except it was uttered by one Dr. Arnold Nerenberg, a California-based psychologist who has declared himself the leading expert on the topic.

Think about it. Two billion roadrageous acts, in this country alone. That’s more fists waved, gates tailed and insults yelled than McDonald’s hamburgers served. If you believe Dr. Nerenberg, it’s become a bona fide epidemic – and plenty do believe.

Allstate, the big insurance company, even offers a quick quiz to determine if you (yes, you!) have road rage. If you have ever tailgated, leaned on your horn or even driven without a seatbelt, it divines, you are likely to be an aggressive driver, and therefore more inclined to commit an act of road rage.

"Well, that might account for that two billion number," says the Lizard. "By those counts, you’ve raged six times before you’ve even backed out of the driveway."

It’s not just roads that get all the rage, either. Office rage gets a spin on the nightly news just about once a week, it seems, as some deranged worker or other takes their chances for a promotion and blows them into oblivion.

Shoppers’ rage, in which customers get violent about having to (gasp!) wait their turn in line, has also made the top story on many a bimbo-journalism newscast. And air rage, which is a fancy term for airplane passengers who behave like toddlers denied their favorite cookie, is now the subject of possible legislation that’s meant to protect airline employees who aren’t necessarily trained to give passengers a time-out.

Some experts say these kinds of rage aren’t anything new. Fully grown adults have, from time to time, been known to go ballistic in all kinds of social settings. The difference is that no, there’s a catchy name for it. It’s like the term "sexual harassment" was, back when the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings were going on: Once we know what to call it, we can call it whenever we see it.

The Lizard interrupts my thoughts. "Tell me, have you ever felt your own petty, pathetic concerns were big enough to warrant an outrageous act of rebellion?"

"Um …"

"Have you ever run a red light and blamed the media?"

"Which media?"

"Do questions like this really piss you off?"

"They’re starting to … "

"Uh-huh. Sounds like you’re suffering from rage rage," says the Lizard. "That’d be an affliction of contemporary society that forces sufferers to blame everything bad that happens to them on some zippily named syndrome."

"Rage rage, eh? Is there a cure?"

"Nope. But now that we have a name for it, think of all the situations it’ll be good for!"