Although I am equipped with all the other emotions, including the ones with long German names, I don’t get angry. When something goes wrong, I skip blame and resentment and go straight to hating myself. This is great for marriage, parenting and looking at health-insurance statements. But it no longer works for being a columnist. My ironic, Gen X, turn-something-into-nothing distance has lost favor to the Bernie Sanders/Donald Trump/cable-news-channel fury of our times. If I wanted to keep my job, I was going to have to take a class in anger un-management.
Unfortunately, anger experts are hard to reach, because of the fact that I am scared to call them. Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and Sean Penn, I worried, would get mad at me for asking them about this. Also, angry people lead very busy lives: a few days before I tried to reach him, rapper DMX was found unconscious in a hotel parking lot. Suge Knight lost his phone and visitor privileges in jail. Worse, unlike me, angry people are completely comfortable saying no. Gordon Ramsay said no. World Wrestling Entertainment wouldn’t let me talk to any of its performers. Lewis Black’s and Jim Cramer’s publicists never returned my emails. I cannot even tell you how little success I had with Kim Jong Un.
Luckily, I’ve had three very pleasant meetings with Method Man, rapper and member of the Wu-Tang Clan. I started our conversation by reminding him of how much fun we’d had playing his fighting video game together years ago. “F-ck that sh-t!” he responded, before yelling for three minutes about how the game sucked and he never got paid for it. Then he yelled about how that also happened with comic books. And martial-arts movies. “They put my name on a box of one of the wackest f-cking movies I’ve seen in my life, and I didn’t see a f-cking dime from that!” Then he paused and asked what I wanted to talk to him about.
I told him my issues, to which he said, “You have a f-cking charmed life then, Joel.” Then he said, “Sorry, Ma.” Meth may be angry, but he’s still the kind of gentleman who apologizes to his mother after cursing while she’s in the room. Meth suggested I work myself up by watching Schindler’s List. I told him that it just made me sad. Unsure how to help, Meth admitted that sometimes when he gets onstage he has to fake his anger, by scowling: “Then something kicks in. Then after I have to remember, ‘What am I mad about?’ to just cool out.”
When he really needs to get in touch with his anger, Meth remembers someone who wronged him. As I tried to think of someone who’d mistreated me, he started delivering an enemy list that would have made Nixon nervous. There were gossip reporters, music critics, a Gucci salesman who told him the belts he was looking at were very expensive, an airline clerk who asked to recheck his ID, a flight attendant who didn’t bring him his complimentary drink. “I’ve had flight attendants bring me glasses of cranberry juice that are pink!” he went on. “They scoop up the ice and get all this water! I don’t know why they do this to me!” I was looking forward to Meth’s next album, to see if he can rhyme cranberry juice with Black Lives Matter.
While Meth’s tips were helpful, I needed anger-inducing techniques that were more efficient than watching a 3 hr. 15 min. Spielberg movie every time I write a column. So I called Thomas J. Harbin, a psychologist and author of Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men. He agreed that people are really into rage right now. “In many walks of life, belligerence is now seen as a virtue,” he said. “In pro basketball, you don’t just block a shot anymore, you have to send it off somebody’s face.” This was the hardest I’d ever seen someone try to avoid being quoted about politics.
The root of anger, Harbin explained, is a feeling of inferiority. That humiliation leads to frustration, which manifests as anger. This sounded like a lot of complicated emotions for me to learn. And it’s hard to feel inferior when you get paid to write columns about your columns. So I asked Harbin to just reverse engineer what he tells his angriest clients. He said I didn’t need to do that to mimic Trump. “I don’t think he’s angry. I think he’s having a blast,” he said. “I don’t think being angry is the best way to make people angry. I think the best way to make people angry is to do what my wife calls being a smarty-pants.”
This was a huge relief, since I’m already really good at that. In fact, half of my Wikipedia page is devoted to columns that made people mad. And a quarter of the entry is spent on essays from critics explaining that I’m not funny. I don’t know why I don’t find that the least bit humiliating. But I do know it wouldn’t bother Trump either. It’s probably because they were written by lightweight web writers who get paid a tenth of what I do, sitting home alone in their tiny apartments, desperately using my name as click bait to increase their tiny audiences. Total losers.
This appears in the March 14, 2016 issue of TIME.
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