A freakout is when you drastically misjudge reality and then you drastically lose your shit. You wanted to do one thing but you did something else and it was bad.
Freakouts can go by many names—Bruce Banner Bananers, Cocainiac Ape Attack, Lobe Rumpus, Mindboner, Mood Spew, Psychic Brainqueef, Temporary Inappropriate Transaction Syndrome—they're all pretty much the same thing. You drastically misjudge reality and then you drastically lose your shit. You wanted to do one thing but you did something else and it was bad.
At first glance, a freakout may look identical to a temper tantrum. But there is a crucial distinction: A tantrum is a bit of your inner self seeping out in times of stress. That moderately-well-concealed innie—your inner babyman, drama queen, or hothead—suddenly becomes an outie. This happened to me in 1996. I accidentally spilled a cup of coffee on myself in the street, and the next thing I knew I was shrieking cuss words and jumping up and down on a chocolate chip cookie I'd really wanted to eat. That's how enraged I was. My guess is that many, many passing motorists and office workers saw this happen. Shame on me.
A freakout is the opposite of a tantrum. It's an inversion of your regular self. Here's my own freakout. Ten years ago, I enjoyed getting oil changes at the Glendora, California Toyota dealership. "Toyota of Glendora" had a slightly magical ring to it, like the place the good witch of Glendora might get her own oil changed. They had a pleasant waiting room, free coffee and donuts, and daytime TV.
All this changed when my wife mailed an angry letter to Toyota. She was upset about the car's MPG. Her letter was strongly worded. A few months after she'd sent the letter, I noticed something funny: the car would stink of rotting meat for a week after every oil change. This went on for months.
A terrible suspicion came to me. Someone in the vast Toyota hierarchy had read my wife's letter. This person had contacted our local dealership, and convinced someone at our local dealership to do a Code 36. Maybe it was a Code 42. Maybe it was a "Code J," or "Operation Stinkum," or a "Rube Shazoo." Whatever it was called, this code alerted a wily mechanic to slip a small slice of chicken breast high up into the guts of the car, someplace no one would ever find it. I'd convinced myself that we were being punished for our whistle blowing.
Rationally, I knew this probably wasn't the case. How would they get the meat on such short notice? Why would the mechanic consent? How could God allow such evil to exist? I couldn't prove they were sabotaging me. But I also couldn't not prove it. Sometime in 2003 or 2004, I found myself back at the dealership, slowly working myself into a lather. I relinquished the car and ate my free donut in a funk. At some point I heard my name called. I lumbered to the counter, received my paperwork, and scanned the page. Somewhere in the mess of service acronyms and technical jargon, I realized, was a hidden code signaling someone to stink up my ride. Rage fluttered the paper in my hands. A technician walked up, dropped the keys on the counter, and wished me a good afternoon. "Hold on," I said, clearing my throat. The mechanic turned to face me. The cashier looked up. I had an audience. It was as if I were viewing myself from a great distance. "I know what you're doing. That you've been sticking meat in my car as punishment for the letter we sent. And, uh, I want you to cut it out." Everyone in the lobby was motionless, staring at me. I could see the fear in their eyes. How did I know?
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