Every year, my family had a get-together in Ipswich. This year, they had chosen to have a picnic in the leafy suburban park just down the road from my parents' home; they were elderly and couldn't travel very far, and a lot of my siblings lived nearby.
We were a reasonably large family; I had three sisters and four brothers so our yearly reunions were usually a torrid affair, catching up on what each other were doing, how our kids were doing at school or work (my eldest brother was fourty-four and his kids were in their twenties), and the usual arguments about childhood memories always reared their ugly heads. So far this year, none of the usual fights and disagreements had developed and it had been a very pleasant afternoon.
Unfortunately, on returning to my folks place, I learned that my brother had organised a mock award for one of the family members. As soon as he started his spiel I could tell where it was going and I tried not to make eye contact with him or the rest of the family members who all seemed to be in on the joke.
"...so this year's award is called The Insensitive Bastard Of The Year, and it goes to - drum roll please - Robbie."
I rolled my eyes, sighed and stood up to go and receive my trophy. The family were clapping and cheering, yelling for me to make a speech. I had no intention of doing anything of the sort until my sister, Anita, yelled out that I should have won it every year since we were kids. I looked her in the eyes and let loose.
"Well, thanks a fucking lot, you mob of ungrateful and selfish bastards. You take one incident from the whole year and label me insensitive. What about you, Karen? You treat people like crap every day of the week at Social Security, not giving a shit about their circumstances, not having a bone of caring in your whole entire fat-ass body."
I swung my gaze from her to my youngest brother, Dave.
"And how about you, Dave? You are one of the most influential people in the state government and yet our schools, hospitals, and transport systems are falling to pieces but yet you are quite happy to receive your six-figure income, not caring one iota if the people of this state can't spell, can't get to see a doctor, or if employees are losing their jobs as they are constantly late because of your train system. And you have the hide to call me insensitive."
I could see that my parents were shocked at my outburst, and try as I might to settle down, a snicker from another brother kept me going.
"Oh, yes, you can laugh, you stupid prick. When are you going to do something about the price of fuel so regular people can afford to drive to work, rather than relying on this state's crap public transport system? The price of oil has dropped remarkably but yet the price of fuel is still astronomical. What's the matter? Are you afraid that if you reduce the cost of fuel, you won't get your substantial bonus at the end of the year? You and your schmuck mates are more insensitive than me....why didn't you get this award?"
I stopped, out of breath, when my little sister took a video tape off the bookshelf and inserted it into the player. I wasn't sure what this was about, but I could tell it probably wouldn't be good for me.
The tape started to roll. My family were watching me intently for any sign of understanding, maybe even a sign of remorse, but once the tape got to the interview, I knew exactly what it was.
"...and in late breaking news, a man has been seriously injured after being thrown down eight flights of stairs. The perpetrator is here, willing to speak about the incident on his way to the police station."
"Tell me, Sir, what possessed you to throw a man down those stairs?"
"He cut in line," I heard my reply. The interviewer looked intently at the camera before continuing, as if inviting the viewers to get ready for the punchline. How little he knew at the time...
"And, may I ask, why was that such a terrible thing?" The newsman looked at the camera again, trying for the sympathy vote. He didn't get any from me.
"Man, look, I am not gonna stand here and justify myself to you. I had been in line for fourty five minutes, then shuffled from department to department for another half an hour, and then, when there were only two people in front, this guy and his mate cut in line. It was hot, I was really pissed off, and he bore the brunt of my frustration."
"Sir," the interviewer continued, "this man did not deserve this treatment. He was a war veteran, had seen terrible action in World War Two and Korea, and you thought that this was an appropriate action?"
"For god's sake, I didn't know he was a veteran so stop trying to make me look bad. The man cut in line, and I didn't like it. End of story."
I knew these final two lines that were coming and I cringed internally.
"But, Sir, the man was in a wheelchair."
"Well, what more fucking damage could I have done?"