[Pardon me while I Prufrock a minute.]
“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai dietro una vettura lenta,
perché eravamo in un no sorpasso di corsia….”
“Whether it’s pain or pleasure, through lojong practice we come to have a sense of letting our experience be as it is without trying to manipulate it, push it away, or grasp it. The pleasurable aspects of being human as well as the painful ones become the key to awakening bodhichitta.” Pema Chodron Start Where You Are
Let us go then, you and I,
While the drought sucks all the rain out of the sky,
Like a baby nursing at its mama’s breast,
Let us go through several tiny towns,
The kind with no uptown or down,
And speed traps their biggest revenue stream,
The middle class mostly a dream,
One of those nightmares where you find a room
That leads you to numberless other rooms
You never knew you had–
Oh, stop. Don’t tell me about your day.
Let’s just hit the road.
On Highway 14 the woman drove too leisurely,
In a lime-green Mercedes named Martini.
The heat wave that sharpens its teeth on a wheel,
The heat swamp that buffs its nails on a wheel,
Licked its lips along the shoulder of the road,
Turned off the cruise control at some point,
Rolled down the window to watch something congeal,
Did a three-point turn, put the pedal to the floor,
And seeing no sheriff’s car anywhere in sight,
Broke the speed of sound, and drove out of sight. But
On Highway 14 the woman drove too leisurely,
In a lime-green Mercedes named Martini.
I might work some more on that, being as I’m middle aged, and wondering what I am not (nor was meant to be) and wondering, A LOT lately, “Do I dare” and “Do I dare?”
In the meantime, let me talk about that Mercedes. My parents and Wendell and I had set off this morning about 10 for Rockford, to see my Aunt Margie, who’s in a nursing home there. Somewhere between Spring Green and Madison, we ended up behind a lovely lime-green Mercedes convertible with the license plate “MARTINIS.”
First of all, I’m not sure I’d want to advertise I LOVE ALCOHOL SO MUCH IT’S MY PERSONALIZED PLATE, just in case I ever got pulled over.
(Not that I get pulled over a lot. Mom and I talked today about traffic tickets we’d gotten–neither of us has gotten many. But I remember being very impressed when my Gran’mommy got a speeding ticket when she was in her seventies, for going something like 60 in a 40mph zone. My cousin Jodie and I used to freak out when we watched her drive because she was old-school—she would have her right foot on the gas and her left foot poised over the brake. I particularly like to think about her as a driver because it stood in marked contrast to her basic mode as a kindly and gentle and extremely ladylike Baptist.)
Second of all, WOW that Mercedes was going slow. About 45, and it’s actually a highway, where you can go pretty much 60 and not worry at all about getting pulled over. There was some slight lane meanderage on the Mercedes’ part as well.
At the stoplight in Black Earth, the woman who was driving was fixing her hair in her fetching visor-cap and YES, the light turned green, and she kept working on her hair for a count of 1-2-3.
We couldn’t pass–Highway 14 is two-lane most of the way, and a lot of no-passing zones (or, as I like to think of them, no sorpasso di corsias) and a fair amount of traffic. It was timed exactly wrong almost the whole way.
Third of all (or is it fifth of all?), it wasn’t really “MARTINIS.” It’s the name of a popular cocktail, though. I just don’t want to go listing license plates on my blog. Except, if you make your personalized plate really easy to remember and then drive in really annoying ways in front of people, you should kind of expect to show up in a blog.
In a very dramatic moment, the minivan behind us gunned it to pass them, and barely made it back over before the passing lane ended, with oncoming traffic approaching, too. The passenger in MARTINIS flipped off the minivan, which puzzled us, until my Dad pointed out that maybe someone in the minivan had flipped them off first.
“I’m pretty sure they’re just out for a cruise,” my son said.
Finally, we were able to pass them. I thought of them briefly as we drove through Janesville later and it was raining—were the Martinis o.k.? Did they get the top up in time?
If I’d been in a hurry, I’m sure I would have been mad. My friend & UW System colleague Ryan Martin explains why we get so mad when we’re driving in this great post, “All the Rage.”
But honestly, my annoyance didn’t shift into anger today. They were so annoying it ended up being hilarious. I asked on Facebook this evening if anyone knew them, and I now know who they are. They own a bar, actually, so I’m wondering if I can turn this into a free drink somehow.
Because this is a totally flattering portrait of them, right? And of me, right?
Here’s the thing, and the reason I quoted Pema Chodron—at some point, getting annoyed at someone who’s being annoying, and then expressing that annoyance, is all just annoying. Same with obnoxious behavior. It’s hard to respond to rudeness without also being rude.
Like last night, during the performance of Skylight (PHENOMENAL—everyone should go see this play), I paid good money for a great seat in the second row, but there were three people in front of me who thought sitting in the FRONT ROW of the Touchstone Theater, a small venue, during a terrific show–they thought that was a good time to talk. It wasn’t so much that I could hear them (I have hearing aids), but they were leaning over a lot, so it was visually distracting. There were some odd dynamics going on, too—I couldn’t tell if the woman in the middle was sick, and her husband and friend were concerned, or if they chose Skylight because they were currently in a ménage a trois. I wondered about the latter because there seemed to be a lot of meaningful shoulder-rubs and knee-strokings in all kinds of variations (him on her, him on other her, her on her, her on him, other her on him). Regardless–what I really wanted to do was thump each of them on the head.
(I did once kick the seat of a woman in front of me at Sundance theater once during a Clooney movie—she was texting on a smart phone and it was REALLY BRIGHT.)
But it’s rude to thump someone on the head, and I was worried that my thumping might be an even bigger distraction to the actors I was already worried were distracted (Clooney couldn’t see me kicking the seat of the woman in front of me), or make them talk MORE, or begin to rub the sore spots for each other where they’d been thumped.
I moved to a different seat at half-time, but the three lovers (or the married couple and friend, one of whom was sick) didn’t return. Which was a little disappointing, since I’d complained about them to numerous people while eating my much-anticipated brownie, which, frankly, was a little dry (the brownies are usually amazing there).
One moral of these stories is, I don’t mind being annoyed as long as I get a story out of it.
Another part of what it comes down to is I’m not sure I have the right to be angry (or even annoyed). My Gran’mommy wouldn’t let us say “darn” or “heck” when we were little, because they were just substitutes for “damn” and “hell.” I remember asking at some point what I was supposed to say when I got mad, and she essentially said, “Don’t get mad.”
I don’t think of myself as an angry person, but maybe these lines from Justified apply (I’d love it if they did–I’d love being an Elmore Leonard character):
At the end of the pilot, Raylan has broken into the home of his ex-wife and her new husband in the middle of the night, and is then chatting with her out on the deck.
“I just never thought of myself as an angry man,” he says, after explaining why he shot a man.
And Winona says, ”Oh. Raylan, well, you do a good job of hiding it—I suppose most folks don’t see it, but honestly? You’re the angriest man I have ever known.”
What I’m hoping for is some sort of Zen Baptist process by which I can feel annoyance (read: anger) and express it without making the world a worse place, without cancelling out the benefit of however many days of meditation and Bible reading I’ve managed to string together.
This won’t be easy. The Baptist part of me remembers this verse, Matthew 7:3, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” Most of the time I complain, I feel compelled to point out my own guilt. That’s not the worst habit in the world (I find it annoying when others don’t admit their own guilt, ever), but do I really have to list all the ways I’ve annoyed people who were driving behind me before I can say, “that Mercedes was really annoying,” before I can allow myself to be annoyed?
Is the height of Zen training really to get to the point where I drive behind a car going slower than I want to go and my actual response goes something like, “it is what it is,” and I use the slower pace to be mindful about my surroundings? How different is that, really, from trying never to get angry?
Just asking. I’ll stop now before I get carried away.
The pilot of Justified ends with Raylan processing Winona’s comment, goes to the credits, and we get to hear, once again, Tone Z with Gangsta Grass:
“On this lonely road,
trying to make it home
Doing it by my lonesome-pissed off, who wants some
I see them long hard times to come.”
If I were an Elmore Leonard show, I’d be done already. Since it’s me, I’ll just say that my new life goal is to mention Timothy Olyphant every other blog entry.
And also to get a free drink from restaurant owners who drive slowly enough, for long enough, that I think they owe me something. Unless that annoys them, in which case I apologize for being annoyed.