Monday, August 08, 2011

Where I Torment, Torture And Traumatize A Teen

I’ve wanted to do this post for a while, but I’ve been trying to think of some good way to link together the two parts of the post. I haven’t thought of anything good, so I’m just going to do this plain.

This is about two completely unrelated events. One happened a long time ago and one happened a couple of weeks ago. They go together, a little, because they’re both about me doing something bad. And just before the second thing happened, I’d almost bumped into the person from the first thing.

First, here is the old thing.

A couple of weeks ago at our local grocery store I almost bumped into a librarian I used to talk to now and then at our local library. I say almost because I saw her and she saw me but she didn’t look like she had any desire to say hello to me or to have me say hello to her, so I just grabbed my groceries and got out. No problem there. Believe me, I know me better than anyone and I wouldn’t want to talk to me, either.

But almost saying hello to the librarian—I’ll call her “S”—got me thinking of a horrible thing I once did.

One morning when I was still going to libraries I went to our local library because I wanted to use one of the public access computers. As I sat down to log on, S walked over with some signs she was taping onto the computer screens. S told me the computers weren’t working and nobody could use them until the technical people got the systems up and running.

As S was talking, telling me not to log on, I just sat down and tried to log on. And the system worked fine.

So S had to take down the signs she had already taped up.

And although I was glad I was able to log on and do whatever I had wanted to do, I felt horrible.

If someone tells you something, it’s only reasonable to listen to them. If someone tells you not to do something, it sucks to just ignore the person and try to do it anyway. Beyond just the simple decency part of the issue, there is the gender issue. Jackass guys always ignore women, especially on technical matters. Jackass guys always ignore women and do whatever they want to do.

That moment in the library I really wanted to use the computer and even though S always had been nice to me and even though S always had been one of the smart and helpful librarians who could actually solve a problem rather than make things more complicated, I just acted like a jackass and ignored her.

It bugged me then and I apologized. But, you know, apologies don’t make things go away and it has nagged at me for years that I acted like a jackass that time.

(Here is a secret, never-before-revealed bit of Impossible Kisses ancient history: S was the subject of Cognitive Blur #1: Librarian Bond Girl. Not the other Cognitive Blurs, just that first one.)

Anyway, and the really awful thing—one of the awful things—is that even though me being impulsive back then has bugged me for years, it hasn’t stopped me from still being impulsive and acting like a jackass.

Which brings me to part two of today’s post.

In Which I Torment, Torture And Traumatize A Teen

A couple of days after that non-encounter at the grocery store, I was taking a short drive to a neighborhood magazine store to get the new issue of American Cinematographer and the new issue of Sky and Telescope. The owner’s a nice guy and he puts them aside for me.

So I wasn’t in a hurry. I mean, they weren’t going to sell my copies of the magazines or anything.

Anyway, the little suburban side street I live on is a north-south street. A few blocks down, the little north-south street ends at a big street that runs east and west.

There is a stop sign on the little street I live on, but the big street has four lanes, two east and two west, and traffic on the big street doesn’t stop.

So if you are going south on the little street you stop at the stop sign and, if you want to go east, to turn left across traffic, you have to wait for the traffic to clear in both directions on the big street because that traffic has no stop sign and no traffic light.

Now it’s not really a big deal. Gaps develop in traffic. Usually there isn’t a long wait. And, if you’re in a hurry, when a gap appears in the west-bound traffic on the big street you can scoot out, half-way, and pull into the turning lane in the middle of the street and wait for a gap in the east-bound traffic.

I guess it’s what suburban people might call tricky, city driving. But I grew up driving in Chicago and I’m used to traffic.

However—and here’s a key point—a lot of suburban people, especially suburban teenage girls and suburban women, grow up driving on suburban streets where everything is laid out nicely and there’s wide spaces and not a lot of traffic. Some suburban women never even try to learn city driving. They never drive on expressways. They plan trips so that almost all their turns will be right turns. And they get nervous as hell even if they have to edge out into a left-hand lane to turn left. It’s true. Some suburban women are very—to put it mildly—very conservative drivers.

So I was driving to a magazine store to pick up a couple of magazines that the owner had put aside for me. I wasn’t even in a hurry.

Driving south on the little suburban side street where I live, I got to the corner by the big street and there was one car in front of me. I couldn’t tell anything about the driver of the car in front of me. But the car’s left-turn blinker was on, so they were planning on making a left turn across traffic, too.

So I buckled down to wait for a gap in the traffic for the car in front of me.

A small gap came and went and the car in front of me didn’t move at all.

Then a larger gap in traffic came and went and the car in front of me didn’t move at all.

I’m not even in a hurry but now, all of a sudden, I’m getting pissed off that the car in front of me is waiting for a giant gap in traffic from both directions before they make their turn.

So I honked my horn.

And the car in front of me didn’t move at all.

Another gap or two—to my eyes—came and went and I honked my horn again and the car in front of me still didn’t move.

So I figure, screw it—like I say, I’m used to city driving—and I decide I’m just going to drive around the car in front of me, take one of the little gaps the car in front of me wouldn’t use, and force my way across the big street.

So I pulled around the car in front of me on their right hand side, their passenger side, and there was a little gap in traffic and I started to scoot forward, to zip halfway across the big street, but before I did I glanced to my left to make sure the driver in the other car realized I was passing them, realized I was going to cut around them, and didn’t try to drive forward too and hit me on my drivers’ side.

And when I looked into the car next to me it was a teenage girl, I guess about seventeen or eighteen. Probably, I guess, driving the family car. Probably, I guess, not often in the situation of trying to turn left across traffic and having an impatient driver behind her.

Because when I looked into the car next to me I saw it was a teenage girl and she looked terrified. I mean: She. Looked. Terrified.

Really terrified. She was gripping the steering wheel like Indiana Jones holding onto his whip to keep from falling into a pit. She was leaning kind of half forward and half to her side window to look at me coming alongside her. And the expression on her face looked pretty much like this:

Oh man.

So I knew she wasn’t going to scoot forward and plow into me when I zipped forward so I just zipped forward into the turning lane in the middle of the street. When a gap came in the east-bound traffic I slipped into that. I kept glancing in my rearview mirror, but I never saw that poor girl get a gap large enough to turn onto the big street.

I felt so bad. I still feel bad.

Just because I have no patience, I made a situation that was already distressing to that poor girl into a moment of torment, torture and trauma.

I have no idea who that young girl was, and I wouldn’t recognize her if I saw her again so I don’t even have the option of apologizing.

But, like I said up above, I know that “apologizing” about something doesn’t make the thing go away. Just like that business with the librarian has bugged me for years, now this driving thing is going to bug me for years.

This is one of the reasons why I need to move away from civilization and live on a boat. If there are no people around me within a thousand miles, then I can’t torment, torture and traumatize anyone.

And I won’t have to worry about bumping into people I used to know.

Because I know, too, down in my deepest, secret soul, that I’ll have a far easier time learning to live without civilization than I’d ever have learning to act patiently or learning to, as the damn punk kids with all their downers and meditation say, relax.

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Scraps For Alison With Love And Squalor

You Damn Punk Kids

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