"What the fuck? You fucking asshole!"
This just doesn't happen. I was headed home, staring straight ahead at the road. Surely I said nothing and did nothing to deserve these comments! The beginnings of fear had arrived, a fluttering stomach and quivering legs. Damn, these guys were ugly...and scary!
Two bedraggled men with medium builds, covered in agrarian tattoos, with shaved heads, earrings, one wearing a faded Camel T-shirt and the other a football jersey, drove up beside me and let me know - in no uncertain terms - that they were mad at me! I noticed the gottees, the unshaven, cratered faces. A shabby appearance says a lot, but a staring frown says a lot more! They looked mean as hell, and even being outside of their crappy little 1984 Chevy Citation, I could smell the overpowering waves of cigarette smoke and pot. Cigarette burns could be seen on the headrests and dashboard of the rattling and coughing, inspection-failing, automotive abomination they were driving, and it wasn't hard to notice the open Budweiser can in a cupholder. I thought to myself, "This might have been bad, but now it might be worse." Crazy low-lives bedeviled with road rage are dangerous enough, but deranged thugs who have gone high or drunk? Now I'm afraid for my life!
One of the jewels of getting older is that one becomes increasingly aware of his or her own mortality. It occurs to the partially enlightened middle-ager that any batshit moron stupid enough to pull up beside you and start yelling obscenities is just not very stable and may actually make you the next exorbitant road rage statistic and victim of a sidewalk head-stomping! Lying comatose in a pool of my own coagulating blood on a cold, hard sidewalk, having pictures taken of me by strangers is not exactly my idea of a dignified death!
The next few moments were spent scampering to do several things, the first was to try and drive while rapidly glancing over at the two fools who continued to point and swear at me to see whether or not they would decide to run me off the road! This was a moment to remember; mashing the brakes, narrowly avoiding an accident, I glanced around the cockpit of my 1989 Toyota van to find some sharp object that could serve as a makeshift weapon if the situation called for one. Since I can't outrun them in a 114 horsepower, four cylinder engine, and since they seemed intent on pursuing me through several stop lights, it seemed logical to prepare for one of those once-in-a-lifetime situations to go down. But along with the sweet, age-acquired wisdom of our own mortality comes the wisdom to calm down and do some quick thinking...
Perspectivizing, these guys aren't that big. I'm much bigger and should be able to whip them--well, probably one of them, but two? Alright, turns out I have a pocketknife. I can handle two of them, but they might have guns! If they do, I'm fucked! Can't take that chance. OK, there has to be an easier way than this! What, if anything, did I do to piss these guys off? Now that I thought about it, I did do something! Just after I exited the freeway, I cut them off, thought I had enough time to make that sharp right hand turn without making anyone slam on the brakes. I was wrong. My timing was bad. I could have unwittingly caused an accident. That was when they came flying up on my tail, honking, and giving me "the bird." These whackos may not be the sanest of ten thousand, but like it or not, I got myself into this trouble and it was up to me to get myself out.
It's kind of hard to explain; when you have a "light bulb" moment, a strange calm comes over you, an exhilarating peace of mind that eases the situation. From then on, I was on autopilot as I fessed up to the fact that I was indeed the fucking asshole they so impetuously called out! Slowing down, aligning myself directly across the car's passenger side window, I leaned out and said, "Sorry, guys. I didn't mean to cut you off. Damnit, I hate it when that happens! Sorry fellas, really, sorry."
They weren't expecting that. And much to my surprise, after the momentarily blank expressions left their faces, I saw a slight nod of respect from one of the men. I was pleased and relieved to see them turn off at the following intersection. To me, this gave refreshed meaning to the phrase, "Killing with kindness." I disarmed my opponents with a simple but formidable (and very often neglected) weapon--an apology. So if you are ever looking for a way to keep a foul-mouthed, drug-crazed hippie from fracturing your skull with a tire iron, the answer might not be found in the traditional middle-finger retorts and swear words we are so apt to use! When appropriate, a simple apology can damn a river of conflict.