I clipped your car when pulling into the spot beside you. There’s no damage other than a scuff, but people are staring so I want them to think that I am leaving you my insurance information with this note.
Sorry about that.
My best friend from college wrote this note. When he confessed the incident in a dorm room that he first swept for wiretaps, I could only stare at him, dumbstruck. I withdrew a big breath and bowed my head.
I looked up, met his anxious gaze and uttered slowly, “That is the most brilliant thing I have ever heard.”
I thought his note represented a new benchmark in ingenuity and problem solving. The rest of our friends present for his tribunal believed it a new low in bad judgment and thought the two of us should go ahead and hire a gondolier to ferry us through the waters of hell on our day of reckoning.
It’s not that I don’t aspire to higher ethics. I do all the time. I watch those foreign films that feature compelling scenes of dusty, garbage-strewn alleys where the tattered-clothed protagonist does something self-sacrificing, such as stand between a wounded goat and the teenagers who pelted it with rocks for no reason at all, and wish I would respond as bravely. I wish I could care about the goat enough to intercede on its behalf. It’s not that I hate goats; I certainly wouldn’t be a part of the gang throwing rocks at one, but I’m not likely to intervene in an adrenaline-fueled goat pelting session. I would probably covertly call the police had I not likely left my cellphone behind in the market, but let’s be honest, retracing one’s steps through goat-execution terrain seems unappealing.
I wish I were the sort of person who could step in valiantly to save the goat, and do it in the soulful way that would have the attackers shake their heads in remorse before we all share a round of imported beer raised in a toast to goats around the world. That’s just not my role, though. I am a more passive aid, a backseat driver, if you will. I’d be the one to hide out in the alley until the goons were gone. Then I’d bring that broken goat back to my house to live in my yard. While I wouldn’t demand a cease-fire in the heat of the moment, I’d be the schmuck putting a plate of beef tenderloin out for that goat and organizing a public speaking tour to raise awareness for the plight of goats.
I am just not a beacon of good reason and courage in an altercation. I become as silent as Charlie Chaplin when matters become confrontational. Once, on an airplane that was approaching the runway for landing, a man in the row before mine made a call on his cellphone. My then-husband leaned forward and asked the man to hang up the phone. When the man tossed him a glare and continued on with his conversation, he stood up righteously, similar to Denzel Washington in every movie he stars in, and demanded the man hang up his phone in consideration of the safety of all the other passengers on the plane. Passengers and crew cheered in response, while I cowered in my seat with the realization I would have chosen death by crushed fuselage over confronting that man myself.
Instead of words of gratitude, I muttered, “Return your seatback to its full and upright position.”
I dread the instances that place my feeble code of ethics on display before my children, like when one of them opens a car door too forcibly, sending it crushing into the side of the neighboring car. Our door-dings are never quiet transgressions either. They have a domino effect by which our door slams the car beside us, which then slams the car beside it, and so on until every car in the lot has been dented. Fearing the owner of the car will shoot us all at close range, my instinct is to load each child back into the car, drive quickly away and vow to never return to that market.
I once backed into a MAC truck while attempting to parallel park. When striking a truck that weighs more than a herd of elephants, you can safely assume the only vehicle that received damage is yours. With that kernel of wisdom and physics, I began to cry violently while scrambling for the gear shift to hightail it out of there. That same then-husband hissed something about being a role model to children and forced me to wait until the truck driver returned. When he did arrive, I tried to explain, but only a croak came out of my mouth. My ex had to come to my aid with his command of the English language. He explained that his wife — and he used the word ‘wife’ like I was a mail order candidate gone horribly wrong — hit his truck upon attempting a parallel park . The burly truck driver looked me up and down, while I bowed my head and croaked one more time.
“I don’t see a thing,” he winked. “Never happened.”
As I crawled into the passenger seat, swearing to never drive again, I looked over and smugly said, “An anonymous note of contrition with no insurance information would have been easier.”
As we pulled away, he gave me that “your gondola to hell awaits”look that I have been getting since college.