The two main signs of an arrogant jerk are (1) How long it takes them to say “I” and (2) How long it takes them to say it when they get there.
I was standing on a street corner, minding my own business — okay, playing Tetris on my cell phone, if you must know — when a motorist pulled up, rolled down her window, and yelled at me “Where can I find the 101?” No pretense of politeness, no attempt to talk to me as a human being, just a shrill demand as if I were a not-too-bright servant left on the street corner just in case she might need directions.
I ignored her.
“EXCUSE ME! SIR!” she bellowed, invoking the magic incantation that people seem to think makes them no longer a jerk (“EXCUSE ME!”) and then addressing me as “SIR!”
I silently contemplated. My town was designed by people who wanted to make sure that every house had sun on its front door at least one day a year. This means that streets meet at every goddam angle on the protractor and getting lost is easy. Further, the street I was on was a couple of miles from our busy regional airport. These mitigating factors, however, did not make the shrill, demanding woman any less irritating.
“WHERE CAN I FIND THE 101?”
Without looking up, I stood stock-still and silently made a vague gesture in the general direction of the nearest freeway, with my whole hand instead of just one finger. She sped off without further acknowledgement of my existence or dignity as a human being, which didn’t surprise me.
This encounter reminded me of baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, of all people.
In 1993, Nolan Ryan hit Robin Ventura with a pitch. Ventura charged the mound and Ryan grabbed Ventura in a headlock and managed to hit him six times in the head before they were separated. Ryan later said that after an altercation with Dave Winfield in 1980 he decided that if another fight ever happened, he would be more aggressive.
As I stood there smelling her exhaust and watching the Tetris bricks pile up, I realized that after “EXCUSE ME! SIR! WHERE CAN I FIND THE 101?” I should have said “I guess you’ll just have to drive around until you find it.” With a smile.
Fair warning for the next arrogant SOB who demands to know where a landmark is, as if I personally hid it: You better hope you’re far enough away that I can’t get you in a headlock.
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