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Asshole, Arse, Jerk

Don’t Be Such an ARSOL

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we came up with a new form of punishment for chronically aggressive drivers which forced them to walk the same way they drive, no matter what the consequences? I’m not talking about speeding. That has its own clear set of rules enforced by speed traps, radar guns, speed limits, etc. We’re all set there. Plus, we can’t expect speed demons to run as fast as their cars hurl them down the road.

I’m talking about all that other selfish, in-your-face, fuck-you-buddy aggression like tail-gating, blowing through stop signs and cutting people off. I’m talking about that childish behavior most people only exhibit when they’re safely wrapped in two tons of automobile. That car provides a lot of protection from retribution. That security blanket creates a lot of bravery these assholes wouldn’t otherwise display. If these drivers enrage some murderous psycho, they can just hide in their car like a turtle in its shell. But…What if that was all stripped away? Imagine their bravery disintegrating once the turtle has no shell, its frail little body is exposed. What effect would this have on the psyche of an aggressive asshole?

I don’t know the best way to prove someone has a chronic issue with aggressive driving of this type. But, let’s just say that an asshole…like that pickup truck-driving skinhead we’ve all met…yeah, him for example…let’s imagine he gets “dinged” by other drivers turning in just enough dashcam video of him cutting people off & flipping them the bird. The case has been made thanks to overwhelming evidence provided by his fellow citizens. He gets a court summons in the mail. The tape is reviewed. Yep, it’s confirmed, you’re a complete and total asshole buddy. The gavel comes down. Guilty. Mr. Wannabe Vin Diesel gets a heavy fine and is sentenced to 6 months of walking the way he drives, no matter what.

If Mr. Faux Vin Diesel refuses, his only alternative is a minimum of 2 year’s hard labor…toiling away at…you guessed it…building roads. Quaint, safe roads with school zones, lots of speed bumps, stop signs, cross walks & flower beds right down the middle. The chain gang is supervised by gold minivan-driving mommies and cautious old ladies. That’s hard time to serve for a guy like him. It’s too humiliating for his fragile ego to withstand. So, Mr. I-wish-I-was-Dominic-Toretto accepts the 6 months of walking the same asshole way he drives. He’s appointed a court supervisor & must also wear a bodycam to ensure he can’t cheat on this program one bit. The sentence begins.

He is now officially enrolled in the Aggression Rehabilitation System Obligatory Listing, or ARSOL. Enrollees will be called ARSOL’s for short. Everyone can quickly grasp what an ARSOL is all about, which helps greatly with building program awareness in the community. His car is affixed with a large sticker displaying a scarlet letter “A” to identify him as an ARSOL. But, when no longer in his car, and he’s walking the streets, there’s nothing to identify him as an ARSOL other than his uniquely bad behavior.

For the next six months, regardless of the risks or consequences, our friend needs to approach a line for movie tickets, the airport ticket counter, the DMV or even the buffet at a wedding…exactly as he did behind the wheel before he got busted. He must slowly cruise along the line like he has no intention of joining, then suddenly jump in when he sees the slightest gap. He then stares firmly off to the side, refusing to make eye contact, arms folded tightly across his chest, clenched jaw belying his casual pretense of “What? I didn’t do anything. Just drivin’ here.” Exactly what you would expect from an ARSOL.

If anyone in line complains in any way (any verbal honk or beep whatsoever) he quickly flips the bird over his shoulder without even looking back. He’s also sure to flex his bird-flipping arm as hard as he can, regardless of whether there’s anything worth flexing or not. If the complaint behind him gets any louder, the flipped bird clearly not having done its job, he gestures a parody of the shadow puppet quacking duck “wa wa wa” to say “whatev…can’t hear your noise. Take it bitch.” He still doesn’t look behind him, just as if he were safely encased in those two tons of steel, rubber & plastic.

Now, if that person behind him barking complaints should happen to be a short-fused mixed martial arts fighter on his first date with a girl he really wants to impress…and he only knows so many ways to impress…then the ARSOL gets a vicious public beating. Small children will casually step over his mangled body when it’s over. Oh well. So be it.

Anyone who regularly insults and further provokes random people is eventually going to detonate a bomb of rage. That rage could be manifested in the form of a dozen high school girls ferociously attacking him from all sides like piranhas…or perhaps one solid, swinging-for-the fences whack to his head from old man’s cane. Danger is all around the ARSOL in many forms and he has no protection. He quickly learns there are brutal consequences for being an ARSOL. As the months of his sentence wear on…with retribution at McDonald’s to CostCo to his busy local bar on a Friday night to the amusement park with his kids…he might be cured of a wide range of ARSOLishness through repeted aversion therapy.

Aside from the threat of constantly being beaten senseless in public for all to see, our friend could face many other tough social repercussions. In his office lobby waiting with coworkers for the elevator…as the doors open to let other people out, and his group begins to shuffle forward…he cuts in front of them so they all need to pull up to a full stop. Our friend jumps on just as the doors close, flipping the bird over his shoulder. Now they all know they work with a complete and total ARSOL, and the word gets around fast. He will be eating lunch alone for the rest of his career. And he can forget about that promotion.

Maybe he pulls that same ARSOL move just before a job interview. And, very soon afterwards, he’s looking across a desk at the cut-off victim, answering that famous interview question; “So, tell me about your greatest weakness.” Gulp. Gotta be honest. How best to answer the question? The ARSOL may have many weaknesses. But, the interviewer just witnessed a big one moments ago. Gotta fess up on that. No choice.

“Okay. My greatest weakness. Right. Well, you see I’ve got this passive-aggressive asshole streak whereby I make myself feel better by depriving others of their peace and space. But, I only do this when cloaked in anonymity and encased in the protective shell of my car. I’m basically a shallow coward who watches way too many action movies…I never really grew up…I’m a real selfish prick when I can get away with it…not exactly the team player you’re looking for…uh, but, crap, uh, then you already knew that…soooo…there’s no sense wasting any more of your time…I’ll be going now…oh, but first…sorry, do you validate parking? I need to escape your garage, get back behind the wheel…and continue my ARSOL rehabilitation. I’ve only been an ARSOL for two months. But, it feels like it’s been forever.”

It has been forever, buddy. It has been. You were an ARSOL long before that sticker was ever put on your car.

As the ARSOL skulks out of the office with his head down…past all the staff workers who now know what he’s all about…because the word has gotten around fast…they’re all mulling over the same thought: The fact that these ARSOL’s didn’t previously walk the way they drive suggests that fear of retribution was the only ingredient missing to cure them of their chronic ARSOLery. They just needed to be ripped out of their shell and exposed to the real fear of physical harm, public shame and loss of opportunity. The effect on these AROL’s is dramatic. Why had we never thought of this before? Thank goodness for the ARSOL program. Thank goodness it is here to stay. But just one question…why is the sentence only six months?

Baby Rattled

Shaken Baby

Why is violently shaking a baby getting passed off as a syndrome? Shaken baby syndrome. That makes baby murder sound so much more nuanced, like there are victims on both sides of the situation. C’mon man! It’s murder. Call it what it is.

See…If I light you on fire…don’t worry, I won’t. It’s okay. But, for the sake of argument, let’s just say I light you on fire. I’m going to jail for a long, long time. Because, I tried to kill you. Murder or attempted murder. Not arson. Arson means something else entirely. And, if you just suddenly burst into flames on your own…well, we call that spontaneous combustion. We’re not even really sure if that exists. But, to say “spontaneous combustion” certainly frames it in a very guiltless, faultless manner. It just happened. It’s absolutely tragic that you died a fiery death and now you’re all crispy. But, there’s no implication that I or anyone else did it. It was an event. It just happened. Spontaneously.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but we seem to be labeling something a spontaneous event when we allow it to become a “syndrome.” A baby doesn’t just start shaking spontaneously unless it’s having a seizure or it’s possessed. Those events have their own names, too. Demonic possession is just that, and it has a cause. They’re called demons. With shaken baby syndrome, however, someone had to grab that baby, and shake it. Really hard. While labeling baby murder as a “syndrome” won’t get the guilty baby shaker off the hook…the softening, the nuance, just strikes me the wrong way, as though sympathy should be our primary response…

“Their baby fell prey to the syndrome. Those poor people. Their baby got the syndrome. The syndrome visited that house in the dark of night. Does this plague have no mercy? It could have been any one of us. Here’s a check from Medicaid to pay for your grief counselling.” Yeah, yeah, I know I took a leap there. But, let’s call murder just that. Murder.

It’s the same way with SIDS…sudden infant death syndrome. This one is more of a mystery to me. How does that work, anyway? “So, let me get this straight, ma’am. Your baby was absolutely fine, and then suddenly it just stopped like a watch when the battery runs out? It just expired. Got it.” On your way then. So very sorry for your loss. Never mind that you live in a broken-down trailer with 6 other kids who are running to the store for your cigarettes and beer while you lay here and watch your stories. And, is that a crack pipe laying there? Nope. No suspicious signs here. That syndrome is a devious thief.

I mean if a guy is going through a horrible, nasty divorce and his wife is tragically befallen by sudden wife death syndrome or shaken wife syndrome…we have a name for that guy. The primary suspect. Take that baby out of the picture, and we become pretty damn clear about it pretty damn quick.

Taffy's Grave

Taffy Has Gone to a Better Place

It’s an old expression. A gentle way of saying somebody has died…when we say they “have gone to a better place.” By not offering specifics, we allow the recipient to imagine what that better place might be. Heaven. A beach. A rolling meadow, washed in sunshine with tall grass swaying in a gentle breeze. Whatever. They use their imagination to fill in the blanks and have happy thoughts about something horrible. Much easier on everyone.

When we hear that someone has gone to a better place, we also know we are supposed to agree that they indeed have gone to a better place. And, we also get the message to not ask any questions about what happened. We’ve been offered a platitude which clearly communicates that the details behind the situation may be too painful to share.

When telling a child that a relative or family pet has died, saying they have gone to a better place helps us avoid a conversation which might be too difficult for them to grasp. The thought of that person or pet no longer being with us is already difficult. That’s enough to deal with. There’s no need to burden the child with trying to understand that person or pet no longer exists at all, and that they may have endured pain in their final hours. Parents also tell their children the family pet has gone to a better place when they’ve had it put down by the vet. A child might not grasp the need for such a decision. They might accuse mom and dad of murder.

My mom and dad told me that our dog Taffy had gone to a better place. And, as many parents do in this situation, they embellished to help me out. They described a wonderful farm to which they had sent Taffy in New Hampshire, near where we spent our summers there. I didn’t know the “the farm” was such a typical story with dead dogs. And, they knew the concept wouldn’t be too foreign to me, even as a city kid. They knew I loved New Hampshire. Taffy was now at a farm with chickens and sheep for him to chase all day long. He could run free. Taffy always was a country dog, they reminded me. A big yellow lab that was raised in open spaces by my grandfather. When my grandfather died, we took Taffy to Chicago. They reminded me that Taffy never seemed happy in the city. He hated being on a leash. He was always running away.

They did a pretty good sales job on me. While I was really upset that Taffy was no longer around for me to play with, I knew they were right. I was actually walking Taffy on our street just a couple weeks before. When I knelt down to tie my shoe, he ran away. I chased after Taffy, yelling his name. He didn’t even look back or slow down one bit. He bolted as fast as he could, and turned the corner before I’d even run thirty feet. I knew he loved me. But, he still ran away from me the first chance he got. So, yeah, we all agreed that Taffy wasn’t very happy in the city. I embraced the idea of the wonderful farm, and Taffy running free…chasing those chickens and sheep all day long. I got over his not being around pretty quickly. My visions of the farm helped me feel happy for Taffy. He was indeed in a better place.

About a week later, I was playing at my best friend Scott’s house. When I was going home for dinner, his mom was down on one knee, helping me put on my coat. I liked her a lot, and she liked me. She always said so. She always smelled nice, and was always very kind to me. I always wanted to hug her. So, I always let her get close to me.

She was leaning in close, her face just a few inches from mine. After my coat was on, she was straightened my hair, and asked me in a soft voice how Taffy was. She liked Taffy a lot. So, I happily told her that Taffy was now in a better place. He was on a wonderful farm where he could chase the other animals all day long. Lots of open space, where he would be happier. My parents had taken him there. I was too young to understand why her face changed so suddenly. I didn’t understand her expression. She instantly went from soft and caring to sickly. I didn’t get it at all. I thought maybe she was going to be sick, and I was worried about her. And, even though she was probably about to throw up, she also seemed very worried about me. I never forgot that moment. It would keep coming back to me over the years. I eventually grew to understand exactly what had happened.

I eventually grew to understand there was no Santa, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy. I eventually grew to understand that the reassuring story about “the farm” was just a common dodge for parents to get out of a tough conversation about dead dogs. Just as common as saying someone “had woken up on the wrong side of the bed” to avoid saying they’re being a total asshole today….or every day. I was long over Taffy’s departure when I learned all this. So, I never asked my parents why they had lied to me. What’s the point? I had also grown up to understand the concept of a white lie. I know my parents would do everything they could to avoid being accused of murdering our dog. But, I also know they wanted me to be happy for Taffy. They wanted Taffy’s departure to be easier for me. I understand that. So, why bring it up? But, none of this ever faded away for me.

The reason it always stayed on my mind was because of that moment at my best friend Scott’s house. That sudden change in expression on his mother’s face, so close to mine. That sickly look, when her soft face turned hard, and all the lines in her face were sharp. As I eventually learned about the common “farm” dodge for parents who’ve just put down the dog, I understood her reaction. That poor woman. I had learned what it feels like to wish you hadn’t said the worst possible thing. I had learned what it feels like to see that someone is being a gullible fool, they’ve clearly been lied to, and they’re living in a dream world. I had learned what it feels like to be the first one to tell a kid…there is no Santa Claus.

I had also learned that I have a pretty dark sense of humor. So, the fact that I had so effusively shared my parent’s lie with Scott’s mom is pretty damn funny to me. Here’s this kid in front of her, so happy to share that his parents have murdered his dog. He’s repeating one of the most common phrases to describe a dog’s death, and he has no idea what he’s saying. He sounds like a complete idiot. She was just innocently making conversation with a child and stepped on a land mine. She must have really felt awful, and wished she could just vanish. She was probably thinking that even this idiot child would now suddenly figure out what had really happened to his dog, just by hearing his own stupid response to her innocent question. She winced after hearing the “click” when she stepped on the mine. She was clenched, waiting for the explosion when I suddenly figured out the truth. But, nope. She didn’t get blown up. She was safe. I’m a moron. I didn’t figure it out until years later.

My parents are getting older now. And, lately, I’m always sharing my memories with them. I’m in that whole “don’t let anything go unsaid” relationship with them. I turned 50 this past year, so that’s a lot of history to share. While at their dinner table a few months back, I suddenly remembered that moment with Scott’s mom. I chuckled while taking a sip of wine and asked them if Scott’s mom had ever said anything to them about that time after they had put Taffy down, when she and I had this awkward moment together. She must have told them, because she felt like total hell. She was probably worried that she was the reason I would figure it all out sooner than I was supposed to.

My parents looked at each other, then turned back at me…Put Taffy down? What do you mean put Taffy down? No, no, no…we took Taffy to a wonderful farm in New Hampshire. A truly wonderful place where he could run free, chasing the other farm animals all day long. Chickens. Sheep. Such a wonderful place.

I put my glass down hard…C’mon guys. Enough with the bullshit. I got over this years ago. I’m fifty years old now! Stop treating me like a child. Taffy was getting old. You had him put down. And, just like telling me to be good or Santa wouldn’t bring me any presents…you soothed me with the most common “in a better place” story ever. The old “farm” dodge? C’mon guys. I’m not stupid. Why are you still keeping this up, even now?

No, Dan. Really. You know Taffy wasn’t doing well in the city. He was always a country dog. He was suffering in Chicago. He went to a farm on Gardner Hill Road in Tamworth, New Hampshire. We had met the people during one of our summers there. Lovely people. They loved dogs, and they really loved Taffy. We visited with them a bunch of times, and Taffy simply loved it there. We let him stay over a few times, eventually for a week at a time. He was so happy. It was a much better place for him. We knew it was the right thing to do. And, we didn’t want to get into it with you. A clean break. We knew when we left him there, he truly was indeed in a better place.

I stared at my parents. They stared back at me.

I’ve grown up a lot over the years. I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve matured. I have much more self-control. I’m much more aware of who I am, and how I got here. I know my selfish tendencies. I know I can be deceitful and charming when I’m trying to get what I want. I might even lie a bit in the process. I’m honest about these traits I have. I also know where I got them. From these people.

These people…who are staring me down now…and sticking to their story.

Is this a test? Are they waiting to see if I really have grown up? Are they wondering if the immature Dan will surface, and loudly accuse them of being liars and murderers, rather than continuing the polite dinner conversation? Or…Are they wondering just how gullible I might still be, if maybe they can suck me back into believing the farm is real? Or…Maybe they just don’t know how to back down from a lie, regardless of how ridiculous it sounds, even as the truth becomes obvious. Or…Or…Is the farm real? If I don’t trust them and accept that the farm is real, then maybe I am still just their child…only thinking and believing what I want to, just disagreeing with them to be difficult.

So…wait…Taffy really did go to a farm?

Yes. A much better place.

The farm is real?

Yes. It’s a real farm. Chickens. Sheep. Lot of open space for him to run. Chase the other animals all day long. A better place for Taffy. I’m sure you can imagine just how wonderful it is. I’m sure you can imagine how happy he must have been in such a place.

Huh. Okay. It does sound pretty nice.

Yes. It’s wonderful. We should all be lucky enough to go to such a place when we die.

Wait. WHAT?

Oh, never mind, Dan. The farm is real. The farm is real.