The other day I went to Kroger and pulled into a space. I am not good at this, and it drives my OCD crazy. Always crooked, too close to the dividing lines, or some combination. This time I outdid myself. It looked like my five-year old son parked the van for me. I was about two inches from the Toyota Tundra opposite me, across the line that divided us, crooked—just heinous.
I didn’t feel like fixing it, so I didn’t.
When I returned to the car from the store, the guy who owned the Tundra was sitting behind the wheel of his truck. He honked his horn and did that quick upward-and-outward chop of the hand you do when you want to establish that the person you’re addressing is an asshole and the thing they did was so what-the-fuck egregious that words have escaped you.
I mouthed “I know, I’m sorry,” and gave the sorry wave that said that I acknowledge that I am an asshole and I completely and totally understand how the way I parked could rob you of the ability to speak. Then I started to get in my car.
But he did the same thing, same look, same WTF chop. And he opened his car door and got out.
And I started yelling at him, which is where things get weird.
He looked just like the realtor we used when we bought and sold our house, and who became a family friend. That guy moved to Maine, and as I was yelling “I didn’t touch you! Get back in your car, dude—I didn’t touch you! Get your ass back in your car because nothing happened!” I was thinking, that guy looks just like Ken, who moved to Maine, am I yelling at Ken? But I kept yelling.
I was also walking toward the guy, still holding the mint chocolate-chip ice cream I bought in Kroger. And I noticed that now the guy who-may-or-may-not-be-Ken was quickly retreating to the car, jumping in, and yelling, “You were over the line, that’s all. All I wanted to say.” And then he ripped out of his space and was gone.
And I got into my van, made sure my iPod was still playing the audiobook version of Middlemarch, and pulled out. It was only when I pulled out onto the main drag that I realized that I had been involved in a verbal altercation in the Kroger parking lot, possibly with Ken, my former realtor. And that I was shaking a little bit because I don’t really get into altercations and would rather avoid them.
But I just started yelling. I wasn’t even really paying that much attention to what I was doing. I was more concerned about whether or not the guy I was yelling at was someone I knew that my immediate actions were oddly removed and remote.
I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Ken by the way.
Anyway, my reaction to the situation was both automatic as well as completelyat odds with how I’d predict I would react if asked about it hypothetically.
Q: If a stranger called you out and suggested that you parked like as asshole how would you react?
A: I’d apologise and explain the situation reasonably.
I would never have answered: I would yell and scare the man, thereby proving his initial hypothesis: I am an asshole.
But that is what I did, with little-to-no effort. It was like a fight-or-flight response.
Which brings me, of course, to William James, who once asked “Does fear of a bear cause us to run, or does running from the bear cause the fear?” In other words, is it our reaction that provokes the emotional response, or our emotional response that spurs the physical reaction. Here’s my corallary: “Does being an asshole cause me to yell, or did yelling make me into an asshole?”
Asshole: state of being or mode of behavior?
Ask Ken, I guess, or whoever that asshole was who thought he was God of the Kroger parking lot.