This Curious Thing You Call Courtesy

The general lack of civility and courtesy in the world was apparent in the huge, surprised toothy grin of the woman that I held the door open for, before my own entry into Starbucks this morning. It got my mind, even in its only moderately caffeinated state, churning with speculation about what the future might hold for a southern gentleman like myself. I imagined a world where once common acts of selflessness, say something as simple as holding a door open, were so foreign to the populace that performing one was a strong first step in some twisted courtship ritual – a world in which my innate gallantry would be more curse than positive character attribute, and would lead to many a misunderstanding and the occasional escape-from-a-shotgun-wedding caper or two. If this morning’s recipient of my amiable nature was already living with one foot heavily planted in this new world, then perhaps her next move would be to follow me from Starbucks – just long enough to get a sense of where I spend my days. Only later would she return, with her father and cultish preacher character in tow, for a public ceremony few of us have yet to witness. That she currently still mostly resides in the world as we know it was evidenced by her decision to remain behind and wait for her own morning Joe. There will be no unintended impromptu unions before the barrel of a 12-gauge this afternoon my friends, at least not in Tribeca.

No Sleep ’til…

Thirty-five hours in a car, driving from Texas to New York, gives any man a lot of time to think. Even armed with my very favorite conversation companion and the book on tape she so smartly purchased for the trip, my mind betrayed me, working overtime behind the wheel, at every rest stop, in the bathrooms of the various fast food joints we allowed ourselves to dine at, and most definitely in the curtained darkness of the two-star hotel bedrooms where we attempted to recharge. The usual themes were along for the ride: serial killers, random abductions, backwoods gas-station rapes, long, long thought given to what/who might be in every windowless van or truck we passed, or more likely passed us on our way, and, of course, the nearly constant thought – I keep it there intentionally – that one of my car’s four tires will soon burst, sending our vehicle into a scientifically proven impossibility of in-the-air three-sixties followed by an immediate crushing by the five or so eighteen-wheelers plowing towards us on their southbound route to deliver kiddie-porn into the eager hands of Arkansas pedophiles. I never stop thinking about this possibility because I operate under a rule I invented that my buddy once termed, “Peter Rosch’s Law of Surprises.” The gist being: bad things only happen when you aren’t expecting them. Think about it – ever get a ticket when you were expecting to get a ticket? Anyone ever die the day you spent thinking about them passing on? If so, maybe my Law of Surprises is just that – mine and only my law.

My wife thinks I don’t like her driving – I let her drive for about three hours of that thirty-five, and I suppose that is all the evidence some would need to validate her suspicions. In reality, I don’t trust my car. I’m not sure I trust any car. We put an awful lot of faith in our vehicles as they hurl down our nation’s asphalt-bloodline. I once saw a man in Brooklyn, go gently through an intersection, hit a pothole, only to have his driver side airbag detonate on the spot and into his coffee-cup holding hand and face. He was doing about five or ten miles per hour, and fortunately didn’t have any of the aforementioned pedo-wheelers bearing down on him from in front or behind. It was an older vehicle, but so is mine. Sometimes I’ll just stare at the embossed word “airbag” on my steering column or above my glove box, utterly convinced that it is going to pop at any moment – leaving me blinded, paralyzed, at least long enough to careen into the trees of some forgotten woods near the interstate – making it all the easier for the eyes of the hills to come down and turn me and the Mrs. into torture-play-things. Other times, I question the inner workings of the steering column itself. Has one ever just snapped? Isn’t it possible? I’m not going to bother googling to find out, because even if there is no record of it, I’d say it is at least possible. And the brakes? Sure, I’ve had them inspected recently, but how do I know the guy who looked at them didn’t see they were defective, and decide to let me drive on them anyway just because he was in a rush to get home that night and see the premiere episode of Dexter – maybe even subconsciously he’d made a decision to experiment with causing deaths on his own. Lastly, only in that it will be the last thing I mention out of the hundreds of things I think could happen with any car – new or used –  from time to time, I’ll envision what might happen if the random bounce of a still-lit cigarette might ignite under my vehicle. BOOM! Done and done. But at the very least, we won’t have to move any furniture later that night in front of our La Quinta bedroom door to prevent some thrill-kill from happening. It’s a long ride from Texas to New York, it’s an even longer ride if your a passenger in my head.

One-Fifty-Four vs. Beelzebub’s Best

In general I don’t fear mythical beings or deities – I’m not a non-believer in demons, ghosts, and beasts of otherworldly origins, but it’s the monsters lurking within human forms that give me the most unease. Dahmer, Albert Fish, Bundy and the two-hundred or so active serial killers an article I recently read suggested were currently running amok around the country. These men, and sometimes women, represent an evil that is far more believable – the number of missing persons reported on a daily basis, an exact tally I forget, also factors into my constant concern for my attractive better-half.

Running with her, on trails and streets, is a real delight. If she didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t do it, and vice versa – each day one of us guilts/encourages the other to get on with it, and the runs are the best part of any morning we do them. My mile-time is just a fraction less than hers, and so it isn’t unusual for me to have gained a fair amount of distance between us by the twenty-minute mark – I am usually just close enough to still hear her signature steps, but from time to time I find myself out of earshot, and once in a while, too far away to even see her.

When this happens I tend to pause, run in place, and wait for her to reappear – in those few seconds before she does, I am always quite certain she has been nabbed right off the trail by one of the world’s not-yet-monikered killers at-large. The more statistically obvious scenarios involving bears, random mountain lions, tripping sticks, or bee-swarms don’t really enter my noggin. Until she reveals herself again, I am always operating under the notion that she has been abducted and begin speculating that had I just stayed closer it would have never happened.

But here’s the thing: I know no karate, I didn’t wrestle in school, I don’t exercise with a concealed weapon, and even my shouting-for-help-voice is probably not great, I doubt the baritone nature of my vocal chords would carry for shit. One hundred and fifty-four pounds vs. the drooling, machete toting, unfeeling, born-from-the-seed-of-demons-soul hellbent on turning her into first-prize country fair beef jerky – it makes little sense and I’m quite sure I’m no deterrent.

We tend to run during the hours I let my mind believe these hellions are sleeping – early in the morning. They are a lazy sort, and our only advantage is being up before noon. Rosch – 1, Beelzebub’s Best – o.

Dial M for my Mom

I’ve never been all that keen on answering calls from the unknown on home phones – and only home phones. Put in front of an office line, no worries – I’ll pick it up and chat with strangers to the point of making them wish they hadn’t phoned me in the first place. But something about a home phone ring-a-ling-a-ling gives me the willies. Having been without a home phone for many years had temporarily squashed that feeling for the better part of a decade. But, the other day, while staying with my in-laws, their home phone belted out a familiarly haunting tone late in the evening, and I felt just a hint of that ol’ home-phone-terror-tinge. Got me to thinking about reasons and rationale for such a thing.

Growing up on a cul-de-sac in a Leave it to Beaver suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth didn’t really come with many obvious horrors. There were few hooligans, pervs, con-men, and only one ‘boogie-man’ known as ‘the goat man.’ That said, during my youth, my father did a lot of travelling for his job. He’d leave my mom, brother, and me home to fend for ourselves three or four days a week at least once a month, usually more. And without fail, every single time, on the very first night of his absence, our home phone would ring – usually just a touch after midnight. My mom would pick it up, only to find – each and every time – a dark grumbling voice, insistent on detailing all the disturbing things he’d like to do to her – more specifically, her body and its parts. We referred to him as ‘that sick-o.”

This went on for years, and in the early going, when i was just a wee-lad, the call always lead to the following: my mom would come grab my brother and me from our slumber, put us into her bedroom with her, behind a locked door, and on occasion a medium-sized dresser infront of that door. There we’d make it to another morning trying to go back to sleep, while watching some 60s re-run to quell our nerves. We survived all of those witching-hour visits from our creepy phone friend, whose disturbing commitment to always calling on the very first night my father was gone seems admirable now. Well played cretin, well played.

Sometimes we re-tell the story of ‘that sick-o’ amongst ourselves or to new family and friends, and offer our ideas on who it might have been making that timely ring-a-ling-a-ling. Due to the precise placement of everyone of his calls, I usually deduce it to be one of the following people: a co-worker, a neighbor, or possibly my old man himself. We had a weird neighbor or two, and certainly they seem the more probable culprit – but I won’t be terribly shocked if my dad makes a deathbed confession owning up to the action – because that’s just how my brain rolls.

Three Minutes for Number One

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause behind my public bathroom/sinister abduction correlation. I surmise it is probably a combination of the following: A true tale or two about people disappearing from rest stops. My mother’s own branding of public facilities as the most foul of places and her insistence that my brother and I hold it until we got home no matter how distant home may have been. The hidden and often nearly invisible backside location of many anybody-can-use toilets at gas stations and the like.

Bottom line? When my wife has to use the can she’s got about three minutes before I count out a fourth. If she doesn’t make it back by then, terror grips my being and I start to consider all my options: Asking another woman to check on her, going in myself, whistling our special whistle from outside in the hopes that I’ll hear her do the same, or simply giving in to the notion that she has done been took.

It is at this point, when a fifth or sixth minute comes to pass, that my mind begins fabricating how telling her parents, friends, and possibly the police about her public bathroom abduction will play out later that day. Even as I am aware that typically female facilities move much slower, I am helpless to stop the crazy.

You might be asking, “What if she has to go number two?” My wife doesn’t go number two, at least not in the same mind that created the public bathroom anti-abduction three minute rule. Duh.