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Sticker Shock

October 13, 2019

 By Rick Blum

 

The talk radio station droned on relentlessly. Normally, Joel Bergman would gleefully soak up the latest current events and political analyses of said events—or at least each party’s interpretation of them—on his ride home from work, but sometime in the last week or two he seemed to have reached a saturation point. Maybe it was the daily reports of yet another Twitter attack by a thin-skinned president who apparently missed the passage in the Bible about turning the other cheek, or more stories about rising seas and apocalyptic storms that we seem oblivious to, or maybe just the unending name-calling between two political parties that have moved to the extremes of discourse. In any case, as the drive-time pundits launched into their usual absolutist assertion-rebuttal-counterattack mode of debate on the legislature once again loosening restrictions on gun ownership, Joel could take not a word more and angrily shut off the more strident of the two protagonists in mid-sentence.

     “Enough already!” he shouted to no one in particular. Then to himself, If I hear one more inanity this month, I’m going to go bonkers.

     With that, Joel suddenly realized the car in front of him was at a dead stop at the light, which was just changing from amber to red. Slamming on his prized Mini Cooper’s brakes, Joel’s hands clenched the wheel as the car screeched to a halt less than a foot from disaster. Collecting himself slowly while waiting for the light to change, Joel had time to more closely examine the hulking SUV he had just narrowly missed smashing into. Its entire rear hatch—save the window—was plastered with political and social messages, mostly proclaiming the rightness of the owner’s views on fetuses, fairies, and false religions. But it was one small black-and-white sticker tucked into the far left corner of the bumper that caught his attention just as the SUV began to pull away from the light.

     Accelerating quickly so as to stay within viewing distance, Joel read the message in its entirety: “Only an IDIOT believes fakestream media!” As the insinuation of this missive sank in, Joel immediately returned to a heightened state of consternation, making him regret not having pile-driven this odious sticker into the back seat of the SUV just seconds ago.

     With adrenaline suddenly coursing throughout his body, Joel uncharacteristically acted on pure instinct, gunning his car into the left lane and coming to a quick stop next to the SUV, which now idled at another red light. Rolling down the passenger window, he yelled to the overweight, bearded driver a decidedly antagonistic, “Hey, buddy!”

     Looking quizzically back at him, the driver responded with an annoyed-sounding, “What?” The guy’s expression clearly added a silent, “You asshole,”

     “You know that idiot that’s been duped?” Joel shouted intemperately. “Turns out he’s driving your car.”

     The SUV driver’s face froze for a few seconds, as if the synapses in his brain were desperately working overtime to make sense of some strange language he had never heard before. Then slowly his expression began to turn malevolent, as his beard, which had not seen a trimmer in many weeks, seemed to stand up like a porcupine preparing to ward off a menacing pit bull.

     Apparently the driver was in a state of mind not unlike Joel’s because he methodically mouthed an “Oh, yeah,” then slowly raised his right hand to reveal what looked like the biggest pistol Joel had ever seen...probably as a consequence of it now being pointed directly at him.

     Adrenaline still working overtime, Joel stomped down on the gas and flew across the intersection with total disregard for the still-glowing red light. Glancing into the rearview mirror, he saw that the SUV had followed him through the light and was quickly gaining ground.

     In a panic, Joel pushed the Mini up to 50, then 60, on the 35-mph-speed-limit road, but the SUV remained in the hunt just a dozen yards behind. Unconsciously mumbling a long-forgotten prayer of his forefathers, who had a 5,000 year history of being chased from various lands, Joel suddenly envisioned his escape route.

     Whizzing past a stretch of fast-food eateries and mini-marts with the SUV in close pursuit, Joel kept his speed a steady 60 right up to the where the road ended in a T-intersection. Knowing an SUV is no match for his Mini’s agility, Joel at the last possible second turned the wheel hard right at the junction, just managing to keep himself on the two-lane crossroad. Unfortunately, he was now barreling down the left-hand lane with another car not 30 yards away headed directly at him. Once again Joel cut the wheel hard right, this time while slamming on the brakes. The Mini’s stability was proven to be no marketing hype as it went into a 540-degree spin—the tires never leaving the pavement—before coming to rest in the opposite lane from where it started. This orientation afforded Joel a perfect view of the SUV, which had already screamed across the road, jumped the curb, and crashed through a large wood-and-glass message board.

     But Joel missed this portion of the SUV’s off-road journey and was only able to personally witness its lunge up the single granite step leading to two large entrance doors of a hulking stone building. The two doors flew open upon impact with the SUV’s front bumper, allowing it to pass through into the darkened sanctuary inside, then closed up again like the Red Sea swallowing up the Pharaoh’s army.

     Then, eerily, everything went silent, with the only evidence of the just-ended chase being hundreds of wood scraps and glass shards spread across the front lawn of the town’s lone temple. Had the airbag not already deployed when the SUV hit the sign, the driver could have read its prescient message: “Tonight’s sermon: Forgiveness as an antidote to rage.” However, now ensconced in the temple against any previous intentions, he was probably not in a state of mind to accept the rabbi’s entreaties for more comity between men.

     Not in a frame of mind himself for contemplating the significance of this bit of irony, Joel decided to get as far away from the scene as quickly as he possibly could. Slamming his Mini into first gear, he raced back past the temple and, he hoped, on into anonymity. As he nervously ran through the Mini’s gears, Joel’s hand slipped from the shift knob, accidentally hitting the radio’s on button. The same pundits were, unbelievably, still going at it with the strident one capping off his last shrill counterattack, “These wussy liberals’ concerns are completely unwarranted. After all, honest citizens can only carry guns to waste potential murderers on public streets, in bars and on college campuses. It’s still illegal to bring even a small derringer into a church.”

     Digesting this closing outburst, Joel allowed a faint wry smile to cross his face. “That pea-brained yahoo,” he thought, “is not only going to be in a whole lot of hot water trying to explain why he drove his SUV into a house of worship, but also why he shouldn’t be arrested for bringing a pistol in with him.” !

 

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