Super Bowl halftime woe

Like a whole lot of other people who subsequently made their opinions known, I watched last night’s fiery halftime show. Unlike many of those shared opinions, I found nothing offensive about it.

Nor did I lose control of myself. Nor did I develop an uncontrollable lust for Jennifer Lopez or Shakira. Nor did I feel as if their wardrobe and choreography somehow gave me permission to treat women as objects. Nor did I rush to cover my son’s eyes. Nor did I fear that it would turn him into a monster.

But based on some of the outrage I’ve since heard, these were common concerns among other viewers. They were shocked at how much skin the performers showed, despite the fact J-Lo stuck with bodysuits that covered probably 80 percent of her body (yes, the “skin” was actually nude-colored fabric). They were concerned about some of the dance moves. They were concerned about there being a pole in the routine. Mostly, they were concerned about all of the sex that they inferred from the performance. Sex, sexuality, sexiness, sexual suggestiveness, sex, sex, sexy sex, S-E-X, and what about the kids and whatever happened to morality and oh my God can we all just take a step back and breathe as we fan our agitated loins with our Puritan smocks before we faint please!

This might shock you, but the performance last night was not about sex. Nor was there any sex performed onstage. I saw one brief encounter that vaguely resembled a sex act — and it wasn’t one of the headliners who initiated it. Apart from that, there was no sex simulated during the show. If you saw anything else that looked like sex — particularly when the headliners were dancing solo — then congratulations, you must have a phenomenal sex life.

Seriously, choose any point in the show, and watch Shakira and/or J.Lo dance for about 10-15 seconds. Not just one little hip thrust or twerk that makes you blush; watch for some extended part of whatever routine. Observe how quickly they moved, and how suddenly they changed direction at any given time, without warning. Sudden, jarring movements at high speed. I take it back — that wouldn’t be phenomenol, it would be painful.

So, if the dance steps weren’t sexual, what were they? Cultural, for one thing. We saw some extraordinary belly dancing moves — and belly dancing has never been about sex, contrary to popular belief — plus other nods to the performers’ heritage. Shakira has both South American and Middle Eastern roots. The belly dancing was a definite nod to the latter, along with some of the instruments her band played and, of course, the “tongue thing” that sent the Internet into a frenzy. It’s called a zaghrouta, and it’s the way Arabic people express joy at celebrations, producing an ululating sound.

Both dancers engaged in some impressively high-energy, precise dance steps from their Latina roots. You’ll see a lot of those same steps and hip movements in dances like the Samba and Salsa, which you can see freely during primetime on Dancing with the Stars. Nobody takes issue with that. And yes, I know those dances have been described as “sexy” — point conceded. But for God’s sake, you could make a case for the Waltz being even more erotic than those fever-pitch moves, with its rhythmic count, close embrace, and mesmerized staring into a partner’s eyes. Have you ever felt scandalized by a Waltz? Then you probably shouldn’t feel scandalized by what you saw last night.

As for the costumes, I heard a whole lot of people saying they didn’t need to show that much skin during a family event like the Super Bowl, but let’s be honest — you’re going to see even more skin from the cheerleaders on the sidelines of the same game. And frankly, I’ve seen Olympic figure skaters in more revealing outfits. It’s nothing new, and it needn’t set off bells and whistles.

Some people complained about the alleged “double standard” of women not wanting to be objectified, but being okay with wearing revealing outfits like that. For one thing, was it Shakira or J.Lo saying she doesn’t want to be objectified? Did either of them ever say she doesn’t want men to look at her? If not, she can wear what she wants.

Hell, she can wear what she wants regardless of whether she ever said that. Believe it or not, a woman can dress in a sexy outfit without denying her right to be treated as more than just that sexy outfit. It’s possible to be embrace one’s physical looks and to even enjoy being appreciated for those looks, while simultaneously hoping to be appreciated for other things. It’s not an all-or-nothing equation.

Think of it this way — I love the feeling of making people laugh. For me, there’s nothing better, nor more euphoric. So I cut up. I tell jokes. I perform improv comedy. I write a blog that’s allegedly funny. But I also like to be appreciated for other things. Every once in a while, I’ll even try to write something moving, something that makes me proud because it brings people to the point of tears. Those are two different facets of my writing goals. My favorite is still when someone has laughed, but I love being appreciated for the other. People — women included — are much more complicated than a one-dimensional character. And the multiple dimensions do not cancel each other out.

And let’s be honest — the onus of other people’s reactions to the performers’ costumes is on the other people, not the performers. If you looked at J.Lo and felt lustful, that’s on you. I’m not even saying lust is a bad thing; I’m just saying, own your reaction rather than blaming someone else.

I also doubt their routines corrupted any young minds. If a kid watched the show last night and that kid hadn’t already been imprinted with emotional reactions of his/her parents, then that kid probably didn’t take anything away from the performance other than, “Pretty ladies dancing fast.”

What I saw was two beautiful, talented performers having a blast onstage, paying homage to their roots. I have a friend who happens to be Latina, who took even more positivity from it than that — until the backlash started. She told me and other friends, “Some of the comments I saw on my feed were so offensive in the midst of my having a Latina power moment that I was completely deflated.”

That makes me sad for her. But, she added, “I am going to watch it again tonight. Lol.”

I think that’s a great idea, and not just for her. If you didn’t enjoy the performance, give it another shot. Watch it again, but from a different viewing perspective — try looking at other facets of the performance. Instead of focusing on the dancers’ hips, focus on their hands, feet, and heads. If that sounds weird, please just trust me. You’ll see some well-choreographed, synchronized movement from entertainers attuned to their bodies.

Watch Shakira as she skips like a child, and ignore when she gyrates her hips like whatever or whomever you think gyrates hips like that. You’ll see unbridled joy, not degradation.

Watch J.Lo on the infamous pole — NOT a stripper pole, by the way. Just a dancing pole. Look at her biceps and quadriceps, instead of the parts of her body that are touching the pole. Her muscle control and definition are incredible, and you’ll understand why those poles are increasingly becoming part of challenging fitness routines.

Watch them both as the music moves through them and they dance with more fluidity, grace, and precision than most people could ever hope to have.

Watch the stage — that technological marvel that looked like a circle of glass, with a crew creating fantastic lighting and special effects that you could swear the dancers are about to fall into.

Watch all of this, and consider the possibility that last night’s performance was a work of theatrical art for the ages.

Or don’t. It’s no skin off my nose. Which is good, because as you’ve already made clear, you don’t care for too much skin.

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Air drag deployed (part 6: Sold)

While my insurance adjuster was looking for my old car, I was looking at a new one. Kim, Matthew, and I spent that Saturday at nearby dealership, test-driving multiple models and evaluating colors. We finally settled on one that afternoon – a different color of the same model I’d already test-driven – and the high-tech haggling began. We sat down in our salesman’s open cubicle on the sales floor and met his manager, who then disappeared to his own desk to leave us to our negotiations. We made an offer, which the salesman said he would have to run by said manager. Nothing new about that.

What was new was, he didn’t leave the desk to go talk to the manager; he input the number into an app on his PC, hit Send, and waited for the manager’s reply. It came back within seconds, saying our offer was too low, as the margin was so narrow on that particular model. He sent back an alternate figure, complete with financing options based on various down-payments. We didn’t like the figure, as it appeared to be the original sticker price.

We negotiated and made another offer, but it was contingent on the answer to a question we had. The salesman didn’t know the answer, so he started typing it into the app. Before he finished, he said it would be easier to just ask the manager in person, so he turned around and shouted over the cubicle wall, at which point the manager’s head appeared, like a game of Whack-a-Mole. We’d been sending electronic messages to someone who’d been less than ten feet away the entire time. In my head, I heard a voice saying, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

We finally agreed on a purchase amount after he’d returned to his cube and again started pretending he couldn’t hear my verbal offer just across the wall, and we moved forward with a deal. I had to be downtown for a show that evening, so we finished the paperwork and left the car in their hands as they prepared it for us to pick it up the next day.

Kim drove me back over on Sunday afternoon, we all shook hands, and I walked out with the keys and a lot of new debt. She wanted to take a ride around the block before taking her own car home, so we hopped in and pulled out of the parking lot. Before we reached the stop sign at the end of their driveway, the dashboard was blinking error messages at me.

The indicators lit up and the digital read-out flashed “______ system error” for every automated system I knew this car had – plus a few they hadn’t told me about. I turned around, drove it back into the dealer lot, found my salesman, and told him something was wrong.

They had no idea why such a thing would happen, unless one of their technicians had accidentally disconnected the car’s main computer from all of its warning systems. But there were no technicians onhand to confirm this, as it was Sunday afternoon. Embarrassed, the salesman asked me if I would mind leaving it with them overnight, so he could have the service department take a look at it first thing in the morning. No. No, I wouldn’t mind allowing service to determine why my brand-new car was flashing warning lights at me.

The following morning, I received a text message from the service department: “Hi Daniel. This is your Service Advisor. Should you need anything throughout your visit, please reply to this text.” It’s worth noting, I was still at home. I guess the service department has an automated system that communicates with waiting customers after they drop their cars off. I couldn’t decide whether to be amused or annoyed that they were treating me like a customer who’d brought his car in, even though I’d never gotten it off their property.

The service tech called me a little later to say they’d reset the fault codes and driven my car around a bit to try to replicate the error, but no messages had popped up. There was nothing they could do without a “hard error” so they were assuming it was fixed, and I could come and get it any time. I called the salesman to let him know what service had told me; he grumbled something about it actually being a hard error, then offered to continue driving the car to make sure the problem wouldn’t happen again. I told him that was fine, I could drop my rental off down the street and get a ride back to the dealer, by which time he’d probably have the new car back at their lot.

When I arrived, he was still out driving it around, so I texted him and sat at his desk to wait. Quite a few dealer employees dropped by to meet me; it seems I (or the car) had gained some small bit of local fame.

The salesman returned, walked up to his desk, dropped the key fob onto his desk in trepidation, and informed me the error messages had come on again. I asked him if they had an identical model in stock – preferably one that works.

Kim was at her office by now, but would be free in the afternoon. I asked her to come back to the dealer, as we had a whole new set of paperwork to sign. We would have to cancel the previous day’s contracts, stop the tag request from going to the DMV, and fill out new contracts for the second car. I didn’t even argue when I saw they had the previous date on the warranty agreement, but I swear that thing had better not crap out the day after it expires, when it should technically still be covered. I was just too tired to argue about it, though.

Meanwhile, I’d talked to the insurance adjuster and found out we actually could afford the down-payment we’d agreed to, so there’s that. Plus, even with the delays and hassles, we got nice new car out of the whole experience.

I’ve since driven by the site of the accident multiple times and noticed one of the fenders is still sitting there on the shoulder, where those guys dropped it after carrying it off the road. I feel a little guilty about that, but I have no idea how to transport something like that, nor where to take it. Plus, I’m a little hesitant to pull off the road there – that would require slowing down, and slowing down is dangerous around there. You never know when some idiot behind you is going to plow into the back of your car.

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Air drag deployed (part 5: Stalled)

That weekend, I left a message for my claim contact, between her bankers’ hours. Her message had said she had a few questions about the accident, so I recapped it as best I could in a voicemail message – not for the first time during this ordeal, repeating information I’d already given. I told her we still weren’t sure whether we were allowed a rental car, because as I understood it, a rental car was for use while a car was being repaired, and it was possible mine was beyond repair. In other words, we didn’t know if the insurance company would pay for a rental while we were shopping for a replacement car. Also, we didn’t know whether my car was being totaled, so I needed confirmation as soon as possible.

Just in case, we drove to a car dealership on Saturday, and looked at sticker prices. This was enough to make me hope for a large pay-off on my wreck.

All good information to know, but come Monday, none of it was forthcoming. My claim contact didn’t call me back. Tuesday came along and had almost passed when she called – while I was away from my phone. So she left a message at 4:10, asking for the same information I’d already relayed via voicemail over the weekend. I got the message and called her back immediately, knowing the clock was ticking and she would be leaving at 4:45. She didn’t answer, so I left a message.

After I disconnected, I realized I hadn’t reminded her that we were waiting for answers before renting a car, so I called back and left a second, more desperate, message. At 4:46, she hadn’t called back and I still didn’t have a rental car. Kim was being patient, but I’m sure she was sick of dropping me off and picking me up by then.

On Wednesday, I had to go downtown for a two-day summit, full of meetings that prevented me from talking much on the phone. By noon, I still hadn’t heard anything, and I was full-blown angry. So rather than call my claim contact’s individual number, I called the main number for reporting a claim. This deposited me in an infinite loop of automated options, none of which I needed. After repeated attempts, I managed to get through to a living person, who knew nothing about my claim.

He suggested I call my claim contact. I told him my claim contact wasn’t answering and wasn’t returning messages, so he told me I could press 0 when hearing her outgoing message in order to get through to another claim contact. I asked him if another claim contact would be familiar with my claim, and he assured me they would.

I got through to another claim contact, who told me he wasn’t familiar with my claim. He asked me the same questions I’d answered when I’d called the claim report number immediately following the accident.

I gave him the details and told him the two things I really needed to know were whether it was totaled and whether I could rent a car. There was supposed to be an adjuster inspecting my wreck at the tow yard; I was hoping they could answer the questions.

He told me my car had been totaled, based on input. When I asked him whose input, he said it was mine. Based on the description I had given, it sounded like my car was totaled. When I asked him if it wouldn’t make a little more sense to have one of their own people verify that, he told me someone had gone to look at it and would be getting back to us by the end of the week. I reminded him it had been five days since the accident. He reminded me it hadn’t been five business days. I guess accident victims are expected to have no lives on weekends.

Regardless, he at least confirmed that I could rent a car. There was a rental place across the street from the summit, so I could walk there at the end of the day and not require Kim to drive downtown to pick me up. This was good. He also confirmed that we should, indeed, consider buying a replacement car – the old one wasn’t coming back. I asked if he was sure, and he repeated that the adjuster had been to the tow yard to assess my car and would get back to me with this information soon.

An hour later, the adjuster called to ask me where my car was, so she could go assess it. Unfortunately, I was in another session and unable to take her call. I called back between sessions. She didn’t answer. I left a message with the name, address, and phone number of the tow yard where my car was, and asked her to call back to confirm.

That night, I paid a sad visit to the tow yard. By now we were set on losing the car, so I needed to collect my personal belongings from it. I pulled up in my rental and walked into the business office, somewhere near the makeshift bedroom in the waiting area. I asked the manager if I could head out back and get some things from my car. He asked if I wanted to “surrender” it to the insurance company. I told him if they totaled it, sure, they could have it.

IMG_5744The car sematary was dark and cold; this is rare for central North Carolina in November (or any time), but temperatures hadn’t gotten above freezing even during daylight. It had rained over the weekend, so the frozen ground felt even colder.

The wrecks were crammed tightly into neat rows, most of them facing outward. In the waning light, and with the damage to its front end, I actually had trouble finding mine. I had to walk behind the row, to find my license plate (which I stupidly forgot to take that night, sending me back another time). I felt a little sad and guilty that I couldn’t recognize my own car.

Once I found it, I saw that Santa Shaggy had been true to his word – they had, indeed, taped some plastic over the non-closeable window. It hadn’t done its work, however, as the front seat was still sopping wet, and the armrest and door pocket were full of water. I managed to get my injured hand wet, which went well with the metal splint, the cold air, and my lack of gloves.

I did my best to quickly gather everything from the wreck, but it’s amazing how much crap one car can gather in eight years of ownership. There were actually these things called “maps” in my glove compartment, along with countless service receipts and expired registration cards. The door pockets in back contained Lego’s and other small toys the boys had long since outgrown and/or forgotten, and the whole experience made me nostalgic and sad. Not to mention sore, as there wasn’t much room between cars, and it was tough to get in and out of that wreck.

I’m not one to get attached to an inanimate object, but I felt like I was abandoning an old friend in that lot. To drive the point home, a stray cat ran out from behind a nearby car, ran into the one well-lighted spot next to the building, and gave me a dirty look before it disappeared again.

Across town, having received my text informing them that I was stopping by the lot to clean everthing out, Matthew was remarking to Kim that it was kind of sad they wouldn’t be able to say good-bye to the car. I barely got to, as I was so cold and miserable by the time I’d cleared everything from the seats, doors, glove compartment, console, and trunk.

If you tried to guess the weirdest thing I took out of the wreck, I bet you’d never guess an oscilloscope. There’s a story there, too, but for now, suffice it to say my Dad couldn’t use it anymore and I didn’t want to see it trashed, but I didn’t have anywhere to store it.

And that was how I parted with the old car. (Except for the trip back later, to claim the old license plate.)

The next day, I left another message for the adjuster when I still hadn’t heard back from her. That was Thursday. I called her back the following Monday, while I was waiting to pick up the car I’d agreed to buy over the weekend. I kinda figured I shouldn’t leave the lot with a new car until I had confirmation I would be losing the old one. I finally got through to the adjuster this time – ten days after the accident.

When the adjuster heard it was me, she said she was glad to hear from me, because she had some questions for me. I told her to go ahead; she asked me where my car was, so she could go assess it. I’m pretty sure my BP immediately hit the same level it had hit the night of the accident.

I told her I had left that information for her the previous Wednesday. She apologized and said she’d been having trouble with her voicemail. I asked her if maybe it wouldn’t have been a good idea to call me back on general principle if she knew I had a wreck in need of assessment and she thought I hadn’t returned her call in five days. She apologized and said she’d been having trouble with her voicemail.

I gave her the information on the tow yard and stressed the importance of knowing the pay-off soon. We had made an offer on a car assuming a certain value on the wreck. She called back an hour later to say they were paying us 50 percent more than we’d thought the car was worth.

That news was the only positive aspect to my dealings with my insurance company. I suppose I shouldn’t identify them by name, so let me just say, being in their hands wasn’t the experience they’ve touted it to be….


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Air drag deployed (part 4: Scrutiny)

Back home, I had the first message from my claim contact. She had called while I was still dealing with the accident, and I thought she must really be on top of things. That was the last time I thought that. Her message said she was calling to get the details on my accident, and I was a little surprised she hadn’t heard already – either from the rep I’d spoken to earlier, or from the police report. Regardless, I couldn’t call her back, because her office hours were 8:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and it was past 6:00 by that time. So I decided I’d leave her a message in the morning – she wouldn’t have been there if I’d called at that moment, anyway, plus my finger was hurting too much to dial a phone.

IMG_5718Its purple color concerned me, especially with the pressure it was giving off. I felt like it might pop like a tiny purple balloon. I told Kim I was going to urgent care; she told me I shouldn’t be driving. I told her I wasn’t drunk, but there was a very real possibility that I would be after coming back home. She opted to drive me, anyway.

At the urgent care place, the first thing I had to do was use a touchpad to input my contact information. That wasn’t too bad, but then I had to sign it. Granted, the ring finger is not vital to using a stylus – but it helps. My signature was unrecognizable, but it’s a medical place, so I guess they’re used to interpreting illegible scrawls.

They called me back, where a technician asked me what had happened. I’d already typed this on the touchpad, but I told her again – I’d been in a wreck, and my ribs, chest, and finger hurt. She asked what had hit my torso, and I told her I didn’t know for sure, but it was probably either the air bag or the seatbelt. “Oh, your air bag deployed?” Yes, I told her, just like I had typed on the touchpad.

Next, she asked how I had hurt my finger. I told her I had no idea, I wasn’t looking at my finger when it happened, but I assumed either the air bag had hit it, or my hand had flown into the dashboard.

She asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10. I told her 7-8. I’m betting they hear that estimate a lot. To me, 7-8 sounds high enough that they know I’m in pain, without being so high as to sound overly dramatic.

She took my blood pressure and told me I was obviously in pain. I wanted to say, “No shit,” but instead I asked how she could tell.

“Because your BP is 155 over 77,” she answered calmly.

“And that tells you I’m in pain?”

“It tells me you’re in a lot of pain.”

Then why the hell did you ask me to give a subjective number, I said to myself, as she was leaving.

The nurse practitioner came in about a minute later, and asked me what was going on. She was holding my chart, which, interestingly enough, would have answered that question for her. I told her I’d been in a wreck, and my ribs, chest, and finger hurt. She asked what had hit my torso, and I told her I didn’t know for sure, but it was probably either the air bag or the seatbelt. “Oh, your air bag deployed?” Yes, I told her, just like I had typed on the touchpad, and just like was probably indicated on my chart.

Next, she asked how I had hurt my finger. I told her I had no idea, I wasn’t looking at my finger when it happened, but I assumed either the air bag had hit it, or my hand had flown into the dashboard. She arranged for a couple of X-rays.

The X-ray technician came to collect me. She asked me what was going on. She, too, was holding my chart, which I can only assume had been filled out in invisible ink. Or perhaps handwritten with a broken finger, rendering the information indecipherable.

I told her I’d been in a wreck, and my ribs, chest, and finger hurt. She asked what had hit my torso, and I told her I didn’t know for sure, but it was probably either the air bag or the seatbelt. “Oh, your air bag deployed?” Yes, I told her through gritted teeth, while inside my head I was screaming, YES, THE FUCKING AIR BAG DEPLOYED! IS THAT SUCH A SURPRISE IN CASES WHEN A CAR RAMS INTO SOMETHING AT FULL SPEED?!?


Externally, I said calmly, “I hurt it on my car.”

We got through the X-rays without further incident and she led me back to the exam room, where I wondered if my BP was still as low as 155.

The nurse practicioner returned to tell me my ribs, lungs, and heart looked fine. As an aside – the NP didn’t say this – I have a weird torso. It’s oddly shaped, and I suspect a little frail. It’s too round, having earned me unfortunate nicknames like “Bird” and “Turtle” in the past, and takes up far too small a percentage of my 6’4” frame. That’s fine; I’m not out to impress anyone. But I’ve often felt there’s something wrong with it.

If I bend or twist the wrong way, it causes pain for days. And a heavy impact? Months. In June 2018, I had a cycling accident that resulted in similar torso pain. I couldn’t sleep on my right side for months, because the resulting pain was unbearable. By the way, I’m a right side sleeper. If I fall asleep on my back, I’ll wake up later on my right side. After that accident, if I fell asleep on my back, I’d wake up the moment I rolled onto my right side, due to the jolt of pain it would send through my side. This lasted for 6-7 months last summer and fall, and into the start of this year. (Come to think of it, that accident was an interesting story, but I never got around to blogging about it. Maybe after this one.)

So far, it’s been the same since the car accident. But nothing was broken, punctured, or otherwise damaged. I guess I’m just a wimp. I’ve had bruises last for years; why not an internal bruise that lasts for months?

Regardless, she gave me the good news about my torso. As for the finger, she said, “You have an acute, non-displaced fracture through the distal aspect of the distal phalanx of your right ring finger.”

“Oh,” I replied.

She told me I’d need to wear a splint for several weeks, but I could remove it for hygiene. She was going to send someone in with the splint soon, but in the meantime, I should take some ibuprofen. She wrote me a prescription for it, told me to go to an orthopedic specialist the following week, bade me well, and left.

Another technician came in to splint my finger. You’ll never guess what questions she asked me. I tried my best to be polite, as she was the one tightly wrapping the finger that hurt with only the slightest pressure.

So I left with a flimsy splint, a prescription for an over-the-counter pain reliever, a newfound sense of incredulity at the medical system, and at least a little bit of bragging rights. Sure, that long-winded diagnosis of my finger meant I essentially had the lamest kind of bone breakage possible – a small fracture, just north of the last knuckle. Nothing out of place, nothing unusable. It hurt me a little to type for a few weeks, unless I left the splint on or used my middle finger for the ring finger keys – which resulted in extra typos. Overall, nothing too traumatic. But that didn’t matter.

See, I’d never had a broken or fractured bone before in my life, and I felt like suddenly I’d joined an elite group of people who’ve looked pain in the face and laughed – sort of. That’s what I told myself, anyway. And when I went to see the orthopedic specialist, I received even more affirmation – after testing my rage with the same questions and sending me to another X-ray technician who did the same, he told me it looked more like the tip of my finger had been crushed. Yes, crushed.

I have no idea how anything could possibly have done that in my car – especially during that split second of time in which the collision occurred – but by God, something CRUSHED my finger. Something ground that bone into dust, people, and I walked away as if it were merely a fracture.

Maybe things weren’t so bad about this accident, after all. At least, until I had to deal with the insurance company the following week….


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Air drag deployed (part 3: Scoob?)

The tow truck arrived about ten minutes later. The guy got out and my first thought was “a right jolly old elf.” He didn’t quite look like Santa, but…he looked like Santa. Perhaps Santa’s southern cousin. He was rotund and cheerful, with long, pale hair and beard. He called me “Buddy.” A lot.

“You gonna need a ride, Buddy?”

“Yeah, I don’t have a ride home.”

“Where do you live, Buddy?”


“Okay if I take you to our yard, Buddy? Can someone meet you there?”

“Yes. But the window won’t go up; can you store it under cover until we get it to a shop?”

“It ain’t going to a shop, Buddy. The air bag deployed; they’ll total it.” Ouch. “Why won’t the window go up?”

“I…I don’t know? I guess because of the accident.”

He walked to the car with authority, opened the door, and pushed the window control. Nothing happened. Having exhausted his knowledge on the subject, he closed the door and told me they’d tape some plastic over it.

He returned to the bed of his truck, released the winch, and unwound the chain he was going to use to pull my wreck onto the bed. I grabbed my backpack and a box from my IMG_5710car and walked them to the passenger-side door of his truck cab.

“You don’t need to do that, Buddy! You can get that stuff after we get there.” I kept it, anyway. Then I opened the door and understood why he didn’t want any extra baggage in the cab – it was already full of junk.

A Mountain Dew bottle rolled out and an invoice sheet fluttered to the ground. The seat was covered with chip bags, receipts, empty bottles, and other crap. The floor, too. I tossed my backpack and box in, hoping they would stem the flow of garbage out of the truck onto the ground, then picked up the pieces that had already fallen.

The car was in place by then, and he shouted, “Okay, Buddy, we’re ready to go!”

“What about those?” I asked, pointing to the fenders and other pieces of our cars in the shoulder. “Don’t we need to take those?”

He looked at me as if I had an arm growing out of the center of my forehead. “Why?” he roared, only his accent made it sound like, “Wah?” He laughed and jumped into the driver seat. I gave my fender one last, forlorn look, then winced at the pain as I pulled myself up the two ladder steps into his truck cab.

We left just in time to get into rush hour traffic, which was a nightmare to watch during the immediate trauma of having been in a wreck. Santa thought it would be a good idea to give color commentary on the stupid things other drivers were doing. I was concentrating on watching anything but the cars around us.

Once we hit a clear patch and he was moving at a decent clip, he got quiet again. But not for long. I get the feeling he gets bored with silence, so he broke it by singing, “Scooby Dooby Doo, Where are you?” Only his accent made it sound like, “Scewby Dewby Dew, Hware arr yew?”

I gave a silent prayer of thanks that he didn’t continue the song. After 15 minutes of travel, I was kicking myself for that prayer, because he had KEPT SINGING THE SAME TWO LINES. I’m not kidding; he sang the first two lines of the “Scooby Doo” theme song more than he called me “Buddy” – and that was a lot. I wasn’t sure if I should admit I knew the rest of the song, or just look at him and yell, “Zoinks!” In the end, I figured he wouldn’t appreciate either, so I stayed quiet and focused on my pain.

My chest and side were hurting more, but unless I wanted to give Santa a bit of a show, I couldn’t really check on them. My right ring finger didn’t hurt per se, but I could feel pressure building in the fingertip. I looked at it and was shocked to see everything above the last knuckle had turned deep purple, and swollen profusely.

We reached the wrecker lot, where Santa Shaggy drove through a gate into what looked like the secret automobile burial grounds – the place where they all go to die. It was a packed gravel surface with a bunch of broken parts and other debris scattered about, with maybe 100 wrecks off to the sides. There were cars, trucks, even the empty husk of a school bus. I felt sure this place must be haunted. About 50 yards beyond the main lot was a collection that made me certain about that. If the main lot was a burial ground, then the weed-entombed satellite lot was the Pet Sematary. I hoped my car wouldn’t end up there, where a malevolent spirit would resurrect it and send it back to prey on me.

Santa led me through the shop to a waiting room, but I’d had enough waiting. I asked for the bathroom I’d needed for 3-4 hours now – it was cleanish, but I still had my doubts about touching anything in there. And there was no hook, so I didn’t know what to do with the backpack that my current pain level kept me from wearing on my torso. I thought about holding it in one hand and holding…something else…in my other hand, but I didn’t trust my shaky hands to not drop the backpack and to aim correctly, respectively. So I picked a spot on the floor that looked like it might have fewer lingering germs, put the backpack on it, and promised myself I’d put the repercussions out of my mind during all of the future times I’d be touching the backpack.

Finally free of that burden, I returned to the waiting room and had a look around. It had wood paneling, which I think is a requirement for most waiting rooms in auto service establishments. There were all sorts of files, knick-knacks and other things stacked in random piles, as if it were someone’s messy den. My favorite things there were the sign threatening to cut the hand off anyone messing with the thermostat, and the bed in the corner. I think it was supposed to be a day-bed/sofa type of deal, but I have to be honest – it was a bed, and I was pretty sure someone had been sleeping on it, possibly living there in the den. I was through this when I got a reprieve in the form of a text message from Matthew: “We are here”

I collected my things, pushed open the door, and stepped out into the dying daylight. Kim’s car was a welcome sight, with her and Matthew sitting in the front. I hobbled over to the trunk, which she popped open from the driver’s seat before getting out to greet me. I dropped my box and backpack in, looked up, and nearly fell into her arms. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she said, giving me as light a hug as possible until she could find out where my pain was.

I turned around and Matthew was at my other side, waiting to provide further comfort in the form of a second hug. He hadn’t heard Kim and didn’t realize how much pain I was in, so he gave me a full hug. It hurt like hell, but I wouldn’t have asked him to ease up. As my friend Gavin once said of his own son, close in age to and very much like our magical Matthew, “Hugs from him are like huffing pure sunshine.” I bore the pain, and took solace in the hug.

Once we broke apart, I shuffled to the passenger door, fell into the car, and melted into the seat. I would be going to the doctor soon, I would be dealing with the insurance company after that, and I would probably be working out a way to afford a new car, but before all that, I was headed home at last.


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Air drag deployed (part 2: Shock)

Once I forced my car to hobble onto the shoulder, I turned off the ignition, looked further ahead, and partially solved the mystery of the missing second party. Maybe 300 yards in front of me (I’m a horrible judge of distance, by the way), two cars had pulled over. I couldn’t tell if they were damaged, but I assumed they’d been involved. (To this day, I have no idea how they’d disappeared into traffic and gotten so far ahead of me.)

I staggered out, noticed the fluids leaking from under the engine onto the interstate, dropped a jaw at the crumpled front end of my car with various pieces hanging out, and began the slow trek to talk to the other drivers.

I must have looked a sight. My legs were unsteady and I felt a little dizzy, so I was walking slowly and with an uneven, almost bow-legged gait. I kept touching my side and chest, then pulling my right hand away, looking at it in puzzlement, and trying to flex the sore fingers while keeping the blood off my clothes. I was aware of all of this behavior, but unable to change it. In retrospect, I wonder if I was in shock at the time.

It felt like I was crossing some vast wasteland, a neutral zone between warring factions in a dystopian future society. I swear it took me five minutes to reach the other party. I became aware of them watching me, and I was worried they were angry. I also became aware of each fast-moving car as it drove by me, and I was afraid I was going to pass out and fall into the traffic lane. Luckily, the rush of air from each one felt like a physical assault.

As I came closer, I noticed the first car had some damage in the rear, although I couldn’t tell how much. “I must have hit that one,” I thought, then wondered if it had been a three-car pileup (again, to my later shame, hoping that would absolve me of the fault). Three women were standing there, one on a mobile phone. “Is everyone okay?” I called out, unable to hear their responses. They probably couldn’t hear me, either, because it felt like I didn’t have enough air in my lungs to produce much vocal volume.

I finally reached them. The woman on the phone ended that conversation, whereupon she started talking about how bad traffic is in Raleigh, and how drivers are always hitting each other around here. It felt vaguely accusatory, but I think she was trying to be sympathetic.

I remember her saying something about one of the other women that made me think they’d been in a car together, and the second woman had been the passenger. I was wrong about several things. The third car hadn’t been involved at all. In my confused state, it took me a minute to figure out who everyone was – the second woman had been driving the car I’d hit, and the two other women had stopped to help.

The second woman seemed oddly calm for someone who’d just had an idiot ruin her car, and I turned to her and said the thing I’ve always heard one should never say after an accident: “I’m sorry.” But I was, and there was no denying this had been my fault, so I wasn’t exactly admitting a big secret with that apology. I asked if she was okay, and she said, “Oh, yeah!” in an almost-too-chipper voice.

The three of them looked at me doubtfully as one of them asked the same of me. I said, “I think so, but the airbag hurt a little.”

“Oh, your airbag deployed? I’m surprised mine didn’t,” the second woman said. “But something pushed my seat back.”

She pointed into her car, and I almost vomited when I saw the driver’s seat in a fully reclined position. I did that, I thought to myself, then apologized again out loud.

One of them pointed behind me and said, “Oh, look!” I turned and saw that traffic had come to a stop in the rightmost lane, some distance behind where my car was bleeding on the shoulder. Another car had pulled over behind me, and two people were carrying something large off the road.

“I wonder if that’s yours or mine,” the second woman quipped. It was an entire fender, and for the life of me, I could not figure out how it had gotten behind my car. Once I put a conclusion together, I was immediately worried about what it had done to the IMG_5686undercarriage. That’s right – my engine’s guts were hanging out of the front of my car like it had been disemboweled, the airbag was deployed, and I was possibly injured – but my biggest concern was whether I had run over my own fender in the process.

Meanwhile, they were carrying the second fender off the highway while I stood and watched from a safe distance, not doing anything to help them free the road of the large pieces of junk I’d just deposited there.

I texted my wife Kim and tried to sound nonchalant, telling her something had come up and asking if she could possibly pick Matthew up instead of me, because I wasn’t going to be able to get there soon enough. She said sure, but she needed me to handle something else during that time. So much for not raising the alarm. I texted back to let her know I was fine, but had been in an accident, was waiting for the police, and couldn’t be counted on to handle anything, apparently.

The two good Samaritans were satisfied that we were okay to leave alone, so they wished us well and left. I think I thanked them; I certainly hope so. Regardless, that’s when things became awkward. The other driver was still in good spirits considering what I’d just done to her car, but what do two people talk about in that situation?

I asked if the woman on the phone had reported the accident and ascertained that the police were en route. She said yes. She looked at the back of her car and said what a shame it was that she’d just had it inspected and paid for her next year’s registration. I felt a kick of guilt in my gut and apologized again. I asked if she was sure she was okay. She said yes. I told her I was going to go back to my car to call my insurance company.

During the 500-yard trudge back, I kept thinking how unseasonably cold it was, but wondered if the jacket in my back seat smelled like the smoke inside the car. When I opened the door, I realized there was no way it couldn’t as I was hit by a wave of that odor. It was acrid, oily, and cloying, but it was cold outside, so I closed myself in with it and called my insurance company.

The insurance rep had a few questions. The most interesting was, “Is your car currently leaking any fluids?” When I told him yes, he moved on to a new, unrelated question. This stuck in my craw – why ask, if it’s not important enough for a follow-up? What could the img_5691.jpg“Yes” alone possibly tell him? Didn’t he at least want to know what color they were, or what function they’d served while still in their respective reservoirs? Was I about to die, and all he had to do to avoid paying a claim was keep me distracted until the leaking fluids could work their chemical magic and either burst into flame or poison me?

While I was on the phone with him, a big yellow truck pulled off the road behind me; it appeared to be a tow truck from that perspective. I had no idea how a wrecker service had gotten there before the police, especially since no one had called for one yet. Was this one just cruising for random wrecks, hoping to pick up the business? I didn’t know, but I wasn’t about to let them take my car before the police arrived.

I kept talking to my rep, watching the truck driver in my rearview mirror. After a few minutes, he got out, walked up to my passenger window, and stood there. I sighed, apologized to the insurance rep, and told him I had to deal with something. Seriously couldn’t the truck driver see I was ON THE PHONE?!?

I turned the key enough to roll down the automatic window and the guy asked if I was okay. I said mostly, but I was on the phone with my insurance company and couldn’t talk for long. Also, I wasn’t ready to have the car towed yet. He said that’s fine, he wasn’t there to tow it; he was part of NCDOT Safety Patrol, and the police should be here soon. Now sheepish, I thanked him for stopping. He went back to his truck, pulled into traffic again, drove 700 yards, and pulled off behind the other car, where I can only assume the other driver gave him a warmer greeting.

Speaking of them, back on the insurance call, the rep started asking for information about the other car and driver. That’s when I realized I’d never even introduced myself to her, nor exchanged information. No, I didn’t know what kind of car she had. No, I didn’t know how bad the damage was. No, I didn’t know her name. (Yes, I must be a bad person.)

He told me it was okay, that she’d just need to call my claim contact and provide the information. I felt another twinge of guilt. Sorry, miss – I know I ruined your day and possibly the next month if your life while you await repairs and payments, but would you mind calling this person with your info, since I didn’t think to get it?

I wrote down my claim number, insurance company, and the name and number of my claim contact, so I could take it back to her on my subsequent 900-yard hike. Oh, and I included the national number for the rental car company that my insurance would pay for. Not even a local number. I’m a real hero.

The other driver took a picture of my registration and I did the same with hers. I apologized again and told her the Safety Patrol guy had said the police should be there “soon” – although it had now been almost 45 minutes, and we were in a region of interstate that I know from experience is frequented by cops.

“Are you a teacher?” she asked me out of the blue.

“No, why?”

“Your shirt,” she said, indicating the high school name and mascot on my chest.

“Oh! No, I was volunteering at my son’s school this morning, and I thought I should show some school spirit. I would have worn something warmer if I’d known I was going to be standing outside for this long.”

“Yeah, it’s cold.”

“You can wait in your car if you want.”

“I’d like to, but it smells really bad inside.”

“Mine, too!” Silence. “Okay, I think I’ll go call the cops to make sure they’re coming.”

After another 1100 yards, I got back into my smelly car, rolled down the driver window, called the cops, and told them I was checking on a previously reported accident. The dispatcher wanted to know where it had occurred. I told her where, and she informed me there’d already been a report. I told her I know, that’s why I was calling. It had been 45 minutes. She asked if this was the accident with two black sedans. No, I told her, one was navy and one was gray. She asked if I needed an ambulance. I told her no, but my pain was getting worse and I’d like to finish up and go see a doctor. She said they’d be there soon.

I walked 1300 yards back to tell the other driver about the call. She told me she was going to wait in her car. I asked her if she was still okay and she said yes. That was the last exchange we had. She preferred a smelly car to awkward silence with me, and I completely understand. I walked 1500 yards back to my car to wait.

I took some pictures and posted one on Facebook. My car was starting to smell better, but was cold, so I engaged the auxiliary ignition and hit the buttons to roll my windows up. The driver’s side window refused to budge. I tried to start the car – nothing doing.

I shivered and texted Kim again, to check in. She had picked Matthew up and told him what was going on. He had asked if I was okay, then started fretting about money.

Bless him, he was worried about our finances. I felt bad; no kid should ever be privy to their parents’ financial worries. But she’d assured him insurance would help.

By now, it had been 90 minutes with no sign of the police, apart from the four sheriff cars from other counties that we’d seen drive by at various points. And I’d had to pee the whole time. So I called again. Where was the accident? Was this the one with two black sedans? Did I need an ambulance? They would be there soon.

This time, it wasn’t a lie; a cop arrived five minutes later. That response time would have been great if it hadn’t been tacked onto an already 90-minute wait. Regardless, I grabbed my registration, fished my license out of its almost hermetically sealed pocket in my wallet, got out of my car, and began the 1700-yard hike to where he had parked behind the other car.

He was getting the other driver’s version of events when I reached their general vicinity, so I stayed out of earshot and waited a moment. He interrupted their conversation to come and ask if I needed an ambulance and to get my license and registration, then asked me to wait at my car.

I’m glad he got at least one version of events before he walked the 200 yards to question me, because I found myself quite unable to give him one. I couldn’t remember if or how I’d been distracted behind the wheel – only looking up to see her car right in front of me, hitting my brakes, and going through everything else I’ve just described. He didn’t question me further – just asked if I needed a tow truck.

I’m lucky I wasn’t at my best mentally, or I might have given Officer Obvious the type of unfiltered response that usually drops into my mouth when someone asks a stupid question. Instead, I just said yes, please, because my car would no longer start.

He said he would call for one, and that it would be there soon. I hoped that version of “soon” was different from the version dispatch had used when we’d called for the cops the first two times.

He returned to his cruiser, printed something out, and brought it to me – a driver info exchange form. He never gave me a ticket, nor informed me that I was at fault. I suppose he thought that self-evident.

He walked away and I moved into the next stage of that day’s adventures. That’s when the fun really started.


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Air drag deployed (part 1: Stasis)

Last month, I was involved in a car wreck. And by “was involved in,” I meant “caused.” And by “car wreck,” I meant “complete debacle, kicking off one of the strangest chain reactions that’s ever had me at its epicenter.”

I’d never been at fault in an accident with another car before. I’ve had some close calls, had my vehicle rear-ended once, and been in collisions between one car and a deer, signpost, or unfortunately placed concrete column in a parking garage – but never been the at-fault party in an automobile collision. My impression of the whole ordeal is, it sucks.

And the kicker is, I wasn’t even supposed to be there. I had finished volunteering at my son Matthew’s school, and was supposed to go set up at a nearby Panera, so I could put in a couple hours of work before picking him up at the end of the day. But a friend needed something, so I drove the other direction to pick it up for them. I was heading back to Panera when the accident happened.

I’m still not sure how. Traffic was moving along the interstate at a steady clip. Then it wasn’t. And somehow, I didn’t notice in time. All I remember is the sudden view of a car RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, at the back of a long line of stopped cars. My brain had time to register the thought “too close” (or maybe it was “too late”) and I thought my foot moved for the brake, before time simultaneously sped up and stood still. My mind sort of shut down with the aforementioned “too close” thought resonating in a continuous loop in my head as I watched my car’s hood disappear into the trunk of the sedan in front of me.

There was a jolt and a resounding crack like the report of a rifle, followed by an unknown period of time that I can think of only as “stasis.” I don’t believe I ever lost consciousness, but I’m pretty sure I lost a little bit of time while I sat there, suffering a brief lack of awareness.

Once that time passed and regular time was registering again, I became aware of three things – pain, a strange odor, and a white blob in front of me. It turns out that last one wasn’t the fabled bright light of the afterlife; rather, it was the airbag from my steering wheel. I eventually came to believe its deployment was the cause of the pain. And the third thing, the odor, was undoubtedly coming from the smoke that was steadily filling the car.

IMG_5695 (1)When I looked up from the white blob – which was strangely smaller than I’ve always assumed airbags to be – I saw that everything around me had returned to the way it had been prior to the sudden stop. Cars were moving at regular speed on either side of mine. But there was no car in front of me. This puzzled me, as I could have sworn I’d just hit one, and I expected it to be attached to what was left of my hood. But there was nothing there, and vehicles were merging from either side into the lane in front of me.

At first, I couldn’t figure out what I’d hit. In my stupor, I thought maybe I hadn’t hit anything at all, somehow convincing myself that it had just been my imagination. Then, in a moment of clarity, I again understood I’d hit a car, and I assumed it must have moved on. More stupor made me think, “Good, maybe I didn’t cause any damage to their car, so they kept going.” Yeah, no.

Next, I’m ashamed to admit I thought, “Maybe they have damage, but they left the scene. That means I won’t be at fault!” Neither was true. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Some indistinct period of time later, I thought it might be a good idea to pull my car out of traffic. First, I found my glasses – they were on the floor, under the gas pedal, where they’d flown when they’d left my face. In retrospect, this is a good thing – if they cleared the airbag, then it didn’t hit my face.

A couple other things were out of place. I’d had a water bottle in the cupholder; it was on the floor underneath the glove compartment. My phone had been charging on the passenger seat; it was out of reach on the floor under the glove compartment, thankfully out of range of the leaking water.

I retrieved my glasses and looked at myself to assess physical damage. My left forearm had a small, non-bleeding cut and a pink blotch that hurt a little; the latter turned out to be a friction burn from the airbag. My right pinky had a bleeding spot on the knuckle, as if I’d smashed it against something hard enough to break the skin. My right ring finger hurt a little and had what appeared to be something dark on it – it looked gray, as if it were a smear of some sort of grease from somewhere in the car, but it turned out to be purple. I’ll get to that later, too.

My torso hurt like hell; there were sore spots on the right side and the front of my ribcage, and it hurt my chest to breathe deeply. At first I thought “heart attack” but I put that aside after a moment or two of sitting without further agitation. (Note: I’m not in the least bit qualified to diagnose or rule out a heart attack.)

The engine had stopped running and the two vanity lights above the rearview mirror had turned on. They toggle on and off whenever someone presses them. I don’t know if inertia had caused them to press inward and turn themselves on, or if an electrical problem had caused it. Regardless, I turned them off and turned the key, hoping the car would start again. It did, but it sounded very, very sad that I was asking it to do any more work in its condition.

I looked around and realized two things – I was in the rightmost lane, and there was a steady line of traffic on my right. First, I was surprised that I was in that lane, because as far as I remembered (and still remember now), I’d been in the middle lane. I have no memory of having moved into the rightmost lane prior to the accident, but that’s where it had happened.

As for the traffic on my right – yes, people were pulling onto the shoulder and driving at normal speed to get around me. I turned on my right turn signal, having no idea if it was working, looked over my shoulder, and waited 30 seconds or so for someone to actually LET ME MOVE MY WRECK OFF THE HIGHWAY.

As I waited, I must have pulled further out of stasis and regained some sense of myself, because I clearly remember falling back into my usual mood when I’m in bad traffic (albeit with a car in better condition). I watched in the rearview mirror, looked over my shoulder, and shook my head as I waited for someone to let me in (or is that out?), muttering my usual assertion in disgust: “People are dicks.”

Yep, I was coming out of my funk.


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