The traffic cop may have given me a ticket for running a four way stop, but it wasn’t the speed of my car that we wound up discussing.
It wasn’t long after I passed through the 4-way stop that I heard the siren and, looking in my rear view mirror, saw the flashing lights.
What expletive came instantly out of my mouth I am sure you can guess. What I am not so sure about is whether I can get away with using it in this blog.
Oh, fudge!” let’s just say I said, to play it on the safe side. “Not NOW. Not AGAIN.”
I rolled down the window and watched as the cop car door opened and a woman emerged. She was frowning as she strode toward me in that swaggering, grimly gleeful, you-are-so-fudged way traffic cops have perfected universe wide. Not a good omen. Fudge, fudge, fudge.
“Did you see what you did back there?”
“Oh, yes,” I admitted earnestly. “I still can’t believe I did such a thing…Captain.” Someone once told me that if you up a cop’s rank – and pepper it with a couple shakes of winsome groveling – you’re home free.
Alas all I got was a look that made it perfectly clear that my own ranking was plummeting.
“You don’t have a clue what you did, do you?”
I shrugged. “Speeding?”
“Well, I didn’t hit anybody! I’d have noticed that!”
The cop’s frown deepened as she reached into her pocket. “You ran that four-way stop back there. And you’re in a school zone.”
I eyed the pad she had pulled out with the same dread Superman undoubtedly felt for kryptonite.
“Please,” I begged the cop. “Please, don’t give me a ticket!” I pointed out my window, toward the parking lot less than a half block to our left. “I was on my way to Mass.”
I really had been, too. But the cop just stood there, watching me with unreadable eyes.
“To Mass!” I repeated. “You know, church!” For good effect, I rattled the rosary on my rear view mirror then pointed to the clock on the dash. It was 5:35. “See? Mass starts at 5:30 sharp, and I was late. That’s the only reason I rushed the stop. I’m a good person, really! ”
The cop held out her hand. “Your license, please.”
I complied with what I hoped was regal disdain. Inwardly I was a sweaty wreck.
For the first time, she smiled. “Wait here, please.”
Loathing her fiercely, I watched as she did her John Wayne strut back to her car. Then I buzzed up the window, popped the door locks just to hit something, contemplated banging my head repeatedly against the steering wheel, and forced myself to take deep breaths. A truck passed – a big one, and the ground rattled – and, as my rosary quivered in its wake, I found myself thinking about St. Teresa of Avila. Lord, the saint is reputed to have said after she was bucked off a horse into the river. If this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!
“Oh I am so fudged,” I breathed, laying my forehead against the steering wheel.
There was a knock at my window, and I looked up. It was the cop, making roll down the window motions.
“So…you have two prior tickets in the past year,” she informed me. “A banner year for you, apparently. Congratulations.”
I eyed her warily, wondering how she would react if I told her the poet Thomas Carlyle had called sarcasm the language of the devil. Probably not a good idea, but perhaps we could negotiate. “You know, none of those tickets were FAIR,” I began.
Heartened, I continued. “The first, I was trying to do the right thing. I was arranging for my mother to move my father’s burial plot because she was too overwrought to handle it and the cemetery guy kept calling and calling and finally, just to shut him up, I picked up the phone, and he was chewing me out, all ticked off because my mother wouldn’t answer his questions, and I had to step in and – “
“I don’t need to hear it,” said the cop.
My head was back on the steering wheel. “You’re going to give me a third ticket, aren’t you?”
“You blew through that stop in a school zone. If you’d paused even 10 seconds…But you didn’t. I was watching the whole time. You could have hurt someone, do you realize that?”
“But – “
She held up a hand, like she was directing traffic…Then, reaching inside my window, she laid that same hand briefly on my arm.
“Don’t you think it’s time you asked yourself why you’re always in such a hurry?” she asked.
* * *
My mouth is much like my driving.
Far too often it never slows down enough even to conceive that there might exist such a pastime as CONVERSATION or DIALOG. Indeed, years ago, when my husband related how his French teachers in middle school had christened him Bouche Moteur (Motor Mouth) I had laughed till I hiccupped –smugly, mindbogglingly clueless that I – yes, I! – gave Monsieur Moteur a run for his money.
This, my friends have sweetly and, once, not so sweetly pointed out to me over the years…
“Wait, Jenine, stop what you’re doing and listen to me.”
“No, Jenine, put the iphone away. Come on, you can do it. Put it in your purse. Atta girl, I’m proud of you – of course, it’d be nice if you’d stop scowling.”
“A text can wait until after lunch.”
“Shhh, sweetie. Let Anne speak…”
“Do you always talk this much?”
Well, ouch, yeah, I do indeed always talk this much.
The question is WHY. Why do I talk so much?
Well, for starters, talking is fun.
But you must understand – once upon a time, I was shy. I was so tongue-tied that, if you’d baked and salted my tongue, you could have slathered it with mustard and sold it in an Auntie Anne display case. And, although I learned by high school and definitely by my first job to fake it, I remain shy to this day. Yes, I AM – hard as that may be to believe for those of you who have seen me (and my bouche moteur) in action.
But did you catch that? I used the words “fake it” and “in action”. More often than not, when I chatter – when I perform, if you will – I am attempting to cover up an array of insecurities vast and deep enough to finance the college educations of generations of my therapist’s offspring:
1. You don’t really like me; you’re just pretending
2. I am so boring
3. I am nowhere near as bright as I’d like to think I am; I am fooling myself
4. You’re judging me...and the jury is still out
5. I’m judging me…and I’m convicted for life
6. I might really be as nuts as I sometimes have fun claiming I am
7. Silence will give all of the above away
Wait a minute, though! Didn’t I just say that talking was fun? Feeling vulnerable and insecure and judged is not fun.
Ah, but masking it can be. The art of stringing words together is a skill…and I am a Gold Medalist at it. Most of the time I am, anyway. There are some days I have to take a rest from exercising my tongue…It simply takes too darned much effort to pronounce a syllable, much less reams of them.
Which no doubt has something to do with why I am most happy making my blithe, chattering way, courtesy of a keyboard.
For instance, if you were here in this room right now, over there in the corner watching me, you would say, “Well, I’ll be darned. Jenine can be quiet. I haven’t heard a peep out of her for hours now.”
But, ahem, may I remind you? There is quiet…and there is QUIET. When I write, sure, you don’t hear me talking but, trust me, I am. Watch my fingers moteur, how yackety yack yack yack they fly across the keyboard.
I think that must be why I once took a test and learned that, like so many writer-types and President Obama – or, so the test claims – I am an Extroverted Introvert.
Yet the Introvert may well win out, how about that? Because here is what I have learned, quite painfully, very recently: that, just as speeding in a car can lead to tickets and time in traffic school, so MY WILD ASS BOLT OUT OF HELL BIG THOUGHTLESS MOUTH MAY LAND ME IN TROUBLE.
And I am not merely referring to smart ass, off the cuff, irritable, wounding, moronic cracks you rue the moment, toad-like, they hop out of your mouth. I have populated planets of toads in my 50-some years and spent decades of hours apologizing/making amends for them.
What is much more horned and deadly is sharing too much with the wrong people…and then awakening, some suddenly not so fine morning, to realize that your trust was misplaced. Your confession is now water cooler gossip; your confidences, a knife in your back; your revelations, condemned and reviled; and your quest to be authentic, misunderstood.
“Sometimes, it’s okay to be an actress,” my friend, Father Anthony Howard, once advised me after I confessed to hating – yes, hating – someone who had betrayed me.
But the one who truly betrayed me, I have come to see, is I. Yeah, me, that older broad staring back at me in the mirror, sticking out her tongue and now wagging her finger.
SLOW DOWN, Bouche Moteur!
Slow down, and don’t stop merely to smell the roses. Stop and take in a strong whiff of this – advice I garnered recently from a little book called silence as YOGA by Swami Paramananda.
(Paramananda. I love the musicality of that name! How it sings like a prayer.)
“We wear ourselves out, disturb others, and say much which might better be left unsaid when we talk constantly,” the Swami teaches. “The majority of people have a very false standard of life. They imagine that when two or three human beings are together, they must always entertain each other. Often nature is providing us with inspiration and we miss it because of this foolish habit. Why should we suppose that whenever we are with others we must always talk? It means our minds are empty.”
Obviously words guaranteed to make a talkaholic par excellence wince. But I get it, I do. Just as an engine runs out of gas, so I, with my panicked, frenetic, schedule enslaved White Rabbit of an existence, will drop dead in my tracks – parched, starved and defeated – if I don’t stop to feed myself.
If I don’t stop to STOP, to be STILL long enough to listen.
And, then, I wonder…Faintly, delicately, on that breeze or between breaths, what will I hear?
Perhaps, merely-amazingly, a bee, or a footstep, or the rain. Or, perhaps, even an Answer.
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