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Benevolent Dictator

My fist shot straight out from my side, crossing in front of David’s chest, and released an index finger, aimed at the driver of the car to my right. It held the pose for half a beat and then recoiled back to my side as fast as it had jutted out.

“Did you just point at that driver?” David said. He’d been looking straight ahead; my sudden gesticulation couldn’t have lasted longer than a second, so he wasn’t sure exactly what had happened. I debated myself for a moment and then nodded. “Do I dare ask why?” I bristled at the scoldy-ness in his tone.

“She was texting while driving. Traffic was moving, and her head was down for seconds,” I said.

“So you pointed at her?”

“Yeah. I wanted her to see me. If we’d been stopped at a light, I would have honked. That shit drives me crazy. Why are you scoffing?”

“Because you’re policing again,” David said. “A few minutes ago you were complaining about that car that was driving too close to the patrol car. You were policing even when there were actual police on the road.”

“I was just pointing out how stupid it is to ride a cop’s ass. How is that ‘policing’?” Despite my defensiveness, the word “policing” made me wonder how awesome it would be if I had a siren or a loudspeaker. “And, anyway,” I snapped, “I don’t get what the big deal is, why you have to get so pissy when I’m only pointing out someone whose stupidity or carelessness could put themselves and us in danger.”

“Because there’s nothing you’re going to accomplish by doing that,” David said. “You’re not going to stop them.”

“If they see me pointing and scowling, they might stop.”

“A lot of times you just complain about them. People in general don’t like it when someone else is telling everybody what they can and can’t do or what they should or shouldn’t be doing. You’re just a buttinski that likes getting all up in other people’s business.”

“Whoa,” I said as I came to a stop. I directed an angry glare at David and then returned to watching the traffic light. “It’s not like I’m telling people they can’t like the color blue or who they should vote for,” I continued, “but their decision to shirk traffic laws is my business, because when someone’s not looking at the road in the lane next to me, they might swerve into my car. When that stupid chick rode her bicycle onto my hood, she was breaking at least three laws.”

“Well, I reiterate that most of the time you’re just complaining to me in the car and the person you’re policing doesn’t even know you’re complaining, so clearly it’s not improving the situation in any way,” David said. He narrowly escaped death by eye-daggers by saying, “The light is green.”

Later that evening I was seated at the dining table, watching David prepare dinner. He looked up from the cutting board and caught my eye. “You have control issues,” he said. He showed his dimples with a playful smile, a move he knew would disarm my defense mechanism.

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “But this is different. It’s not that I want to tell people what to do, I just wish they’d follow the freakin’ rules that we all agree to follow to keep from inadvertently killing each other.”

“Face it, you just want to be in charge,” David teased.

“Yeah, maybe. But I bet things would run much smoother if I were. I’d be a benevolent dictator,” I said, meaning it. David laughed. “Seriously, though, I’m not asking for much. Just that people follow basic traffic rules.”

“Honestly?” David was looking at me in a way that told me I wasn’t going to like what he was about to say next. “I think you just like to complain about it.”

I opened my mouth to shoot out a retort, but then hesitated. I was as surprised as David when I finally spoke: “I think you’re right. Complaining about it makes me feel better.”

“Why?” David was genuinely curious.

“I don’t know.” I swirled the wine in my glass and avoided my man’s penetrating stare. “It’s like cursing when you stub your toe,” I said to my wine. “You remember that study that proved how swearing can ease pain? Bitching about inconsiderate assholes somehow lessens the distress I feel when I witness their flagrant disrespect.” I tore my gaze from my glass and found David’s eyes. “Can you seriously tell me that you’re not bothered when people drive like dicks?”

“It would annoy me, sure, but most of the time I just try to relax and not pay a lot of attention to that. For example, I was in a car in a square in the center of Santa Fe once, and a guy in a truck two cars in front of me just stopped right in the middle of the street to have a conversation with a friend of his who was sitting on a park bench. Santa Fe has a reputation for being a very laid back kind of place. The car in front of me was just sitting there waiting, the car behind me wasn’t honking. It was no big deal.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s totally inconsiderate,” I said, experiencing a flush of fury.

“It may be, but if I don’t have to be anywhere urgently, then I’m okay to sit there and wait him out. I don’t have this burning desire to tell him how to be correct,” David said.

“I don’t care if I had to be anywhere or not; I’d want him to be out of my way. That’s just rude. You shouldn’t have to sit in traffic for God knows how long just because some tactless Billy Bob wants to chew the fat with a friend.”

“Well, that’s the difference between you and me,” David said. “You’re a little more — ”

“Watch it,” I warned.

“Aggro,” David finished. “Let’s put it this way: I think you’d be much quicker to honk your horn if someone’s not going at a green light than I would be.”

“That may be,” I said. “But if the sound makes someone actually look at the road in front of them, instead of at their phones or kids or whatever the hell else they’re looking at instead, then it’s a horn well honked.”

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