“It’s to shield her eyes from the sun,” says the large scowling man with the little rat dog. He is referring to the frilly pink polka-dot bonnet his dog is wearing, which perfectly matches the frilly pink polka-dot skirt that’s been tied pertly around her middle.
Husband has just paused, all delighted, to point out Large Scowling Man’s cute pet.
Husband generally dislikes rat dogs. His mother kept a vicious little poodle named Igor who’d sink his teeth into Husband’s ankle and then seize up and pee on the carpet when Husband bellowed and bled. Husband was a young boy at the time. Husband’s mother would comfort Igor and fuss over the carpet; Husband was left to find his own BandAid and worry about rabies.
That dog’s betrayal was even worse in that Husband named him – after Igor Stravinsky. In retrospect, perhaps the dog didn’t care for Husband’s fervent adolescent musical obsessions. Husband’s mother immortalized Igor in a gaudy acrylic painting that was still hanging in that house when I first visited, decades later. She captured his beady little bulging eyes beautifully. Husband refused to enter the bathroom where it hung (although he was pleased that Igor only rated backroom-bathroom wall space).
The frilly pink dog does indeed look cute – I am smiling, too. Large Scowling Man feels we are irreverent. He says again, giving the dog’s neon pink leash a shake, “The sun is tough out here.”
Everything is tough out here – Large Scowling Man has chosen to take his little rat dog hiking in the foothills of the Rockies. Husband and I, hot and tired and sunburned, are heading back down the steep path toward the trailhead. We have backpacks and hiking poles and sensible boots and water bottles and far too much yuppie outdoor paraphernalia. We are prepared. Large Scowling Man is headed up the mountain wearing dress shoes and church clothes; it is Sunday afternoon. He is holding a bright pink plastic leash attached to a frou-frou dog. He is not prepared.
But he is expressing himself, via his polka-dot dog. He is free to do so. He is not hurting anyone (provided we don’t consider the personal dignity of his dog).
On the way to work yesterday, I am honked at rudely from behind for not turning heedlessly into oncoming traffic at an intersection. I cannot see, you see. I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that seeing is important when driving. So I choose to wait perhaps ten seconds until two large vehicles have crossed in front of me and approaching traffic in the side lane is no longer obscured from view.
It is 6:45 AM. The man behind me is flipping me off and honking again; I see him in the mirror. When I am finally able to turn, he turns as well and comes up beside me in the road. He’s shouting and gesturing. He stays there beside me; it’s a two-lane road. He is another Scowling Man. I have not had enough coffee. I am upset by this uncalled-for rudeness and incivility. I look across at Scowling Man and yell, “Bugger Off.” I am scowling, too. I have never done this in traffic before. I have on occasion given other drivers the middle finger, but only surreptitiously and only when very vexed, under the dashboard where they won’t see me and decide to shoot me.
Scowling Man II then leans over to roll down his passenger side window, manually, while still keeping abreast of me in traffic. I look steadfastly straight ahead. He is shouting and gesturing. We hit an intersection and I take a quick right to escape. I then drive an extra two miles to work. I am shaking and furious and scared.
Last week, out of the blue, I receive a two-page, single-spaced, carefully typed letter via US mail from yet another Scowling Man, an acquaintance I’d not seen for years (no, this is not some spurned lover from my seething past. I only wish I’d had a seething past). The letter scares me. It, too, concerns freedom of expression.
Scowling Man III attended a big Christmas party at my house a decade ago, where he studied the magnets plastered all over my refrigerator. Scowling Man III writes to me ten years later to say that I bear partial responsibility for violence against Christians in the world because I have a magnet on my refrigerator that reads, “Christians aren’t perfect. They just want you to be.”
Scowling Man III actually has the quote somewhat wrong. But given the fact that he’s been brooding about this for a decade, I think it best to avoid correcting him. That would be like telling the rude threatening driver to bugger off, and I have learned my lesson. I don’t ask much of the world. “Don’t hurt me,” is pretty much all.
The refrigerator in my kitchen is one place where I (used to) feel fairly safe in expressing myself. I don’t do bumper stickers, I don’t do T-shirts, and I don’t carry placards. I don’t crusade on Facebook. I don’t campaign at work. I blog under a pseudonym. I don’t harbor a secret meth lab or voodoo altar or S&M dungeon or kiddie porn distribution center in my house. I have always been a Good Girl. Sort of. In a manner of speaking. More or less.
What I do have is a vast collection of irreverent, mordant, ironic, funny, stupid, politically-incorrect magnets on my refrigerator that all poke fun at hypocrisy. I don’t wish to wind up maimed and beaten and dismembered in a ditch over these magnets; they’re not that important.
And yet they are, to both Scowling Man III and to me – although in very different ways. It’s a good thing he hasn’t been here in ten years. The collection has gotten bigger and better.