I’ve never felt the overt impulse to be mean for no apparent reason. And by apparent reason, I mean cloaking sinuous, malicious, primal impulses to destroy and demean. I was riding my bike one day, when I got cut off by a woman in her Subaru. Cut off is a polite term, I have the feeling if she ran me over, the resulting jostle would do nothing but trigger a need to get her shocks checked next inspection. The audacity and recklessness of her endangering my life in transit to what I can guess is just another short, banal episode of her empty life was so infuriating I flipped off the polite chip, something I do so rarely, the gears of rudeness were rusty and lumbering.
Now a normal person, with limited time and an instinct to inflict some damage and then be done with it, would probably travel down a few well-worn choices of vocabulary: the B-word (could also be ‘dumb broad’, useless without the ‘dumb’), the english T-word, which may prove confusing or innocuous to the elder Brooklynite, or the all-encompassing C-word, a scorched earth approach to be avoided.
Now this woman has probably been called all three of the above at some point in her life, by a range of characters with varying levels of significance; drunk guy on the street, brother, frat guy, boyfriend, priest, you get the idea. Having experienced this variety of sources, combined with our society’s tendency to look the other way at hip-hop’s casual introduction of the world into the cultural lexicon, the B-word is rather toothless at this point, equivalent to being called a ‘jerk’ in the 70s, a ‘prick’ in the 80s, or an ‘asshole’ in the 90s. Once she learned to brush off the b-word once, which I imagine all women do by thirteen or so, it gets easier every time, unless the President calls you one while addressing the nation or something of that level. The B-word is basically denoting, “You are a minor inconvenience to me, and you happen to be a female, but I don’t mean it in a misogynist way, just noting you are a girl, so I’m personalizing it a bit.”
The T-word is a little more graphic and still so anglicized I couldn’t blame the haggard driver if she responded with a look of bewilderment and indifference, unsure of the intent or proper usage, probably casting it aside as one of those slang words the kids are using these days. Still, seeing how I was in deeper Brooklyn among the actual working-class, biking into their neighborhood from gentrified Brownstone Brooklyn and casually tossing around the T-word while not being British seems a bit rich. Only appropriate usage: “What’s all this then, ya wretched, bloody (T-word)? In a rush, are we? Off to see ya mum? Tell her she left her knickers at me place last night. She’s a randy one, that one she is. Bollocks! A real twisted firestarter. Oiiiiiiii, now piss off!”
The C-word always seemed like a desperate, last resort option that never had the impact you intend it to have. I’ve never used it in any serious context for obvious reasons, it’s like pulling out a pistol at a childhood brawl, you’re upping the stakes against the will of all parties involved, turning a sportful conflict into a mediation on who invited you in the first place. You’re only going to alienate yourself and get yourself removed from upcoming Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties. Nobody ever wins by using the C-word, it’s not original, it’s tacky, and again, very anglicized so you can call British people it ad nauseum but that’s only if you’re drinking.
So after carefully considering my options, looking into her dead eyes from behind the windshield, double-checking my legs were still attached, trying to absorb as much information I could glean in which to pour into my next utterance, which turned out to be: “Watch where you’re going, you…”, pausing to assess further, “…crazy old lady!” I quickly averted my eyes back to the bike lane and rolled off, much akin to walking off while a fireball explodes behind you.
While at first glance, the insult seems very benign and childish, but I remain convinced that was the meanest, most malicious thing I could have said at that moment. The B, T, and C words are so dripping with misogynistic hate that implies a deeper personal issue with women in general, and are so commonplace it’s hard to imagine true offense with such a lazy effort. They’re also very subjective and can be co-opted and reclaimed by women like Meredith Brooks. With a cold, hard statement of facts, there is less wiggle room. If I’m right about the lady part, maybe I’m right about the other two? Makes you think.
The difference is this road menace could have been looking into the mirror later that evening, or pulled over to the side of the road minutes later, sobbing to herself, while asking, “Am I, a crazy, old, lady?” It’s easy to imagine a group of ladies around the bar proclaiming with unabashed camaraderie, “Hell yeah we’re bitches! We’re the bitchiest bitches that ever bitched.” It takes more effort to imagine a slightly more solemn round of shots while shouting, “Fuck Yeah! We’re some crazy old ladies!”, without a greater sense of deference. Surely they exist, but that comes with a certain amount of life experience and acceptance not (immediately) apparent with her character. But maybe I’m wrong, and she went home and called her closest friends and they laughed about it, went off and had a ‘crazy old lady’ party that night, with Golden Girl wigs and bifocals and dentures on dildos, et cetera.
Now this isn’t about woman-hating or making fun of people are aging. We all age, some faster than others, and my mom is a woman, so I am pardoning myself of any generalizing or accusations that this has anything to do with a global viewpoint, but I wanted to be mean to this person who had put my life in harm’s way and I had to work with what I had when I had it.
So I chose the route of preying on the existential anxieties of this thirty-something woman, perhaps not exactly the classy alternative to pseudonyms for vaginas, but I had to say something. Sure, I could have attacked her driving skills or lack thereof, her rusted Subaru, her inability to pay attention to her surroundings, her casual obliviousness to traffic signage, but where’s the fun in that? She’ll never forget the time she got called the big COL. Unless she’s having a senior moment.