Thursday, November 20, 2003

Ride of the Valkyries

My daughter goes to a school that is quite successful when it comes to putting on United Nations day pageants emphasizing solidarity and diversity: "We are all one, we are all different, different is good." It even seems to do a good job at providing the children with an education, as far as I can tell--we are, after all, talking about a four year old. However, its one major failing and my own personal calvary is the car pool line. The first thing I have noticed about car pool, and perhaps this is not unique to my daughter's school, is that it makes practically no difference whether you arrive when school gets out or if you arrive fifteen minutes later. To get a good place, you have to get there at least fifteen minutes early and then it still seems to take forever.

To be fair they have a logistical challenge, given that the upper and lower school share the same car pool lane. On the one hand, you have a bunch of lollygagging adolescents who aren't exactly in a hurry to take a nose-dive down their coolness rating by hopping into the minivan or SUV with Mom. On the other, you have the lower school children who all have numbers and who are more or less efficiently shepherded into their parents' cars by attending teachers. As far as I could observe and this had been corroborated by another mother, cutting in line by lower school parents was permissible. Maybe I missed an important school communique on the matter; it's entirely possible.

Nevertheless, I was absolutely unprepared to be startled out of my radio-listening carpool stupor by the wrath of Brunhild, the German hausfrau Valkyrie this afternoon. She flew out of her car, shook her fist and shouted at me "You haff cut in line. This is not good. You haff cut in line. Now they will not have your child's number. You are slowing down the process."

It was the un-Americaness of her reaction that took me off guard. I have had plenty of people cut in line or do those sort of little annoying things to me, but I think the typical American way of dealing with it is to just steam about it internally and maybe one day get an ulcer or something. Of course, some Americans eventually do blow a gasket when it comes to driving etiquette issues and then they pop off the offending individual with a gun. But that's an extreme. Regardless of what they do about it, for an American, that sort of offense is almost always personal and has little to do with society at large. We care about when people are f*cking with Number One, not so much when they are f*cking with "the process." And back to Number One, how did it make me feel? Well, confused actually. I hadn't meant to be rude. I simply didn't know she was a lower school parent and that apparently, even if she hadn't been, that cutting in line was not allowed in the afternoon. And then I felt extremely sheepish to have somebody so blatantly point out that I was in the wrong. In fact I was starting to strongly identify with those lollygagging adolescents on the curb. I felt fifteen again, hearing some voice of authority query "Do you know what you did?" which is exactly the sort of unfair question that puts you off guard, when you are fifteen and may be f*cking up on a fairly regular basis. You aren't exactly sure "what you did" refers to and you sure as heck don't want to admit to the stuff they haven't gotten around to finding out.

My first reaction was to be rather defensive and snappish with her. Maybe I had been been in the wrong, but there was no need for her get so worked up about it. Get a life, lady. But I had to be fair, seeing the situation from her perspective I would have been irritated too. Of course, if I was going to have a confrontation I might not have made the assumption that the other person knew the rules that they were breaking or, even if I did, I might have tried to shame them into good behavior with a line like "Excuse me, you may not have realized, but you just cut in line..." or maybe that's just wimpy. I decided that I was going to try and disarm the Valkyrie. How long would she be able to sustain her anger against an unsatisfying target? I simply admitted "I'm sorry. I didn't realize that what I did was against the rules. In fact I'm not sure I understand the rules here. Thank you for pointing it out. I won't do it again." This seemed to work because she huffed and puffed a little, then threw her hands in the air and got back into the car.

Of course she was right. They had been able to read her carpool number so her child was quickly brought to her; whereas they completely overlooked me for a while. As she pulled away long before before I did, she couldn't resist one last parting shot "You see. They could not read your child's number." Poetic justice had been served. The rogue element slowing down the process had been brought back into the fold. She who had broken the rules had received her just due.

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