Insults can come in a multitude of forms and are spoken for a wide variety of reasons. They can be subtle, or they can even come in the form of backhanded compliments, which seem to me the worst of all. Most of us give and receive insults, even if we are only joking and serve them up to people we really love and admire. Insults are quite often irritating and can invoke emotions of anger, resentment, embarrassment, humiliation, or sadness. But there are rare occasions when an insult is so perfectly timed and delivered, so incredibly appropriate, that it sticks with us for a long time and is worth sharing as a self-deprecating anecdote. Here’s mine.
I worked in a public library for fifteen years in a small town in Georgia. One day the library director and I and another employee took a trip to Atlanta to talk with a vendor about a software package we were considering purchasing for the library. We were all in my car, and I was driving. On the way back from Atlanta, we were traveling through a very rural area, largely made up of dairy farms — lots of trees, pastures, and barns. The speed limit was 55, and I was cruising along at about 70 or so.
I felt a powerful wave of muscle contractions in my lower abdomen when I saw the flashing lights in my rear-view mirror and pulled over to the grassy shoulder of the state road. The car was the familiar blue and gray style used by the Georgia State Patrol in the late 1980s. I had met a few state patrol officers, and for the most part, they were tall men with wide shoulders and stern faces. I am not a big guy, so even their presence is intimidating and makes me feel like I’m guilty even if I haven’t done a thing wrong. To my surprise, the person that I saw stepping out of the patrol car had a more curvaceous body form and shoulder-length blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. It was my first encounter with a female state patrol officer, and when she reached my rolled-down window, I was thrown off-guard again by how attractive she was. I was in my late twenties, and she looked to be only a few years older than I.
Of course, she asked for my license, politely verified the pronunciation of my last name, and then she began the conversation that I will probably never forget.
Officer: “So, where are you headed in such a hurry today, Mr. _________?”
Me: “We’ve been in Atlanta all day and are heading back to work.”
Officer: “I see. And where do you work, Mr. _________?”
Me: “At the public library.”
Officer, after an outburst of laughter: “Oh my goodness, Mr. __________, this is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to you all year!”
Me, smiling and slightly hanging my head: “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
Officer, in a playful patronizing tone: “You promise me you’re going to slow it down for me the rest of the way back to the library, Mr. ______________?”
Officer: “Alright, Mr. ____________, you all have a good afternoon and be careful, okay?”
Me, sheepishly: “Yes mam. Thank you.”
This was my first and only warning for speeding. I am now in my mid-fifties and, since I began driving when I was fifteen, I have never been issued a speeding citation or another warning. When I say “absolutely,” I mean it.