Distracted Driving – Hidden Building Cost – No Recovery

N-3 Mind and Body

SETTING It’s a dark and stormy night. A lull in the storm offers a chance for a man (his real name is Husband) to leave the sprawling building, where his office is located; and from which he is the last to exit. In front of the sprawling building is a more sprawling parking lot, now empty except for his car. The vast pavement is punctuated by one tall light pole. From the top of the pole a single high-lumen security lamp is attached by tiny screws to a long horizontal boom which is in turn attached by tiny bolts near the top. Electricity is provided to the bulb by a wire concealed in a conduit which, running from ground to lamp, is attached to the side of the pole by more tiny screws.

Husband walks across the parking lot. Passing the light pole he is bathed in its star-white glow. From the entry-door of his office building to his designated parking spot is one hundred and eighty three steps. He knows. He counts them every morning and every night. He can’t help it. As an accountant for a demanding government agency, he counts for a living. It bleeds over into the rest of his life.

He counts, “181, 182, 183.” He’s at the car door. 1-2-3 on keypad. Door-lock releases. Open door, slide in, seat belt secure, start-button pushed, engine on, auto-dark-sensing headlights on. A pleasant voice from the radio speaker says, “iPhone synced.” It is Siri, and she’s ready. Even though his iPhone will remain in his left inside coat pocket it will stay connected to Siri, who will assist his communications through the car’s onboard computer system, and dashboard screen. Foot on brake, car in ‘drive,’ foot off brake. Through the car speakers, a pleasant, melodic tone sounds, signifying telephone activity.

Narrator – Husband and Wife (her real name) are building a new house. Husband has difficulty keeping up with the ‘count’ of the things Wife wants. He has no trouble counting the things he wants.

Sirii – “Your wife has sent you a text message. Shall I read it?”

Husband – “Read it.”

Siri –  ‘The builder says he can enlarge my closet if we delete the Man-Cave. Thoughts?’ Then adds “Do you wish to send a response?”

Husband – Out loud, “Oh yes! There are thoughts. There are definitely many thoughts.”

Narrator – There is actually only one thought :  Keep the Man Cave.

Siri – “I didn’t get what you said, there.”

Narrator – The car, in gear, is slowly rolling, unnoticed by Husband.

Husband – [for sensitive readers] – Gracious, mercy, me, yes I do wish to send a response. [reality] – He snarls aloud, “Oh hell, yeah!”

Siri – voice free of inflection “Okay…you’re saying, ‘Oh hell yeah.’ Ready to send it?”

Narrator – Husband’s job keeps him barely balanced on the narrow fence of frustration. He no longer has the ability to gradually increase his sense of agitation. He is quick to fall off the fence in a manner Wife and co-workers  often describe as a “crotch landing.” Instantly exasperated, he exhales a throaty vocalization, like a long combination of z’s and h’s and s’s, beginning as a quiet hiss, and progressing to a loud, hissing, snarling, growl.

Husband – “zzhssszhshzzzzhshZZZhhSSSHhhZZZSSSSHHHHHSSSSSS!”

Siri – Upon hearing a sound ending with an S, Siri interprets ‘YES.’ “Okay, I’ll send it. Done.”

Husband – “No! DON”T send it!” But the words are unheeded, because he didn’t begin his sentence with, “Hey, Siri.” It didn’t matter, though, because Siri is too quick to act. So is Wife quick to respond.

Siri – “Your wife has sent you a text message. Shall I read it?”

Narrator – The car is still rolling, unperceived, gradually gaining speed in the empty parking lot…punctuated by a single light pole… signalling its presence with a star-white glow…to Husband…who is not receiving the signal, because all his concentration is focussed on the dashboard screen.

Siri – Still waiting for a response to “Shall I read it?”

Husband – Catches his breath and tries to calm down, to get back on the ‘fence,’ though he knows that Siri just sent an unintended message affirming his Wife’s desire for a larger closet at the expense of his one chance to have a Man-Cave like all the other guys. He sighs, “Okay. Go ahead.”

Siri – “I’m not sure what you said, there.”

Husband – Feeling a little frustrated, “I said yeah.”

Siri – “I’m having trouble understanding.”

HusbandInstant crotch landing. “zzhssszhshzzzzhshZZZhhSSSHhhZZZSSSSHHHHHSSSSSS!

Siri – “Okay, I’ll read it… ‘Thank you, baby. I love you so much.’… Do you wish to send a text response?”

Husband – Trying to think what to say, what to text, how to salvage the man-cave, while staring at ‘Thank you baby I love you so much’ on the dashboard screen… of a moving car… in which Husband is missing the ‘moving’ part.

Light Pole – Motionless, and still casting a star-white glow.

Car – Meets light pole.

Narrator – The motion of the slow moving automobile is interrupted by a collision with the fixed-in-place light pole. Actually, ‘collision’ is too strong a word, for in fact, neither car bumper nor pole sustains any damage at all. However, the pole absorbs the greater part of the impact energy, which manifests in a sudden jolting motion that, at the top of the pole, magnifies to a violent lurch.

Husband – He is startled by the impact, but quickly processes that, on a wreck-scale, this is teensy. Even so, he also knows that this distraction will cost precious seconds which should be dedicated to salvaging his ability to be like the other guys. Thinking both thoughts at once, he shouts, “I will not lose my effing* man-cave to an effing* wreck!

Siri – flatly –  “Okay…you’re saying, ‘I will not lose my effing man-cave to an effing wreck.’ Ready to send it?”

Narrator – Just at that moment, a bright flash of lightning adds its own white glare to the star-white glow of the light pole lamp. Husband blinks. In that precious second that contains Husband’s flinch, thunder explodes against the sides of the car. The rumble is so loud that Husband’s next words, replete with expletives, are muddled beyond recognition to human ears. But Siri, not being human, hears something she recognizes.

Siri – “Okay, I’ll send it… Done.”

Husband – “Nooooooooo!” He stares at the dash screen in disbelief, stunned, unable to think what should be next. He doesn’t have to. Technology is thinking for him.

Siri – “Your wife has sent you a text message. Shall I read it?”

Narrator – While Husband is trying to form a thought, a guess as to what this latest wifely text message might say – and he has a pretty good idea, because she well knows how to return profanities for expletives – his thoughts are distracted by the sound of another impact. The tiny screws holding the lamp to the boom, and the tiny bolts connecting the boom to the pole-top, and the rest of the tiny screws fastening the conduit to the side of the pole, all fail at the same time, their structural limits exceeded by the sudden car-to-pole jolt, a wallop sufficient to cause the lamp to dangle free, the boom to tear away, and the conduit to unzip; all in a single cascade with a single landing point, the very center of the roof of Husband’s car.

Husband – “&%$ #%@&^% $%$#@# $%^%$$$!!”

Siri – “I didn’t get what you said, there.”

Husband – “$%^ %$$$!!”

Siri – “Sorry. I missed that.”

Narrator – Husband makes every effort to get back on the fence, and just stops to breath for a few seconds. While he gathers control of himself, he checks the current situation. There’s something new in the car. Immediately above his right ear, hanging from the ceiling, is the security lamp, now casting its star-white glow throughout the car’s interior. The power line extends outside, through a large hole, part of a dent pointing downward, funnel-like, into the car. At any other point in Husband’s life, this would be a moment to savor, for he controls his composure completely. He can get through this. He just knows it.

Stormy Night – Lightning sears the air in a silent flash.

Husband – This time, calm and unflinching, he peacefully mutters aloud, “At least it’s not raining.”

Stormy Night – Thunder explodes like a bomb. A torrent of rain from the black sky inundates all beneath, including the  funnel-like hole in the car roof; said funnel gathering, focusing, and issuing gallons of rainwater onto Husband’s head.

Husband – Attempting to escape the deluge inside his car, he discovers that the force of the lamp-boom-conduit collapse has deformed the cab of his car to the point that his door is jammed shut. He won’t try the opposite door for fear of electrocution. Lightning flashes… Thunder rolls… Water Pours… Wife angers… Husband boils over… Instant crotch landing.

Siri – “Your wife’s text message is waiting. Shall I read it?”

Husband – “zzhssszhshzzzzhshZZZhhSSSHhhZZZSSSSHHHHHSSSSSS!

Siri – “Okay I’ll read it” She begins to repeat the message.

Stormy Night – An explosion of thunder shatters the far reaches of the outer darkness, shaking all of existence. It rattles the ground so hard that for a second it seems to rain up. The car shakes. Husband’s teeth jounce in his jaws. His eyes vibrate so hard that focus is momentarily lost. Even the star-white lamp shakes and sways from the long, unrelenting, rolling boil of storm tossed fury.

Narrator – As Siri recites Wife’s message, only a word or two cuts through the storm’s din, all unrepeatable here. Husband hardly hears any of the message, but in his heart he knows exactly what his wife has said.

So, the storm passes. Husband calls 911 for help. Remarkably everyone comes, right away – police officers in cars and on motorcycles, the chief of police, an ambulance; two companies of firefighters, because they heard there might be an electrical fire; two rescue crews with ‘jaws of life, because they heard he was trapped; two tow trucks, competitors who monitor police-band radio frequencies, because they heard a car needs towing; paramedics, a power company shift manager, three power company equipment managers; two power company boom trucks, each with a crew a three. From his own office building come two custodians, two security officers, the night-shift superintendent, and the emergency response manager. In addition, every rubbernecking passer-by, and every nearby neighbor rushes the scene to see the excitement. To a person –  men, women, teens, and children – no one can stop laughing.

After the storm, after the rescue is completed, after the threat is determined to be neutralized, after the fun is over, after the laughter stops (it never actually stops, but, eventually, people have to go home), after everyone is gone, each department-head in turn presents Husband with an invoice, a tally for the cost of his deliverance.

Husband – Wonders if he can count this as a construction cost. He can’t.

The Car – After being untangled and pulled away from the pole, starts without hesitation.

Husband – Making the one hour drive home, though reluctant to go there, is tired, drenched, and humiliated. He does all he can to put his emotions in check, and he does it well. He is calm, almost serene. As he travels along the dark highway, he lets his imagination create the next scenario of text messages. It is important to be even-handed where Wife’s desires are concerned, but he just can’t help it. He works hard. He is sure he deserves what the other guys have. He wants his man-cave.

Imagination Husband – Hey Siri.

Imagination Siri – Yes?

Imagination Husband – Send Builder a text. (The builder’s name is Builder. Really.)

Imagination Siri – Alright. What do you want it to say?

Imagination Husband – Don’t enlarge Wife’s closet. Keep the man-cave.

Imagination Siri – She’s not going to like that.

Imagination Husband – I don’t care what she likes. Send it!

Imagination Siri – I’m sorry. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Narrator – Maybe it was the mental trauma of the previous engagement with the light pole, and accompanying Emergency Service invoices; or the certainty that Wife would demand a payment in blood for the argument over her larger closet, an argument presented by an erroneously sent text message which seemed to be calling her an “effing* wreck!” But, probably,  it was all of the above. The point here is that the distinct line between reality and imagination blurred, until Husband was unaware that his inner thoughts were being spoken out loud.

Husband (Reality Husband) – “I don’t care Siri. Send it.”

Reality Siri – no response.

Husband – “Are you listening? Hey Siri!”

Siri – “Yes?”

Husband – “I said to say to leave the effing* closet alone. I’m keeping my effing* room.”

Siri – Reality Siri, not being a party to Husband’s silent imaginings, which include a text to Builder, processes this last statement as it applies to the most recent text message on record. Siri’s response, according to protocol, is to prepare to send a text message to Wife. Siri adds, ‘There’ll be hell to pay!’ Then, without waiting for any additional response, continues with, “Okay, you’re saying ‘leave the effing closet alone. I’m keeping my effing room.’ Shall I send it?”

Husband – Though mystified at Siri’s unexpected ‘hell to pay’ comment, he does two things. 1) He begins to count how many hells he will have to pay. 2)  He stares hard at Siri’s typewritten words on the dashboard screen trying to decide if this is really happening or if he’s still making it up. It requires all his concentration.

Dark Highway – Still dark

Light Pole by Dark Highway – Stands still and heroically receives the impact from Husband’s car.

Narrator – Husband is uninjured but a few inescapable events follow. Air bag deploys. Lightning flashes. Thunder rolls. Rain falls. Driver is drenched, again.

HusbandInstant crotch landing. “zzhssszhshzzzzhshZZZhhSSSHhhZZZSSSSHHHHHSSSSSS!”

Siri – “Okay, I’ll send it… Done.”


*expletives have been substituted


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