In my virginal, pre-ass-chew state, I was thick-headedly oblivious to the danger, my mind racing past that minor detail. Now, like a guard dog’s bite, the ass-chew snaps me out of it and back to sensibility.
Five summers ago, on vacation with my wife and two daughters, I was driving on Route 95 north out of New Jersey, heading onto the George Washington Bridge. As you head toward the bridge you have to choose a lane for either the upper or lower tier. I ended up choosing the one with the biggest traffic jam.
Heroically I tried to undo my bad decision by crossing a flat median strip and joining the zooming traffic heading to the other tier. Before I could complete the gambit, a New Jersey state policeman sped up behind me. From where, I will never know.
The asking for the license part went as per usual, and then he instructed me to get out and join him at the front of the car. With my back to the car, he looked around me and through the windshield, surveying the people within. He then turned his attention back to me. I stood dumbly in the sweltering heat, cars and trucks loudly passing. Tall and bulky, dressed in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt and disheveled shorts, I was the picture of what my daughter would call the TV tourist. The officer, smartly dressed, trim and steely, was six inches shorter. He looked up at me grimly. Is that your family in there?
As my family and all passing traffic looked on at this ludicrous Laurel and Hardy, cop-and-tourist sight, he asked me, Do you want the ticket or the ass-chew?
Immediately, I wanted to burst out laughing at this absurd Hobson’s choice. Fortunately, something deep within me knew that laughing loudly in the face of this policeman was not a good idea. Sheepishly, I replied, I guess I’ll take the ass-chew.
He started walking further down the road, out of earshot of the car. Dutifully I followed behind. He faced me down, lunging his chin to within a centimeter of my face, and began to bellow from deep in his rock-hard gut. The decibel level was never again to decrease.
You make me sick. I can’t stand to even be in your presence. You disgust me. A person like you doesn’t deserve to have children. How can you call yourself a father when you would risk the lives of your family to pull a stunt like that? Do you see those trucks passing by? Look at them!
Only fucking scum like you would like to see your wife and children chewed up under the wheels of one of those trucks.
You are without a doubt the stupidest fucking idiot I have ever seen. Is there only shit in that big fat head of yours? Are you ever going to try something like that again?
Now, get out of my sight before I have to be sick.
Yes, officer. Thank you.
Hangdog and in shock, I plodded back to the car. What the hell was that? my wife asked.
You’re not going to believe this, but I’ve thought about that ass-chew many times since then. Most of all, I’ve thought about it when I’ve been about to do something reckless just to save a little time. In my virginal, pre-ass-chew state, I was thick-headedly oblivious to the danger, my mind racing past that minor detail. Now, like a guard dog’s bite, the ass-chew snaps me out of it and back to sensibility.
Perhaps the highway policeman didn’t need to be quite so demeaning. I don’t advocate, for example, the complete stripping down of the dignity of military recruits. If one obliterates their self-worth, it seems possible that they may not value the lives of others. That may well be the point, but it shouldn’t be. My Lai and Oradour should tell us that.
In my case, though, I greatly appreciated that ass-chew. It was compassionate. I didn’t have to pay a ticket. In fact, there was no lasting punishment. Only instant, utter, and complete rehabilitation with a sense of humor, I might add. I am ever grateful. It’s just possible that policeman has saved my life on a few occasions more, when his ass-chew reverberated at the right moment.
In many of the would-be traditions of the New Age, and in distorted versions of ancient traditions, there is a fear of negativity and sharpness, of anything that is cutting, of the utterance of no. Affirmation is often not only the cornerstone but the be-all and end-all.
Perhaps the fear stems from the obvious abusiveness and violence that negativity can develop into. But if our reluctance leads us to imagine that we can foster an enlightened world free of boundaries and sharp edges, our Pollyannaish efforts are doomed to failure. A world where silent dogs have no teeth and roses have no thorns is a dream born of fear.
One of the cardinal virtues of many spiritual traditions is ahimsa, Sanskrit for not-harming. The “a” means no. Sometimes we have to express it to prevent a broader harm taking place. We often ask people in uniforms to help us do that job. We may resent them for it, but they save our lives, and sometimes they give their own doing it.
Even in the storybook world of Babar, there is a general, and I bet he has to give a good ass-chew every now and then.