The car in front of me has a bumper sticker which looks approximately like this:
to which my immediate, almost reflexive response is:
Once I recover my breath, dab at the moist corners of my eyes with a hanky and cry ‘Mercy!’ a few times, I realise that the lights are green. We roll forward a few metres and they change again.
‘Parachuting,’ I mutter admiringly, and allow myself a brief visit to a far-off stage, where a supermodel is presenting me with the award for Put-Down of the Century.
‘Certainly, it’s a bit early,’ she is saying, ‘but with ninety-five years to go we just couldn’t imagine anyone topping this.’ With a demur little get-out-of-here wave, I step forward.
‘Never,’ continues the supermodel, waving the little statuette expansively just beyond my reach, ‘has such pithy cruelty been achieved so quickly from such a position of safety,’ she raves. I pause. The audience is beginning to look edgy. I reach for the statue, thinking to retrieve the situation with a short, magnanimous speech on the subject of the responsible use of wit.
The supermodel, however, can’t be stopped. ‘I mean, think about it,’ she enthuses, to a now silent room. ‘Someone out there has toiled to make that bumper sticker, choosing the exact words that inspired this driver to make it his small message of hope to the world, and then pow! Pulverised in a second by the acid Larkin wit.’
People are leaving now. ‘Listen,’ I try to say, ‘can I just …’
But the band begin to play me off, a big blaring brass section made up entirely of car horns.
The light is green again. I quickly change lanes, so at the next red light the sticker car and I are side by side. I roll down my window.
‘Nice sticker,’ I call out. The young man in sunglasses turns his head very slightly towards me, his face blank. ‘Your bumper sticker,’ I say weakly, suddenly wishing I hadn’t done this. ‘It’s really nice. Really.’ I point to his rear bumper as an aid to comprehension. He looks over his shoulder, then back at me. The lights go green. He pulls away. I force out a jolly two-thumbs up, then drive on in a cold sweat. I may be humiliated, I think, but my conscience is clear.
I pass him again a few streets later. He gives me the finger.