It’s rush hour: You’re at a red light, and the cars in front, next to and behind you are killing you slowly with their exhaust.
Your mother is laughing, talking about her new Zumba class on an “important” work call that commands silence from the rest of the people in the car. The only thing there is to do is listen to your iPod, maybe watch a video on your phone or turn around to make the most demented face possible at your sister.
All of these things were done at the previous red light, however, and now you’re starting to crave freedom from the hot seat in your mother’s used hybrid SUV. You roll the windows down more, wanting to feel the soft California wind on your face. The taste of LA curdles down your throat as you deeply inhale. You regret the decision to even breathe at all, forgetting that the fumes of Los Angeles closely resemble that of a landfill full of dead fish, palm trees and oil pumps.
Your mind gets curious, wondering if anyone in the other cars is smelling the same odor. Your attention sets on the man in the car next to you. He’s asleep…or dead. But most likely asleep. He looks so peaceful. So pleasant. You start to get worried. He shouldn’t be asleep in the driver’s seat. You gaze more intently at him, hoping your focus will wake him up.
Suddenly his head snaps up like a cat suddenly aware of a new string. You’re happy he’s awake, so you smile, feeling as though your intent stares magically had something to do with it. However, you realize he is glaring back at you. You stop smiling.
The air gets tense.
Do you look away, or do you stand your ground and glare at him till your eyes burn? You test him. You give him a small head nod, hoping he’s the friendly sort. He doesn’t smile back. In fact, he gives you the eye squint. It’s on, the red-light stare-down of your life. The moment you’ve been waiting for!
Your thoughts race, telling you to look away. The last time you’ve felt this awkward was about seven minutes ago when you waved at the woman on the crosswalk because you thought she was waving at you. She wasn’t. You looked stupid.
Right now, however, you will not look stupid. You will not look weak! This is your time!
You feel a sneeze coming on. Your face scrunches, trying to force the sneeze back down. He looks disgusted with you. The sneeze will not retreat, so you hold your eyelids against your eyebrows, making sure you keep eye contact with this man while you sneeze. Success.
In your peripherals, you can see the light has turned green. The cars start moving up. His lane is backed up, so he can’t move. As your mother takes the foot off of the brake, you keep eye contact, turning your head like an owl.
You give him a devilish grin; he has to look ahead. You have won! You sit back, bathing in the feeling of success.
The next light has turned red, so you lean your head against the window and start to close your eyes. The car in the next lane pulls up beside you. It’s him again. This time his rat-looking, popadoodle, wide-eyed, manic dog sticks its head out the window and stares you down, burning you with its eyes. You realize dogs can keep their eyes open much longer than humans.
It’s over. Defeat.