James Lileks
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Everyone feels underappreciated now and then, but I really think my efforts to avoid knocking people into the afterlife deserve more gratitude than they’ve gotten.

But we always think we should get a pat on the back when we don’t run someone over, right? Right. Human nature. But you be the judge.

Guy on a bike: He’s going the wrong way down a one-way street. I don’t want to hit him — I’m just peculiar that way — and I honk as a means of informing him that he is in error and should mend his ways.

For this I get a rude gesture, accompanied by a pistoning action to indicate vigorous, repeated application of the sentiment.

It’s possible he had lost four fingers in an accident down at the mill and was just trying to play rock-paper-scissors.

It’s possible that I honked too long. Not a short, instructive toot, but two judgmental seconds that made him defensive: “OK, I may be going the wrong way down the street with an air of casual entitlement, but you took one hand off the wheel to honk, and that’s not exactly making safety Job One, is it now?”

So we’ll call that one a draw.

But half an hour later there was a fellow ambling across the street, unconcerned that the light had changed and a torrent of metal was headed his way. I provided a heads-up beep so he could hasten his way to the safety of the curb, and I was rewarded with the same lone digit.

And he slowed down, too. Perhaps walking and flipping simultaneously took too much processing power.

I fully admit that my honks were not entirely philanthropic. In both cases, I was peeved: Could you follow the law, if it’s not too much of a personal style-cramper? I’d do some soul-searching here, but after relating the stories to some friends, everyone had an driving incident where they’d done the proper thing, and got double-thrusting birds in return.

From this we can only conclude one of two things.

1. The flippers are saying something rather stark: “The social contract’s null and void, pal. I’ll do what I like, and if you have to hit the brakes so hard the interior of your car looks like an airplane cabin after a window breaks, it’s no skin off my nose.”

2. The flippers actually mean something else: “You’re quite right to correct me. I’ve ironically repurposed this gesture as a sign of brusque affection. Thank you for not hitting me and taking the skin off my nose.”

Let’s all believe in the second choice. Think of it as the next evolution of Minnesota Nice.