This essay originally appeared in The Hook.
The man storms into the tranquil waiting room of Jiffy Lube where everyone is drinking coffee and quietly checking vehicular maintenance off to-do lists. He is a blur of Polo and chinos, rage pumping off his tanned skin like fever. “Who the hell do those anti-war stickers belong to?”
I glance around nervously. Next to the decals of our children’s colleges are the following declarations: “Support Our Troops– Bring Them Home” and “Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam.”
Hoo boy. Generally I avoid face-to-face confrontation the way other people duck intense physical pain. Everyone is pretending to be reading. (Everyone that is, except for my chronically oblivious husband. He really is reading.)
Nobody says anything. My pulse begins tapping Morse code against my wrists. Run, it says. Run!
Something, I’m not sure what, compels me to stand up for the aged and bubbled convictions on my fender. “I guess that would be us.”
He spins around. And lets loose with a fusillade of contempt. He’s not obviously insane (he doesn’t have those crazy eyes), but he could definitely pass. “What the hell do you know about Iraq?” he demands.
Enough to know that it’s pretty ironic that this discussion is taking place during an oil change, I think. Out loud I reach for Southern decorum and smile. “Excuse me?”
“You people make me sick!”
My husband lowers his magazine. (Finally.) Despite asking for it, I feel blindsided by the man’s hatred. My hands begin shaking. A tidal wave of coffee sloshes over the rim of my cup. I have to put it down.
“What gives you the right to drive around with those things on your car?” he badgers.
“The First Amendment,” my spouse answers calmly.
“You ought to be ashamed!” the guy shouts. “Have you been over there?”
“What does that have to do with opposing the war?” I ask, hands clasped. Tightly.
“You should be thanking all the soldiers who are fighting for your freedom!”
“What are you talking about?” I sputter. “Those poor kids aren’t fighting for my freedom!”
“They’re protecting you!”
“No they’re not! The Iraqis didn’t attack us on 9/11! The suicide bombers were mostly Saudis!”
“You ought to try getting your information from places other than Moveon.org and the DNC,” he sneers, nastiness coating each word.
“Like where?” I ask. “Rush Limbaugh?” I find I’m actually starting to warm to the fight.
So, it appears, is my husband. When Bush’s smirk conveniently appears on the courtesy TV in the corner, my spouse points. “We get our information from him, that idiot with the IQ of 50.”
The man is incensed by the disrespect. “The president went to Yale!”
“Yeah, his daddy bought him an Ivy League degree,” my spouse shoots back. “Big deal.”
The guy snorts. “How about Kerry! You like him? He put himself up for his own Medal of Freedom!” The Swiftboat-ism is followed by, “If you haven’t been over to Iraq, you don’t understand their culture. Have you been to Iraq?”
“No,” I say. Then I stupidly add, “Have you?”
“Yes, I have!”
“So understanding their culture means we should bomb them?” asks my spouse.
Point! I think, getting over my temporary oratorical misstep.
“My son was killed over there,” the man yells.
The air gets sucked out of the room, an implosion. Everyone shifts uncomfortably, the silent observers waiting to see what happens next. My face burns.
“That’s terrible.” I whisper. “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t need your sympathy,” he swats my words. “My son killed– I mean was killed– doing something he believed in.”
“I’m glad he believed in what he was doing,” I offer quietly.
Again he waves me away and plows forward.
My husband and I do our best to disengage, but the barrage continues. I try to be understanding and make allowances. He is clearly consumed with grief and anger, I tell myself. He is another casualty. “Your son’s death– and all the others– are why we’re against the war,” I say.
He sneers something ugly. The mechanic calls him outside. I mutter a name under my breath. And I don’t feel bad.
When the door closes, the other customers express outrage at his behavior. One says his own son, a high school senior, keeps getting called by a Marine recruiter– and it’s making him nervous.
I tell him when the recruiters phoned my son, I told them not to call again. “You’ve got to be careful. As soon as they get them to enlist, the kids are stuck. And now their tours are being extended. The finish line keeps getting moved.”
Another man nods in agreement. “The only thing sure about military service is the day you sign.”
“Were you in?” I ask.
I wave towards the waiting room and the Middle East beyond. “What do you think about all this?
He shakes his head. “It’s an ongoing tragedy.”
Raskin, of Ivy, has written several Hook cover stories, including a profile of some of Charlottesville’s working poor.