I hate to be picky, but…

September 8, 1999

Warning: This column contains graphic images of graphic people doing graphic things, and is not intended for the graphically squeamish or those who are easily offended by overuse of the word “graphic.”


Why do some people believe that when they are in their cars they are entirely shut off from the rest of the world, free to pursue activities that one traditionally would not want to be on display to the general public? And I’m not talking about people with Secret Service fantasies who’ve had their windows tinted dark gray – I’m talking about the guy in the minivan cruising past the Maine Mall two weeks ago with his window rolled halfway down and his finger jammed halfway up his nose.

“Sure, go for it, buddy,” my wife said as we started to pass the minivan. “We’re not here and we can’t see you. You’re all alone. Yeah, that’s right. You go right ahead. Don’t mind us.” Then, with a particularly violent flourish, he wriggled his pinkie, which, at its current rate of excavation, would make contact with his brain in five seconds – unless, of course, it first located the roll of quarters apparently lost in the recesses of his left nostril. Diane and I simultaneously screamed in disgust as we passed the picker. Miraculously, ten minutes later we were able to enjoy our Chinese lunch specials.

It wasn’t the first time that Di and I, either together or separately, had witnessed such a vile act of public digital nasal drilling perpetrated in a motor vehicle. I find it hard to believe that the culprits are exhibitionists; no one wants to be seen with a finger stuffed up his nose, especially if it’s his own finger. So what is it, then – this wanton flagellation of good taste, disregard of public mores and, quite possibly, deviation of the septum?

The answer, I believe, lies in the uniquely American love affair with the automobile. We love buying them, we love driving them, we love being seen driving them, even when we have no particular place to go. We are obsessed with cars, and make them extensions of ourselves, hanging ornaments from the rearview mirrors and adorning them with bumper stickers that express our views, although Don’t like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT may not qualify as an actual view.

In short, some of us have become a tad too comfortable in our cars, and treat them like our homes, where private self-explorations are better suited. Thus, we have people buzzing along the highways and byways of America, in the cities and in the country, north and south, east and west, Roto-Rootering their sinus cavities, de-waxing their ear canals and, in general, doing a lot of things best left to a certified dermatologist. And those of us who prefer to leave such activities to the privacy of quarters that don’t require an oil change every 5,000 miles get to watch. Lucky us.

While the nose-miner in the minivan was blatant about his transgression, many people try to be tricky about it. They’ll place a tissue on their nose – as if they’re actually using it – and then perform a full frontal lobotomy via their sinuses. Or they’ll cup their chin with a hand, and occasionally let a digit go foraging to the north. Or they’ll scratch the outside of their nostril until they think no one’s looking, then…well, you’ve seen it.

As revolted as we are by public self-boring, we nonetheless watch. In horror, yes, but we still watch. While screaming in disgust, yes, but we still watch. While placing bets, yes, but we still watch. It must be the Passing-a-Car-Accident Syndrome, where we know it isn’t decent to stare – but we do.

So to all of you – and you know who you are – who have gone drilling for an artesian well up your nose while driving in your car in plain view of pedestrians and other drivers, do my wife and me a favor: save it for the bathroom. Either that or tint your windows.

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