It’s probably happened to you: a flat tire on a lonely country road in the middle of the night, with only a single farmhouse off in the distance. And someone took the jack out of your trunk. Just another sign that the universe hates you. Still.

You get out of your car and start trudging up the road. Muttering. Thinking about what else will go wrong. Like the farmer in that house, for example. He’s probably asleep. Or just had a fight with his wife. Plus he’s probably armed. Probably turn out to be the meanest guy in the county. The one people avoid on the street. That’s your luck in life, after all.

You have argument after argument with him as you walk through the grass, wet with dew or probably animal pee, and so much for those new jeans. Even the moon seems to glare down at you.

Meanwhile, a guy in a house has just finished a game of Rummy with his wife. She won this time, but who cares. Married thirty years and it’s still fun to play cards together. Up the stairs toward bed and there’s a knock at the door. He goes downstairs, opens the door …

… and you yell “Oh just keep your @#$%!%%! jack!”


We’re all prone to “borrow jacks,” to expect the worst from life and even act in ways that make the worst more likely. We rehearse arguments in our minds, then act them out … even when the other person had no intention of arguing with us. Once we start arguing, though, they’re likely to respond in kind. This, of course, proves we were right all along.

Except it doesn’t. The old adage that “it takes two to fight” isn’t true. It takes one … and someone else who sees no option but to defend him/herself.

We do it as individuals and we do it as nations. The Bush administration borrowed jacks like few in our history, sometimes to the point of even refusing to take “Yes” for an answer. The neoconservative worldview was a bunker mentality. Everything was an “existential threat,” ironic language from the richest, most powerful nation on earth. The Bush Doctrine of preemption meant nothing more than “hit them back first.” Other nations have done the same from time to time. The result is always ugly.


This morning I was driving home after dropping Springoff the Fourth at carpool, and I was borrowing jacks. I had arguments with a half-dozen Imaginary People over a handful of Oh So Important Issues. Except, as is so often the case, there was no there there.

Fortunately I didn’t get a flat tire. Fortunate for me, and for whomever might have stopped to help. Assuming anyone would have. Which they wouldn’t. Because the universe hates me that way. Or not.