Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2002 / 8 Teves, 5763

Barry Lank

Barry Lank
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Consumer Reports

Illegal to be a nasty, cankerous nut? | There are more and more things that I'm not supposed to think are funny. But I'm relatively new to the East Coast, and I still find rude comments "quaint." So I busted up at a recent news story in which a bus driver got arrested in New Jersey after allegedly threatening to take all his passengers "to the Taliban."

Mind you, it was the sort of laugh that has "What an idiot!" coughed out along with it. But there's something kind of sad here as well: This arrest could mean it's now illegal to be a nasty, cankerous nut.

And frankly, that's the only retirement plan I had.

To review the story: Robert Mickens, a 37-year-old man from Brooklyn, was driving a Greyhound bus from Philadelphia to New York when he got lost. After enough passengers asked where he was going, he got frustrated and allegedly did what a lot of bus drivers from New York do when you ask them pretty much anything - blurted out the most horrible thing he could think of.

That supposedly turned out to be, "I'm taking you to the Taliban," but it could have been any of 131,071 other remarks that are preprogrammed into a transportation worker's Unpleasant Comment Databank. This is the same device, by the way, that parents use when they tell their kids they're taking them to the vet to have them put to sleep. "Yep, if a little boy or girl doesn't learn to skate with the other children, the health department says we have to have them put down." Horrible, yes. But notice how quiet the car gets after that.

Some of the passengers said they knew the bus driver was joking. (These were probably other bus drivers from New York.) But other people called 9-1-1. Presently, 18 patrol cars converged on the bus and Mickens was arrested at gunpoint. He's appearing in court this week in Marlboro Township, which I guess is near where he was driving the bus - thus, around where passengers believed the Taliban was hiding. So let me assure you that I do not think the Taliban have converged upon Marlboro Township. They're not hiding out at the Pathmark Pharmacy on Hwy. 9, nor does Joy's Pooch Parlor on North Main Street feature a bearded and weirdly preachy group of pet shampooers.

Still, for allegedly hinting otherwise, this bus driver could face up to six months in jail. That's why this incident infringes upon a cherished dream of mine: that if all else fails (and it's already looking like it), I could always turn into a belligerent freak.

Is that not my right?

When I turn 60, could I not get a job at a carnival and drive away customers because I smirk and drool when I tell them to sit down in the ride? Does the Constitution not guarantee that every man may hang around the wharf and spend his declining years pulling out his own rotted teeth, writing obscene remarks on the margins of library books and showing children his glass eye?

I ask you, my fellow Americans: Does not the Sixth Amendment or the Twentieth or the one about presidential disability and succession entitle me to sit on my balcony wearing my old Boy Scout uniform and telling passersby that I can see all the filthy things they've been doing to my mailbox? Some amendment or another surely allows me to stagger into a high school dance, cackle evilly and yell, "You're all going to look like me someday!"

Otherwise, where will we be?

America owes its life and freedom to people who, in the normal course of things, you'd probably want to avoid - Gen. George Patton, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and President John Adams. So we cannot let fear and conformity deny us our next generation of frustrated cranks. They give America its color, its vigor and an estimated 85.7 percent of its Internet postings. They teach at our colleges, they gather our aluminum cans and they write our newspaper columns. They are our ginks, our bedlamites, our crackpots, our screwballs and the guardians of our souls.

And if you're still not convinced, then I'll take this bus to Evesham Township and hand you over to the Viet Cong. That's where they all went, you know.

JWR contributor Barry Lank is an editorial writer and humor columnist based at the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, NJ. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Barry Lank