James J. Kilpatrick

Not long ago a writer who shall be nameless was vacationing in Sarasota, Fla. He and his wife had rented a nicely furnished apartment on Siesta Key. It came with parking space No. 702 in the first-floor garage. Thereby hangs this tale.

On the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 8, the happy couple returned from a shopping excursion to find that their very own space was occupied. Yes! Where there should have been a welcoming emptiness for their rented Hyundai, there now resided a baby-blue, brand-new Taurus sedan bearing a Florida license plate. This intruder had its feet up. It was making itself at home. In their space!

This was plainly a trespass. Space 702 was clearly labeled. A sign warned that illegally parked vehicles would be removed. Removed! The writer put his humiliated Hyundai in gear and grumped off to a public parking area 50 yards away. Then he retreated to Apartment 702, there to nurse his wounded ego. What to do? He would draft a Stiff Note! He would tuck it under the windshield wiper! Yes! But what to say?

He fell into a brown study. Or at least a light tan study. He began to ruminate. Words, he reflected, as he had reflected so many times before, words have properties all their own. Words have weight. Every writer recognizes heavy words, pudgy words, gossamer words. Words have texture -- smooth words, rough words, words of silk, words of tweed. He wanted words with a barbed hook.

He began to sort through his collection of Adjectives of Hostile Reaction. The tray contained a nice variety. What, precisely, were his own feelings? At the very least, he was annoyed. He was irritated. He was vexed. He was put out. None of them quite sufficed. They all seemed wrong. Was he outraged? No, he was merely irked.

He searched on. He was irate, he was angry, he was probably bilious. (He must look that one up.) He was galled, riled, testy, uptight. He was waxing wroth. Was he merely piqued? It was a girly word. What then? Was he infuriated? Was the insult insufferable? Words have edges, and most of these were too sharp. In truth, he was mildly pissed off, a verb that was good enough for King James' translators when they went to work on 1 Kings 14:10, not to mention 2 Kings 18:27, or 1 Samuel 25:22, or for that matter Isaiah 36:12. (The things an 8-year-old boy will learn at a YMCA summer camp!)

At last he drafted a Stiff Note beginning, "You have parked ILLEGALLY!! Kindly remove your vehicle IMMEDIATELY!!" Then he struck the "kindly." At this point he was still fuming. He went down to the garage. Baby Blue had not budged. Indeed, the intruder seemed to be humming. He tucked his Stiff Note under the windshield wiper and stumped off to bed.

James J. Kilpatrick

James J. Kilpatrick has been reporter, editor, columnist, commentator, and briefly an adjunct professor of journalism.

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