Standing at the rental counter my palms are so slick that my car keys slip to the cracked linoleum with a clatter. I debate whether to leave them there, but the girl waiting on us pauses in the middle of her spiel and levels a pointed look at me. A moment passes. “You need to get those,” she says, and in her urban brogue I’m not sure it’s a question.
“Oh,” I say, as if I hadn’t noticed. I squat down to retrieve them and wipe my palms on my pant legs, feeling super-white and un-cool. “Sorry about that,” I say upon resurfacing.
Mine is a sweat of trepidation, because I don’t know the answer to her insurance question, which she’s just about to ask my partner and me. “You have the option of purchasing insurance for an extra $30,” she says, in accordance with prophecy. Her pen is poised at the appropriate item on the rental truck contract, and my eyes are focused way past that. I don’t even have a basis upon which to form an answer. Insurance? I frown like a monkey tasting a Rubik’s Cube, and the world slows to a dull smudge as my mind diverts every resource toward this one monumental problem.
The other questions–the size of the truck we’d need, how long we’d need it–are easily answered. I knew what I was going to say before I woke up this morning. But I hadn’t anticipated the insurance question. And it’s a philosophical question, isn’t it? Questions of quantity require little thought. There is but one right response, and I’m the only one who knows it. But insurance requires a deep understanding of myself and of my potential, as well as an instinctual understanding of the world around me. What are the chances that I may meet with peril? Will my reactions be quick enough? Or will I invite disaster through a string of bad decisions? Is there a flaw in my understanding of the world that cumulatively guides me toward the glistening beak of chaos? Or perhaps none of that is true, but the flaw in my character is one that will cause me to purchase insurance needlessly.
I don’t know which is worse.
Should we get insurance? The question seems unfinished somehow, like something has been left out. Of course I’d heard her ask the question of everyone else, and it didn’t seem to be much cause for consternation then. But I was watching like I was sitting in front of the television enjoying a show about a truck rental agency that would never bear on my life. Maybe this is a test of how closely I was watching then, and the real question–the whole question–is: What are my insurance requirements relative to the insurance requirements of other people?
I remember now that the scrappy couple had discussed the question, and decided against it in less than ten seconds. Maybe it’s that much of a no-brainer. But they were both wearing overalls, and I would never do that. Perhaps they had learned to embrace their reckless natures. The glitter-like metallic blooms on their chests suggested that these were creatures who welded their own furniture. But then again, they were about the same age as I, so maybe I’d be at equal risk, regardless of temperament.
The older black couple in polyester track suits opted for insurance the way a soul lost in the desert might opt for a snow cone. “Most definitely, give us all you got!” Because neither of them had any other sort of coverage of their own. Their story couldn’t be more different from mine. In fact, my coverage is so redundant that certain parts of my insurance statement are covered in the case of loss or injury.
So no insurance for me.
The gay, sandy-haired action duo in their checkered racing shorts (still dark with perspiration) fought about the question between themselves. He was so sure they should need it that it was almost a morality issue, whereas he found the idea patently offensive. The counter girl left them in the middle of their debate to help us, and that’s when the world went into motion again.
I wipe at the sweat forming on my brow. “I’m not really crying,” I explain to her as I blink my eyes through the salt sting. “It just looks like I am. Huh!” My voice-cracking puberty laugh should infuse the moment with some much-needed levity, but she’s looking less than entertained.
If I were the only human then there would be no right and no wrong. My way would be The Way, merely by the scarcity of alternate ways. Indeed, it’s only as competitors and adversaries are introduced to the picture that I must worry about whether my way is the wise way, whether my way makes sense in the greater scheme of things. Therefore I must possess the ability to see myself in contrast to other people, with their arbitrary, inscrutable viewpoints. In that light, how could I ever expect to come out ahead?
While I’m still worrying at the specifics of the greater question, my partner steps up and takes the decision for the both of us.
And that, really, is the only correct answer.