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Story of Honku

I started writing Honku after a near-death egg-throwing experience around Christmas, 2001. At the time, I lived in a one bedroom apartment on a quintessential, historic Brooklyn street lined by trees and brownstones with big front stoops. Thanks to defects in traffic signal timing and the brains of New York City motorists, there had always been a lot of horn honking in front of my apartment. But this one day it got to be too much.

Some jerk in a crappy blue sedan had decided to let loose with a continuous, non-stop blast directly beneath my window. I'd never heard anything quite like it. As the honk persisted I felt my chest tighten and my reptilian fight-or-flight response kick in to action. I looked outside to see what the problem was. Not only was there no emergency - the traffic light in front of him was red!

I'd had enough. I thought to myself, if this guy is still on the horn in the amount of time it takes me to go the fridge, get a carton of eggs and open my window, he's getting it on the windshield. And I want him to know it was me.

My first egg hit his trunk and the second hit the top of his car with a satisfying thud that managed to break the sustained honk. But I had determined that egg-on-windshield was the just sentence. By the time the third yolk met glass, he was out of his car and he was going ballistic.

A Brooklynite of indeterminate ethnicity - stocky, balding, fortyish - he gestured towards my third floor window shouting, "I'm coming back, motherfucker! I'm gonna kill you! I know where you live!" His sincerity was terrifying. The traffic in front of him finally began to move, but he didn't care. He just stood there screaming while the cars behind him went berserk and started blasting their horns at him.

He drove off and, thankfully, I never heard from him again. But the incident left me shaken. For the next couple of days I couldn't concentrate. I found myself milling about my apartment taking stock of household items that would make good weapons. This ball peen hammer? No, wait, the bread knife! I went to bed with a big, steel monkey wrench near my pillow.

I realized that I had snapped. I had crossed a line. I had soaked up so much honking and road rage that I had become the honking. I had become the rage. Though my righteous, egg-flinging fury felt sweet and just, my angry response escalated the cycle of frustration and honk-violence. It only made things worse. But I couldn't take it anymore. I had to do something. So, a few weeks later, after another particularly rotten day of horn blasting, I sat down and came up with my first batch of honku -- haiku poems about honking.

Haiku, as its usually written in America, consists of three lines written in a 5-7-5 format, totaling 17 syllables. Traditionally, a good haiku makes a simple and direct observation of something in nature that leads to a Zen "Aha!" moment and a larger observation about the world as a whole. This is the moment my first Honku captured:

You from New Jersey
honking in front of my house
in your SUV

I printed up copies and went out late one night taping them to lampposts up and down my street. Writing and posting my first honku felt great. Though I didn't think it would do much of anything to solve the problem, it gave me a strange sort of power over the honkers. Now, whenever I encountered an obnoxious driver, instead of muttering wrathfully to myself, I'd try to observe the scene dispassionately and construct a honku about it. It turned moments of annoyance into flashes of clarity, perspective and amusement. I'd seemingly invented a new form of automotive anger management. So, every couple weeks I'd sneak out around midnight and honk back in my own quiet way:

Oh, forget Enron
the problem around here is
all the damn honking

Smoking cigarettes
blasting Hot97
futilely honking

Terrorism is
a Lincoln Continental
leaning on the horn

On the evening of my third lamppost publishing run, a woman walking her dog approached and asked excitedly if I was the "Bard of Clinton Street." When I told her I was, she extended her hand and said, "I love your work." As I made my way down the street I noticed that a handful of new honku had appeared on the lampposts, written by others. And they were good!

Oh, Jeezus Chrysler
what's all the damned honking Ford?
please shut the truck up!

They say vibrations
effect energetic self
honk therefore I am

What keeps me from just
pelting your honking auto
with rotting garbage?

In the next few weeks dozens of honku spontaneously appeared around the neighborhood. I created the Honku.org web site. Our local City Council Member took up the issue. Even the people who hated Honku and thought all us complainers should move to Connecticut were posting their diatribes in 5-7-5. Soon, cops from the 76th Precinct were handing out "Please stop honking" flyers and $125 tickets to offenders.

Then I hit the elite, liberal media trifecta. Almost simultaneously, the story of honku appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times and on NPR. From there, it rapidly spread to newspapers in far-off lands like England, Sweden, and Minnesota. For the first time in years, 6:00 a.m. passed without my sleep being shattered by cabs honking their way into Manhattan. Honku was a movement! Not only did it soothe my own unique form of Brooklyn road rage, it seemed to be encouraging change as well.

Lord knows, I'm not the only one who could use some soothing change. America is going bonkers in the driver's seat. Collectively, we'll spend 3.9 billion hours stalled in traffic next year. Rush "hour" is now an all-day affair. Our vehicles are getting bigger and our parking spots fewer. Fuel prices are at historic highs, while in the most congested cities - Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington D.C. - gridlocked drivers idle away as much as a hundred gallons a year each. The costs of maintaining our autocentric American lifestyle are becoming unbearable in all sorts of ways. One of those costs is road rage. It's endemic. Have you heard the one about the retired bookkeeper who shot and killed a guy on a Massachusetts interstate with a razor-tipped hunting arrow fired from a crossbow? It's getting medieval out there.

Meanwhile, the automotive dreamscape we see on TV grows ever further from the day-to-day reality of schlepping the kids to soccer practice. No wonder we're all so pissed off. The ads promise the freedom of a rugged SUV romping atop pristine mountains. You shelled out $45,000 for a piece of that, not to spend all day limping through traffic to get to the lousy job you need to pay off your expensive vehicle. The only thing standing between you and the promise of unlimited power, freedom and mobility is that moron blocking the intersection. So, what do you do? You do the same thing the guy behind you is doing: You blast your horn. In your car, the honker is your only voice, the only form of self-expression you've got.

That is, until now! Not only does my book give you something to read during the 30 to 60 hours it's estimated you'll be stuck in traffic next year, it provides you with a new creative outlet. The next time someone steals your parking spot, cuts you off on the freeway, or flips you the bird for no good reason, don't just sit and stew (though, that's better than pulling out your crossbow). Write a Honku. Separate yourself from the moment of rage, observe the thing that's making your blood boil, and crystallize the experience into a pithy little 5-7-5 gem. It sounds crazy. But it worked for me.

Copyright 2003 Aaron Naparstek
Excerpted from Honku: The Zen Antidote to Road Rage