It was a Saturday and I was having a busy day, but even so I took the time to get rear-ended.

It was a Saturday and I was having a busy day, but even so I took the time to get rear-ended.

The experience reminded me of the office building in Sheffield, England, which has a giant indoor slide. The slide shoots people on the third floor down to the first in seven seconds, and seven seconds is roughly how long it took me to plunge from whatever upper level I was on into the abyss of being involved in a minor accident.

Or rather, the abyss of having to do something about the minor accident. Few calamities in workaday life -- I say "workaday" to distinguish between other, more truly terrible calamities -- are as annoying as the fender bender.

Especially for the person not at fault. You may argue that the person who ran into my rear bumper has it worse, since he not only must deal with the aftermath but also must pay for it some way or other, but I say that he at least has the psychological comfort of being able to trace events to their logical conclusion: He was distracted while driving, he didn't notice that the lights had changed, and he smacked into somebody's bumper. It makes perfect sense, while I, on the other hand, was abruptly booted off the trajectory of my day without so much as a warning shot, and for several seconds nothing made any sense at all.

"Shoot!" I said, or rather, didn't say. (What I said referenced a duck. You never know what will come out of your mouth at a moment when nothing makes sense.) I pulled into an empty gravel lot beside the street, put the car in park and climbed out to look at the damage. I'd been on my way to a haircut, and as I walked to the back of the car I seemed to see the haircut flapping its wings as it flew into the realm of improbable.

My bumper, who had pulled into the lot behind me, came over as I -- the bumpee -- examined the scratches and dents on my car.

"I'm so sorry," he said. He was sorry; I could see that.

"So what was it -- texting? Talking? Playing air guitar?" I wanted to say, but that seemed harsh. If anything's pleasant about getting rear-ended, it's the certain, luxurious knowledge that you are not guilty.

Regrettably, however, the guiltlessness of the bumpee has not been sufficiently rewarded to date. Although I have reason to believe that everything will work out in this case, it's still been a pain in the neck -- calling my bumper, calling insurance agents, waiting to hear from my bumper, waiting to hear from insurance agents and so on. And since we all agree that the person who was rear-ended -- the bumpee -- is not at fault, I propose that the bumper be required to take immediate and complete responsibility for both vehicles.

If both cars must be moved from the scene, that's the task of the bumper. If the bumpee needs a rental car so that she can finally get these bangs out of her eyes, it shall be brought to her on the spot. Nothing that falls under the general heading of "pain in the neck" shall be the job of the bumpee, who can take off for her haircut without more than five minutes' delay.

These rules not yet being in place, we both produced pens. I realized later that much of the information I requested and laboriously wrote down wasn't necessary -- to say I asked for "favorite color" and "name of dog" is to not exaggerate all that much -- but I also noted, more by accident than design, details that were in fact useful. Neither of us thought to call the police and indeed, it seemed unnecessary. I have since been told you should always call the police, but I have also been told that you should always start tic-tac-toe with an X in the upper left corner and that a cook should always sift the flour. I put my X's in the center, I never sift, and I don't call a police officer unless I need one.

When we parted, I put the car in gear and circled around to the curb cut.

While I waited to pull out into traffic, I thought how easily a person can become a bumper. Very easily, is how. A moment's inattention and your goose is cooked.

I drove to my haircut very very carefully.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer: E-mail her at mbartlett @thisweeknews.com.

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