WHILE LIVING in another state, I used to see this woman driving around in a red sports car with vanity license plates that read: 2COOL.
With her tinted aviator shades and frosted hair, I thought she looked, well, fairly cool. But not too cool, or even 2COOL, although I tend to be somewhat conservative about these things.
What intrigued me is how the woman arrived at the conclusion that she was too cool. Did someone tell her she was too cool? Was she at a party, for instance, doing a hilarious send-up of Madonna when one of her friends, giddy from a couple of screwdrivers, cried out: "Margie (or whatever her name was), you are too cool?"
Or maybe it had come to her in a fit of self-revelation, one of those mystical episodes where you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and it suddenly dawns on you that, by God, you are just too cool.
In any event, it was apparently not enough for this woman to know she was too cool.
Others had to know, too, especially those who passed her on the highway. Which is evidently why she requested that the Motor Vehicle Administration issue her vanity plates bearing the legend 2COOL.
Of course, all this was idle speculation, since I didn't know the woman and had no way of determining the degree to which narcissism consumed her, although it seemed like a pretty severe case.
Then one day I was eating a hamburger at this place called the Beef Barn ("Real Food for Real People at Real Low Prices") when who should pull up but the woman with the red sports car.
At first I was tempted to walk up to her and get to the bottom of why she had vanity plates that said 2COOL.
But there was something intimidating about her. I have often felt intimidated in the presence of the ultra-hip -- the David Lynchs, the John Waters, the Sinead O'Connors, that sort of crowd -- and this woman made me feel the same way.
I was afraid I'd blurt out something like: "Uh, excuse me, I, uh, see that you . . . uh, that is, I see that your car has, uh, one of those whatchamacallit, um, vanity . . . "
Well. You can't carry on like that in a public place, stammering and slobbering at a total stranger.
That's when people call the police. And pretty soon you've got patrol cars screaming up to the curb and onlookers gathering as this ruddy-faced cop jabs his finger in your chest and bellows: "Why were you bothering this woman?"
Next thing you know, you're waiting in the back of the patrol car as the cops radio around to see if anyone walked off a work detail at one of the area prisons.
Hey, I don't need that. So I never asked why she thought she was too cool. In fact, to this day, I've never asked anyone with vanity plates why he or she feels compelled to . . .
No, I take that back. I did ask someone about his vanity plates once. This was when I found myself in the frightening position of being on assignment in Daytona Beach, Fla., during Spring Break.
Running on the beach one day, I happened upon a shiny blue Corvette (local ordinances permit driving and parking on the hard-packed beach. Hey, it's Florida.)
The Corvette bore vanity plates that said EDSVETTE. There was a man leaning against the hood of the car along with three friends. Something made the one man stand out, perhaps because it was 7:30 in the morning and he was furiously chugging a Schlitz Tall Boy.
What the hell, I thought. This is the person to clear this up.
"Are you Ed?" I asked.
The guy smiled unevenly and hoisted his beer and shouted: "WOOOOOO! AWRIIIIGHT, PARTYYYY! GO WOLVERINES!" Which I took to mean "yes."
"Is this your Vette?" I continued.
"WOOOOO! AWRIIIIGHT! BABY'S GOT A 450 UNDER THE HOOD, DUDE! BLOW THE DOORS OFF ANYTHING ON THIS BEACH . . ." Which seemed like another answer in the affirmative.
So there you had it. This was Ed. And this was his Vette.
That's why you buy vanity plates.