I'm not saying that Fred is a maniac on the road. He just has his own style of navigating a vehicle.While we live in different states, he often phones when he's out driving to catch up on the news of the day.Fred is a psychiatrist, who analyzes everyone's road rage as a mental disorder. He fails, however, to analyze himself.

When he gets stuck in traffic, he morphs from the mild-mannered person I know into a traffic controller. What makes our exchange tolerable is that "style" overrides "rage" if one can call someone who goes a little nuts in a car, stylish.

Fred, by nature, is a very stylish man. Under normal circumstances, he handles himself with panache, and is delightfully quirky and unconventional -- traits I find utterly endearing. The exception is when he's out for a spin, and the road turns into his personal combat zone.

But here's where Fred gets cute. While he is in the car and we're chatting away, he suddenly interrupts our conversation with a rhetorical question, not directed at me at all but to the person in the car in front of him.

One morning, when the driver had his turn signal on and didn't budge, Fred suddenly swerved off the beaten path of chatty discourse, and shouted:

"And when is this move scheduled to take place?"

Before I understood that he was operating on two levels: conversing with me, and addressing the other driver, I was confused.

"Are you talking to me?" I asked, the first time this happened, "What scheduled move? I'm not relocating."

"No," he clarified. "I switched gears. The guy in front of me signaled that he's turning left, but then decided not to make the turn. He's obviously suffering from pathologicambivalence. I asked him if he's a moron or mostly a menace. I'm not sure if he's intellectually impaired, or if it's simply a character flaw."

"But, he can't hear you."

"That's the whole idea. It's my way of letting off steam -- my brand of travel therapy. Road rehabilitation, if you will. This person has a borderline personality disorder and regards the highway as his playground -- clearly, a carryover from his childhood, when he was deprived of social interaction. Typical only-child syndrome."

"So, in other words, this has nothing to do with me. I'm not part of this conversation at all?"

"Correct," Fred said. "You're completely irrelevant."

"I feel better already," I said.

"Just think of yourself as my traveling companion, who needs to understand that I'm dealing with a bunch of automotive abominations. These narcissistic deviants need to be reckoned with. They're clogging the highways of America and need meds"

But, when Fred and I were engaged in banter the other day, and he suddenly screamed: "Are you kidding me, Ma'am?" my feathers got ruffled."

"Kidding about what?" I felt slightly indignant.

"Not you, the other woman."

"What other woman."

"The one in the left lane driving the beat-up Chevy. She's obviously on her way to some function because she's wearing cat ears and a painted cat face. The one who won't let me make a pass ... I mean, pass her -- a sociopath, who suffers from delusions of grandeur. You know the type."

"I do?"

"Of course. They're everywhere. These women like to provoke. They lead you on, and just when you think it's OK to pass, they speed up and won't let you in. That's typical female hysterics, always looking for attention."

"You're not being sexist, are you?" I asked. "So, I shouldn't take it personally?"

"You're not becoming paranoid, are you?" he asked.

But just yesterday, when Fred shouted: "Hey, are you asleep?" I took umbrage.

"How could I be asleep? I'm talking with you."

"You've got to stop being reactive. I'm merely indulging in an analytic moment with an anonymous driver, who looks like he fell asleep at the wheel. He's been lingering at the green light for so long I'm growing a beard. A clear case of narcolepsy."

"Oh," I said. "For a moment, I thought you were scolding."

"I would never scold you. That would be aggressive. Though I'll admit you're a little neurotic, I assume you know how to handle yourself in traffic. You strike me as a woman who can maneuver a car with confidence and consideration for her fellow driver -- who knows when to honk, and when to give the right of way.When it comes to transportation etiquette, I'd say, you're practically perfect... like I am."

Road rage aside, Fred makes life a very colorful ride.

Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com