Sunday, November 15, 2009

License to Lie

I was very lucky with my first car. It was a 1990 Ford Probe GT. All white with silver rims, pop-up headlights, and a spoiler. I loved that damn car. Even if my friends insisted that its name was a clue to the fact that it had been designed to look like a penis, I didn’t care. I saw nothing wiener-esque about it. My enthusiasm was matched by my mother’s tender trepidation. She said a prayer every time I peeled off in it. In fact, I loved that car so much that I couldn’t wait till I got my license to drive it.

It was November, two achingly long months before my birthday. My parents were out of town. My sister was at a sleepover with that girl who smelled like glue and whose older brother had tried to make love to a "My Size Barbie" doll. I was on the phone attempting to finalize the night’s plans with my friend Darren. My parents hated Darren. He was the antithesis of all their hard work to mold me into a responsible young adult. The number one thing Darren and I had in common was trouble. Planning it, causing it, and laughing at its results. In each other we knew we had found a partner for the most outlandish transgressions we could ever dream up. And we were always trying to top each other with how bad we could get. A bizarre bond, for sure… but it was a bond nonetheless.

Darren was explaining to me that if Allyson was going to go with us to the movies that night then she was going to need a ride. This was a problem. The rest of us were all walking distance from the theatre. I asked if his mom could drive but he said she was passed out in a drunken stupor on their recliner. Asking our other friend Mike’s mom was out of the question. She was still a little upset with me for accidentally lighting part of her deck on fire.

But Allyson had to go. Just thinking about her made it feel like my heart had burst open and covered my insides in warm, unrequited love. I fixated on the keys to the Probe hanging next to the garage door. No risk seems that daunting when going head to head with the sexual frustration of a teenager. I let Darren trail off and boldly replied: “I’ll drive.”
     “Yeah you will…” Darren laughed.
     “I’m serious. If her mom asks, tell her to say I have my license.”
     “For real?” Darren asked, “For real real?”
     “For real real.” I assured him.
Later that night, Darren and I stood in my garage staring at the car. We were joined by Mike. He lived on the street behind me and just sort of showed up one afternoon. He always seemed so damn happy to just be hanging out with Darren and I that neither one of us really had the heart to tell him to go.
I was a mess of nerves. Thoughts ricocheted inside my skull moving too fast for me to hold onto one. Darren was smiling ear to ear. Of course he was. He practically had a P.H.D. in juvenile delinquency and to him this was small potatoes. Mike on the other hand looked more nervous than I was. He was staring at me, begging me with his eyes to back out of it. I could sense him praying that I didn’t have the backbone to go through with this.
     “Three kids in a car like this?” He scoffed, “Why don’t we just spray paint ‘Pull Us Over’ on the side of it?!”
     “Maybe we can make one of us look older.” I suggested, “Like a parent or something. They’ll think I’m driving with my permit.”
     “You are driving with your permit dumbass.” Darren reminded me.
     “Well you’re the tallest.” Mike pointed at him.
     “And you’re retarded. Who’s going to tell when I’m sitting down?”
     “You do look the oldest.” I chimed in.
     “Not old enough.” Darren shook his head.
     “We could draw a mustache on him.” Mike laughed. He was only kidding, but my brain instantly went to work.

Ten minutes later Darren had a magic marker mustache, a clip-on tie, and a baseball cap that proclaimed him to be the “World’s #1 Dad”.  Of course this was a red flag to anyone paying any kind of attention to us and we would have been better off just going as we were. But in our minds we had just made ourselves invisible.

We piled into the car: Mike in the back, Darren on the passenger’s side, and me behind the wheel. I put the key in the ignition, started the engine, flipped up the lights, and hit the garage door opener. We all stared straight ahead as our neighborhood came into view. “Are we really doing this?” Mike asked. I responded by sliding that beautiful beast into drive.

As I pulled out of my driveway I tried telling myself that this was no different than any of the other times I’d practiced with the real world’s #1 dad sitting next to me. If I remembered the rules of the road, kept my hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, and paid attention we were all going to survive this. As I navigated through the mercifully quiet streets of my neighborhood I had to admit… this felt pretty good.

We were a little more than halfway to Allyson’s house when Mike pointed from the backseat. “Isn’t that Allyson’s mom’s car?” We all started straight ahead at the green Lincoln Continental in front of us.
     “Shut up, man. I’m scared enough as it is.” I replied.
     “No, I’m serious. Look! That’s her hat.” Allyson’s mom always left her big straw gardening hat on top of the backseat. The same straw gardening hat the three of us were now staring at.
     “Oh, balls!” Darren started to sink down in his seat.
     “Relax,” I told him, “she doesn’t know I don’t have my license.”
     “Yeah?! Well she sure as shit knows I don’t have a mustache!” I grabbed his shirt and forced him to sit up straight. I reminded him it looked worse if we were trying to hide.
     “She’s turning!” Mike cried out happily at the sight of her blinking turn signal. But our joy was short lived as we realized this meant we were going to pull up right next to her at the intersection.
     “Don’t make eye contact.” I ordered as we slowly crawled to a stop to the right of her. We all stared straight ahead, occasionally sneaking peeks with our peripheral vision. I watched the red light, trying to change its color with the power of my mind. My knuckles tightened around the wheel and I got that really bizarre and uncomfortable feeling of my armpits moistening up.

Now I knew that Allyson’s mom had only seen Darren and I once before. Which may have been advantageous except that we had been hanging from a tree in her front lawn and such an image may have been difficult to forget. But hey, wait a second… this wasn’t Darren sitting next to me. It was the World’s #1 Dad! I remembered something Darren had told me about shoplifting. You have to look calm. You have to walk with a purpose. If you carry yourself like nothing’s wrong and every move is intentional, no one will question you. I thought perhaps the same idea applied here. If I believed I was a licensed driver in no danger of being punished then that’s what she would see. I took a few deep breaths and finally the light switched. “At least we know she won’t be at the house.” Mike said as we left her behind us. An excellent point. And exactly the kind of encouragement I needed to complete this voyage.

But a funny thing happened. I got so lost in playing the part of Chris Schrader, licensed driver that I stopped paying attention to incidental things… like the speed limit. I was on such a high after getting past that last obstacle that I began to feel a little too indestructible. Darren, meanwhile, was frantically searching through the glove box for the hand wipes I’d promised him were there. But apparently I was not only a criminal, but a liar as well. “I don’t see ‘em.” He panicked.
     “They’re there.” I assured him.
     “How am I gonna get this shit off my face, dude?” I looked into the glove box and pointed to the corner I’d remembered seeing them in. As he dug further I lifted up the partition between our seats and searched in there. My attention was effectively removed from the road.
     “Chris!” Mike suddenly cried out. I looked up expecting to see a deer, another car, or maybe a small child dead ahead. But there was nothing.
     “What the hell?” I asked.
     “Stop sign.” He pointed behind us, “You went right through it.” And just in case I had any doubt at all that Mike was telling the truth, red and blue lights suddenly lit up in my rearview mirror. As I pulled over, Mike put his hands over his face. Darren kept repeating the word “No” over and over again. I thought about how strange it was to actually recognize that you’re living the moment where your life is over. A moment so big it could never feel real. Suddenly you’re in the front row of a theatre watching all of this happen to someone else because there’s no way it’s actually happening to you. The repercussions of this adventure would be endless and my mind was playing out every last one of them. I thought of Allyson. I thought how I’d just destroyed any chance we had of being together. I was going to be grounded indefinitely and it was foolish to expect her to wait for my sentence to be lifted. There would be another guy waiting to pick up the ball I’d dropped. Probably one with a license.
     “Should I make a run for it?” Darren asked, clutching the door handle. I slowly turned to him with an “are you fucking kidding me?” scowl on my face.
     “Take that hat off.” I said grabbing it from him. I shook my head and looked out my window. I could hear Mike crying behind me. The police radio seemed to be broadcasting the sounds of our impending doom. I looked into my side mirror and saw the door of the cop car open up and the police officer set his foot on the ground. “This is it,” I thought to myself, “enjoy your last few seconds of freedom.”

Then we heard something. Mike was the first to turn his head, followed by Darren and myself almost simultaneously. It was an engine. And it wasn’t mine. It was getting louder. Headlights appeared behind the squad car. A black Camaro shot past us, easily doing eighty in a twenty-five. The cop pulled his foot back into the car, slammed the door shut, and squealed off after the Camaro. We all sat there in stunned silence for a moment. I slowly looked to Darren who stared back at me with his smeared marker mustache and all I could do was laugh. He started laughing too. We looked back at Mike who still had tears in his eyes. He erupted in laughter as well.

Now this is the point where a rational person decides “screw this” and heads home. But there’s nothing rational about love. So on we went, pressing our good luck and pissing in the face of danger.

As we turned onto Allyson’s street I lowered the volume on the radio, the way you always do when you’re trying to concentrate. There were few street lights and everything looked different in the dark. I knew her house was on the right side of the street and slowed down to carefully examine each one.

And then suddenly, there it was: a home with one downstairs light on and Allyson’s silhouette standing in front of it. I slid the car into park and smiled. Allyson stepped out the front door, her golden hair glowing under the porch light. She seemed to glide, not walk, over her front lawn and towards the car. Darren got out to let her in the front seat.

     She sat down next to me, raised an eyebrow, and slowly shook her head. “What?” I asked.
     “I think my mom was right about you.” She smiled.
     “What does that mean?” I asked defensively. She didn’t give me an answer. Instead she just grabbed my hand and gave it the faintest of squeezes. I slid the car back into drive and as I punched the accelerator she asked:
     “Why does Darren have a mustache?”


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