One of my finest memories is running from the cops.
Not too far from Hickory, maybe a few miles, was a rest stop that had a supply room. The supply room was always open, and they had toilet paper. Lots and lots of toilet paper. Me and some friends drove out there, got the toilet paper, and then drove back into town, armed with the toilet paper and the strict need to roll something with it. Rolling yards. Tossing toilet paper over trees and buildings. Blatant vandalism. For no other reason than to do blatant vandalism. That was what we were going to do. But we couldn’t think of whose yard to roll, so we decided to roll downtown Hickory, North Carolina. And we did.
We saw the cops before they saw us.
We ran, down back alleys and around buildings. Our cars were parked blocks away, and we dropped the toilet paper. We knew that they couldn’t accuse us of doing anything wrong if they didn’t have proof. We also knew that we could hide or run better than they could. I was on foot by myself (we split up so we wouldn’t all get caught at once) and I saw a few friends driving past. I jumped in front of their car and they opened the back door. We drove off, me in the back seat, my head down. Where we going, I asked. A party, they said. You want to come? Where, I asked. Charlotte, they said. About 45 minutes away. Sure, I said. Don’t you have school tomorrow, they asked. Yeah, I said. So?
I was seventeen and alive.
Now I’m 34, and I’m in front of my students. I ask them what they did over the weekend.
I went coning, one said.
It’s when you drive up to a drive-through, ask for an ice-cream cone, and when they give it to you, you grab the ice-cream instead of the cone and you eat the cone.
I wish I could properly explain what I felt at that moment. It was as if someone made me stupider. More stupid.
It’s on Youtube, she said.
I am not impressed with the youth. The youth do not impress me.
Part of being a kid is making insanely stupid mistakes. A kid should constantly be getting into trouble. Because, when they grow up, they can’t do that anymore. It is physically and mentally impossible. Am I saying that a teenager or a young college student should break laws? Get arrest? Make horrible, horrible mistakes? Well, yeah. I think I am. And I sort of don’t want to qualify this. I honestly think that, when you are young, you should experiment with the amazing possibilities of this world.
Ok, ok, fine. No, I am not advocating for young people to do the stupid stuff I did, and no, I don’t want my future children to do the stupid stuff I did. However, let’s be realistic. My children will do stupid stuff. And they’ll be fine. How do I know that? Because I did stupid stuff and I’m fine. And, I’ll be real-real with you. I’d rather my son get a ticket for skateboarding or get arrested for rolling a person’s yard than for him to come home and say, “I went coning.” If he did that, it would break my heart and I would feel like a complete failure.
I will say that they should be smart. They should not hurt themselves, or other people. But, seriously, I can’t and won’t take back all the times I ran from the cops, all the times I talked to my young girlfriend until the sun came up on a roof top, all the times I got kicked out of restaurants and department stores, all the times I functioned in school on zero sleep, all the times I called out to my crappy part-time job to play video games all night, all the times I skipped school and sat in the back of a comic shop and read comics all day, all the times I had sex in the back of my car in a parking lot in a town that I didn’t know the name of, all the times I went to parties I wasn’t invited to, all the times I made out with some jock’s girlfriend.
Coning? Planking? These pale in comparison. I thought teenagers are supposed to be cool? In the depths of my soul, I feel that this is a real crisis.
I wouldn’t take any of that stuff back because I wake up at six in the morning now and go to bed at ten. You want to know what’s exciting to me? Mopping the floor. Filling up the dishwasher. I figured out how to sync my Google calendar to my phone yesterday. I’m going to buy vinyl records this weekend. That’s my life now. I’ve earned quiet. I enjoy it. But I don’t mind my peaceful, quiet life because I made noise, son. I made plenty of noise and I’m over it.