T Minus 40: Resolutions

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. They don’t work. Winter is a terrible time to try to initiate change. I believe in the birthday resolution though. It’s your own personal New Year’s Day. This year the resolutions feel bigger somehow, like resolutions for the next 40 years…

This year I plan to make less plans.

To worry less. To concoct less worst case scenarios.

To consider myself before considering others.

I plan to treasure my gifts. To be proud of my accomplishments.

To trust those who have earned it and to let go of those who have betrayed it.

To forgive myself. To stop trying to fix the mistakes of the past.

I will not take love for granted.

I will fear less, though I’ll never be fearless.

I plan to finally believe the Second Agreement or at least try.

To stop caring about what other people think.

To count less.

To sing more.

To please myself and honor my partner and all the things he is.

I plan to practice yoga and patience and self respect and guitar.

I plan to write and to read and to learn.

To seek information and adventure and stories.

To relax and to listen to the lessons I have learned.

To remember that I have no control over others and that these plans are plans alone and can be written and rewritten. They do not define the life ahead they do not explain what came before. These plans are just plans and plans change every minute.

I plan to make less plans.

 

T Minus 40: Daddy

I don’t have many stories of my dad and me. I’ve spent the last 37 days trying to come up with one that doesn’t make either one of us the villain. I want to change the narrative. I don’t want the “dad” story to be one of anger or sadness or loss, but those are the themes that enter into my consciousness when I brainstorm on Daddy.

A month ago I thought I would air all of my grievances. I thought I would finally confront my anger at him. I thought I would write about the times he let me down or left me feeling forgotten and unimportant, unloved. When I picked up my pen though, paralysis overtook my hand. The emotions are still present, but I’m losing interest in the theme.

I didn’t know my father very well as an adult. After a certain point, our lives took very different paths. I spent a lot of years being angry about that. I don’t know that I handled the anger all that well, but I did my best. I think maybe he was afraid of that, of me and my anger.

I was born three weeks after my dad’s 25th birthday and merely 10 months after he married my mother. He could not have foreseen the impending dissolution of that marriage, in fact his Catholic upbringing wouldn’t allow him to conceive of such a thing. I have to believe he did the best he could.

I have a picture on my desk that fascinates me. I found it while I was gathering material for this project. It’s from before I was born. My father’s face is just barely visible through the driver’s side window of a bright red 1974 (or 5) AMC Javelin. It’s a hot car. My mother told me it was his.

My dad looks like a kid behind the wheel, a proud kid. I keep staring at the picture imagining the life he had before I was born. I bet he was fun to hang out with. I bet he worked his ass off to buy that car and I bet he washed and polished it every weekend. I imagine what the birth of his baby daughter in late 1976 meant to that life. I’m sure he was doing what he thought he was supposed to do: work, get married, have kids, get old – in that order.

I was in my mid-teens when my dad returned from his first move to Florida which he undertook a few weeks before my 14th birthday. I remember being incredibly sad and disappointed that he would miss my big day, but not as devastated as I had been when, at age 19, I received his phone call from Florida telling me that he had relocated for good. This time without so much as a goodbye.

My dad’s cousin used to throw a July 4th block party with his neighbors on Long Island. I got to go to it a couple of times. One of them stands out as a great day I spent with Daddy. I was 15, old enough for the cousins to sneak me beer, but too old to play with the kids. I was stuck in between. I had been born too early. My stepmother, Cary was busy talking with the other moms who were sitting at a nearby table keeping an eye on their young children as they ran and played in the closed street. My half brothers Bobby and Jason were young, about 5 and 3 respectively and were busy with pre-schooler activities. I had my dad to myself for a while, which was rare.

I don’t remember what we talked about or even if we talked. If we did it was likely about surfacey stuff like weather or cars. We stood by a giant pot of boiling water as he drank a Bud Light and pretended not to notice that the plastic cup I was sipping on had contraband keg beer in it. Someone had gone crabbing that morning, and they were boiling the blue crabs in batches. I think it was my dad’s turn to stir the pot.

He taught me how to pick and eat crabs that day, although mostly he pulled the meat out for me as we stood and talked to the cousins and drank our warm domestic macrobrews. One of the cousins offered to teach me how to surf. I said I’d love to learn and was excited to return for a lesson later that summer. I never saw him again.

As night fell the cousins and the neighbors set up for their massive Grucci style fireworks display at the end of the block. They had stockpiled massive amounts of illegal fireworks gathered from several road trips to Florida. They must’ve known the local cops, because no one ever busted them and the last show I’d seen put Macy’s to shame. I remembered how thrilling it had been and couldn’t wait for the excitement to begin.

When the first of the loud “blockbusters” went off, Bobby burst into tears and had to be taken inside. He was terrified of the nearby explosions. I just stood next to my dad and watched the display, a bit incredulous at the amount of fire power these people were packing, but reveling in the simple ease of my near wordless father-daughter bonding day.

The only time I ever truly talked to my dad was several years after his second move to Florida. Cary had just lost her long battle with cancer and I flew down to visit Dad for a few days. I thought I could be of some help or comfort. I wanted him to need me. It was 2000 or 2001. Bobby and Jason were still young, too young to lose their mom. Amber, my newest half-sibling, was only 6 or 7.

It was already dark when my plane landed and the kids went to bed shorty after we got back from the airport, but my father and I stayed up and talked. It was the first time ever as two adults. We talked about memories of the past and times we had shared when I was little before the other kids were born. He shared stories of his side of the family that I had never heard. We drank beer. We smoked cigarettes. I told him stories of my life, my music and my college experience. We went through hundreds of pictures. Pictures I had never seen. He went to his bedroom and came back with a men’s gold necklace that held a gold cross charm. He told me Cary had given it to him and he wanted me to have it.

I accepted the cross knowing that my status as a full-fledged agnostic would keep me from ever wearing it, but I knew it meant something to him and so I was honored to receive it.

We talked into the early hours of the morning and at some point my father got quiet for a few seconds before saying, I guess I’ve been a shitty dad, huh? 

Yeah, but it’s OK. I don’t know if I meant it or not. In that moment, I probably did.

The last time I talked to my father he told me he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I later found out that he had been diagnosed about 14 months prior to that conversation. My anger returned. Why didn’t he tell me sooner?

He promised that he would come see my house just as soon as he beat the cancer.

He asked me if I still smoked, and I told him I had quit. Good, he said. Don’t ever start again.

He asked me if I remembered the necklace and if I still had it.

Yes, I have it.

Could you send that to me?

…sure Dad, anything you want. I’ll do it today. I was angry though and I was hurt. It felt as though that was the only reason he called me, like he would’ve just died without me ever knowing. The same way he moved to Florida. The ultimate abandonment. Like the next year, one of my aunts or uncles would’ve jotted it down in a Christmas card. Merry Christmas Amy, your dad is dead.

Maybe death frightened him and he needed the necklace that his wife had given him for comfort. Maybe I was being selfish, but all I could see was that my dad had given me so little in life and then he asked for it back.

I went to my bedroom, dug out the necklace and handed it to Yves. Can you please send this to my dad? I never want to see it again.

Daddy died three months later.

T Minus 40: Blackout

For about 10 minutes, I thought I caused the Northeast Blackout of 2003.

The following is an excerpt from a larger story I’m working on detailing my adventures that day…

When I finally made it to Hudson and 11th, I stood in front of the White Horse Tavern and looked up to see the edge of my friend Kevin’s roof deck. I was certain they would be up on the roof. It was the best place to beat the heat. Kevin and his girlfriend, Alexis had tricked out the roof deck earlier that summer with lights, chairs, a table and a cooler. Everything necessary for maximum summertime enjoyment.

Kevin didn’t have a doorbell. He would often leave the downstairs door unlocked and rely on his intimidating brindle pit bull, Athena, to alert him to the presence of visitors with her substantial bark. There was only one other apartment in the building, on the floor below. I approached the building’s main door, it was locked. I knocked loudly. I didn’t hear Athena. I knew it, they’re on the roof! 

I pulled out my useless cell phone and dialed Yves to no avail. All circuits were still busy.  I crossed the street so I could get a better view of the roof. I saw movement. I shouted at the top of my lungs, Kevin! I got nothing, so I tried again Kevin! Kevin Brennan! Yves! 

People on the street thought I was nuts. Someone sitting at an outdoor table in front of the tavern yelled at me, shut the hell up! I don’t know if I was actually annoying him or if he was playing the part of pissy New Yorker.

Just give me a minute, I spat back. I know they’re up there. KEVIN…YVES!! I tried again as loud as I could (which was really loud).

About 2 seconds later I saw their faces appear over the ledge. They were all smiles and shouted down to tell me they would let me in. I turned to the beer drinking “shut up” guy and said, I told you they were up there! That wasn’t so hard now, was it? He looked shocked that my old-school ‘hood-girl doorbell had actually worked. We both sort of chuckled. The moment had trumped the feud.

I re-approached Kevin’s door just as Yves was flinging it open. We embraced. He said, I was just about to leave to come to you.

I beat you to it, I said. I didn’t want to hang out with the neighbors so I figured I’d come find you guys.

I’ve been trying to call you, but the cell phones are dead. Did you walk here?

I sure did.

We headed up through Kevin’s place to the roof. There was a cooler of beer and a bottle or two of whiskey. Alexis was there and Alfredo, the percussionist from Kevin’s band. They’d been working on overdubbing some percussion tracks when the power failed. Alfredo’s wife Ava had come over when the lights went out as well, she only lived a few blocks away. We had a party brewing.

I regaled them with tales of my journey southward and was rewarded with Jameson and Yuengling and by nightfall, we were all pretty well lubricated. Someone brought out Kevin’s acoustic guitar and Alfredo had exciting percussion toys for us to play with, soon we had a full fledged jam session going. Kevin and I were the main vocalists. We played some of his songs and we covered The Band, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Billy Preston, you name it. We rocked it.

The block housed several small buildings that were connected to each other and plenty of other folks had had the idea to head up to their roof for relief from the sweltering heat. It didn’t take long for the party to grow. People popped over from other roofs to join the jam. More guitars arrived. Our little band was growing.

We had our own private club up there, the price of admission was a good attitude, an appreciation of music and a bottle of booze. What started as a “disaster” turned into an amazing night filled with friends (new and old), music and a sense of camaraderie that only comes from sharing a unique experience.

We expected the lights to come back on at any moment (although I think we would have been disappointed if they had). We passed the evening with that expectation right below the surface of our revelry. We rocked that roof party until about 3am, our collective subconscious all the while knowing that any minute now this will end.

Yves and I decided we should make our way back to the upper west side.

Fueled by alcohol and my positive experience on the trip south we walked out prepared to make the trek back north on foot. Once we left the shelter of Kevin’s roof though, that idea seemed daunting and scary. The streets were desolate. Things that seemed so cool earlier like the lack of traffic signals and street lights, were incredibly eerie in the morning’s wee hours. The moon had been full two days prior and so the celestial orb was still casting plenty of it’s reflected light onto the earth below. It lit our way, but also served to exacerbate the eeriness of the empty city streets that were now illuminated by only the occasional set of headlights and the moon’s spectral glow. I was, all at once, exhilarated and terrified.

A cab approached and we flagged him down. The cabbie wanted eighty dollars for a ride that usually cost twenty. I told him to forget it. I wasn’t that scared! I told myself that I’d walked here and I could suck it up and walk back. We headed north on foot for about 5 or 6 more blocks but I was really spooked, so Yves flagged down another taxi. This guy was more reasonable, fifty dollars. We agreed that was fair and got in.

The city was like a ghost town as our yellow chariot cautiously navigated the route to our building uptown. The few cars we passed on the trip had drivers who agreed on their own give and take method of crossing intersections. They had no choice but to be communicative in whatever way possible.

I had never seen the sidewalks so empty. It was like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller.

We arrived at our building shortly before 4am and walked up the seven flights to our apartment on the top floor. Someone had lovingly maintained a row of supermarket santeria candles that lit the path to the upper floors all night. The sun would be up soon enough though, rendering their efforts irrelevant.

We stepped into the apartment and found it only slightly cooler than when I had left it at 4:30pm the previous afternoon. I was exhausted and still sporting a pretty decent buzz, but I went around the apartment and lit every candle in my massive collection anyway. I didn’t want the experience to end. I was prepared to stay up until at least sunrise talking over the evening’s adventure, but after about ten minutes on the couch with Yves I was fast asleep. He blew out all of the candles and put me to bed.

T Minus 40: Some Days

Some days are just harder than others.

That’s just the way it is. It has nothing to do with what came before or what is approaching. Some days the connections just don’t get made. The pieces just don’t fit. It’s not for lack of trying and it’s nobody’s fault. The thing is to continue to push through those days, to keep trying to convince the pieces to fit.

You can’t force it, but you can’t ease up on it either. There has to be a balance, a give and take.

The real work is giving yourself the space and the permission to feel the hard days and begin to try to reason with them, and never take the easy days for granted.

write

without

the burden

self doubt replaced

it’s liberating

when you crave affection

music and material

expect the audience to love

with applause comes clarity, wisdom

I was being brave, not caring that I lost

T Minus 40: Work the Room

Work the Room is a collaborative effort between Yves and me. He wrote the music and I (as usual) was the lyricist. The lyrics are loosely directed towards a popular recording artist. You’ll never guess who…

You walk in the place

wearing that face

that says that you own the scene

You float on a cloud

Parting the crowd

Life’s such a bitch

and you’re in a fix

’cause everyone wants a piece

You know how to please

but still you’re a tease

 

Everything you do is so fascinating

and you get off on all the hell that you put me through

I’d sell my soul to be the fly that’s on the wall

when you work the room

 

You still get high

’cause you wanna fly

and leave all the shit behind

Still they’re all snowed

they’ll never know

You know what to say

you’d go all the way

only to prove you can

you talk like a dream

you’re liquid like cream

 

Everything you say is so fascinating

and you get off on every hell that you put me through

I’d sell my soul to be the fly that’s on the wall

when you work the room

when you work

 

When you were mine

I couldn’t find

a reason just to hold you

that was the thing

you were the king

and you couldn’t belong to me

 

Everything you do is so fascinating

and you get off on all the hell that you put me through

I’d sell my soul to be the fly that’s on the wall

when you work

Everything you say is so fascinating

and you get off on every hell that you put me through

I’d sell my soul to be the fly that’s on the wall

when you work the room

when you work the

when you work the room

 

 

 

 

T Minus 40: It’s Worth a Shot…

Dear Japan,

Konnichiwa! I’m hoping you guys can help me out with something. I know that Nintendo is set to release it’s mini version of the classic NES console for sale on November 11th of this year, just in time for the holiday shopping season. (Great plan on their part by the way.) Unfortunately, I’m not having much luck getting a response from the folks over there. They’re probably just really busy being freaking awesome, so I thought I’d reach out.

Thing is, I was absolutely THE LAST of my friends to get the original NES Action Set that they released in 1988. Everyone got it for Christmas that year. You want to know when I got it? Christmas of 1989! Those were the longest 365 days of my life. Everyone kept talking about saving the Princess and I didn’t even know who the hell the Princess was. The worst part was when I would get invited to my friend Chrissy’s house (who goes by Christina now that we’re grown ups) to play and I’d have no clue what I was doing. So, I’d play Super Mario for like 10 minutes before being killed off and then have to sit there and watch her ace the whole game. I believe I gained a lot of pre-adolescent weight in this way since my hands were free to eat snacks. Seriously, my face got super pudgy around that time.

Apologies for my digression. I’ll get to my point so that I don’t take up too much of your valuable time (I know you’ve got that North Korea thing going on). My birthday is next Thursday and it’s a big one – 40. I know, I know, I don’t look it – thanks guys. Anyway, It sure would be nice to be the first of my friends to get this new console. I honestly wish I’d never given the old one away. Kids today don’t appreciate these things. Do you think, maybe, you could pull some strings with the good folks over at Nintendo and get one shipped here to upstate New York in advance? I would be forever grateful and would gladly pay any additional shipping fees (even though it is my birthday and I kinda feel like you could front that cost seeing as you’re a whole country, but whatever). It would just really make me feel better about getting “old”, ya know? I know 40 doesn’t seem old to you all because your country has the highest percentage of elderly citizens in the world, but in America 40 is a rough age.

I promise to visit more often and I know I said that after I spent that four hour layover in Narita Airport back in ’88, but this time I mean it. I plan to travel more in my 40s – right after I re-learn how to save the Princess. Please let me know what you come up with and if you get those Nintendo guys on the phone, tell them I’ve been looking for them.

All the Best.

Domo arigato gozaimasu!

Amy

T Minus 40: Bring It

There is only one week to go and it turns out that after 33 straight days of contemplation, information gathering and creation I’m ready for forty. Bring it! Ten years from now, when I’m composing T Minus 50, I know I will have an amazing collection of stories from the coming decade.

I’ve spent a lot of years imagining that there is some alternate universe in which my life went the “right” way. A universe where the record companies didn’t pass on me or I actually got the part and not just a call back. A life in which I had the stones to keep trying. An alternate universe that would let me create without the fear and sensitivity that held me back in my 20s and 30s. It’s a place where money doesn’t get in the way, it doesn’t factor in at all. A life in which people were nothing but supportive. A universe where I believed enough in myself to buy into what I was doing as an artist and create things that pleased me without worrying about commercial success. A world where the saying “do what you love and the money will follow” was a reality as opposed to a notion reserved for those who have already achieved financial success.

I’ve spent a lot of time ascribing blame. I’ve placed it everywhere, on the industry, on the clients, on circumstances, but mainly on myself. T Minus 40 has unlocked something I thought I’d lost. By committing to this project I gave myself permission to tap into my creativity again. I’m taking baby steps each day. I am only accountable to myself, so the blame has fallen away. It’s simply not useful to the process.

There have been some days that almost got the better of me (and I’m still not done) but I didn’t want to feed the demon of failure so I widened my definition of success. In so doing, I remembered that it’s OK to take pride in accomplishment. Humility has it’s place, but it’s not appropriate in every situation.

Spending all of this time reviewing my life and mining it for material has been incredibly eye-opening. About midway through the project I realized that the all of the topics that I thought would be “deep” or “sad” no longer interested me. I realized I had no desire to whine about loss or missteps or injustices. I wanted to enjoy the project, so I put a spotlight on the last 39 years and it revealed that there is no “right” way a life should go. It’s been going the way I’ve been leading it and I’ve got the memories and the material to show for it.

I started out afraid of turning 40 as a female and as a performer. I worried that I had missed all my chances. But unlike so many of my fears that I’ve simply avoided, this birthday is inevitable, so I chose to steer into the skid. I chose not to hide or lie and tell people I’m 32 (that starts next week). I chose to own it, to buy into myself and my own relevance. I gave myself the gift of finally accepting that all of the things I’ve done, the hats I’ve worn to facilitate my life don’t necessarily define it. I run a business, but I’m not a business woman. I handle the finances, but I’m not a bookkeeper. I know my way around the kitchen better than most, but I’m not a chef. I use social media for self-promotion, but I am in no way a marketing whiz.

I’m beginning to understand that change doesn’t have to be bad. Forty looks peaceful now. I know I can’t control the outside world (that’s the wisdom that comes with age), but I also can’t quiet what’s inside to fit into some pre-conceived notion of the perfect woman. Sometimes I have to drop the ball and trust that I’ll be able to pick it back up.

Thanks again to everyone that’s commented, liked, shared, emailed and supported. I didn’t know when I started if anyone would read any of this and no offense, I didn’t care, but sharing this event has been a truly wonderful part of the work.

T Minus 40: Bolero

Another upside of turning 40 is that you get to stop caring so much about what other people think, I hope…

The morning of my 13th birthday started out like any other morning. It was a school day, just a couple of weeks into 8th grade. My mom opened my bedroom door and shouted in that it was time to get up. She worked full time all throughout my childhood, but would often drive me to school before she headed off on her own commute. I knew she wouldn’t want me to make her late by oversleeping (this had happened before and it was not pretty) so I jumped right up and started getting myself ready. Besides, it was my birthday and I was excited for the day ahead.

It was a tradition in my school for friends to bring in mylar helium balloons for each other on their birthdays. You got to carry them around all day and then everyone knew it was your birthday and wished you well and was nice to you. It was cool. I always hoped for a respectable amount of balloons so I would look well-liked. I knew I wasn’t going to break any records as far as numbers, but too few would be embarrassing. I was looking forward to seeing how well my clique would represent.

I got dressed and tried my best to make my hair as small as possible. I didn’t yet understand my curly hair. I kept trying to deny it’s curliness. I knew nothing about products and was constantly cutting my hair too short and brushing it out. It was usually pretty huge and hard to tame. I understand my curls now, but I no longer care if my hair is crazy big and hard to tame. I own it now.

When I descended the stair case and made the right turn towards the kitchen I was immediately caught off guard. Our kitchen was decorated with “Happy Birthday” signs and streamers. There were balloons. There was confetti and in the middle of the table in our breakfast nook there was a present!

My birthday had never started like that before. My mom worked all day, five days a week. She never had time for these kinds of weekday morning birthday surprises, but this time she did. I’m not saying my mom didn’t make my birthdays special, just not like this. It was so unexpected, a wonderful surprise. We already had plans in place to celebrate, she just threw this in as a bonus.

My mom yelled surprise and told me to open my present. There were other presents for later she said, but she wanted me to have this one before school. I tore through the wrapping paper and opened the box to find the awesome gray acid wash denim bolero jacket (a lot of descriptors, I know) that I had seen in the store about a week prior. She had told me that it was too expensive then and that I couldn’t have it. I remember being bummed because it was so awesome (it was 1989, bolero jackets were awesome) but obviously she had planned to get it for me the whole time.

I hugged my mom and thanked her profusely. I decided I would wear it to school to show my appreciation. I put it on. Problem was when I got dressed earlier, I had anticipated a jacketless existence and chosen a bulky and long oversized sweatshirt and leggings as my school attire. The bolero didn’t really jive with my outfit choice, but the morning party had already put us a couple of minutes behind. There was no time to change, so I decided to embrace my quirky look. I didn’t want my mom to think I didn’t love my gift. I would be taking it off and stashing it in my locker when I got to school anyway.

The day went swimmingly. I got just enough balloons to look like I had plenty of friends, but not so many that they were a pain in the ass in the hallway. People wished me happy birthday all day. I showed my immediate friends my denim bolero and they agreed on it’s awesomeness.

It was a perfect day, until I got off of the afternoon bus in my neighborhood wearing my giant sweatshirt/tiny jacket combo. Some older girl (whose name I don’t even remember, so – suck it) made fun of my ensemble. She said my jacket looked stupid and my shirt was too long. She said I looked like an idiot. I pretended not to hear her and walked the few blocks home from the bus stop. Then I took off that jacket and hung it on the coat rack in our foyer and forgot about it. That girl had robbed all of my birthday bolero joy and squashed my big shirt small jacket creativity all at once, and I let her get away with it.

T Minus 40: Embrace It

Our courtship is nearly over, our dance will soon begin

You’ve been at arm’s length, but will soon be called a friend

We’ve played at this for quite some time, still I never noticed

The kindness that you offer me

Your loving hands outstretched

I had to get here in my own time, I had to feel I chose it

The rush of leaving old behind has yet to find a rhythm

But this affair will be familiar soon

Our games a distant memory

I’ll stop counting days, I’ll stop mending ways

You’ll be there always reminding

Love appears in many forms and radiates from all directions

Your favorite is from inside out, but I’ve yet to accept it

You woo me still and soon resolve will fizzle

The inevitable click will come on time

I’m going to embrace it

T Minus 40: Busted!

I received my one and only traffic ticket while I wasn’t even driving!

My friend Jen was the first of our gang to get her license, so she was our chauffeur for the better part of a year. Even after the rest of us started getting licensed, Jen’s car was still our go-to vehicle. It became our private club. We drove everywhere, but never went anywhere. We frequented fast food drive-thrus, particularly Taco Bell, that way we didn’t even have to get out. From Bellerose to Westbury, we owned Jericho Turnpike.

Cruising along in Jen’s Dodge Neon we honed our rapping skills, wrote scripts for still un-filmed masterpieces and even got guys’ phone numbers all without pulling over. When one of us was lucky enough to have a date the poor guy was expected to pile in and assimilate.

One night in August of 1993 I was out and about with Jen, Christine and Lisa (the usual crew) in our suburban ‘hood. For some reason, I got the idea to start asking people on the street to vote for me. A vote for Amy is a vote for you! I would shout from the passenger’s side of the Neon. We announced my candidacy all over town.

We decided that I was running for Comptroller, mostly because none of us was sure exactly what a Comptroller did. We named no particular town or district and as far as we knew there was no actual election taking place at that time. We thought it was hilarious, and for some reason so did other people. We owned it. We didn’t feel dorky or embarrassed. Even the “cool” kids would wave and cheer when we drove by.

One night we made signs before we went out. They were hand drawn and elaborate, with my tagline clearly visible on each oaktag creation. The Neon was my campaign car. In order to really get my message out there I took to sitting in the passenger’s window of the car “Dukes of Hazzard” style as we cruised our tiny hamlet of Floral Park. We had no idea why we were doing it, but hey, at least we weren’t getting drunk and doing drugs.

As our zest for the campaign waned, the thrill I got from sitting half in and half out of the Neon only grew. I greeted friends we passed on the street in this way constantly.

Just about a week before senior year was to start we were out one night in our four-wheeled sanctuary when I saw our friend John on the street. John had been my date for the junior prom and we made quite the couple due to his over-six-foot stature. So, he was totally recognizable to me standing by a car on the right side of the road.

I popped up onto the car window sill. We were going to pull over to see if John wanted to hang out with us, but I figured I would pull out all the stops with my greeting, so I yelled and waved to him from my perch. As we got closer Lisa reached forward and slapped me on the leg. I thought what the hell? I couldn’t hear the conversation (if there was any) from inside the Neon. Then the car that John was standing next to started to come into view. There was something on top of it. Shit. They were lights. It was a cop car. And crap. That’s not John, that’s a very tall cop!!

I had basically just asked the police officer to pull us over, loudly and demonstratively. I dropped back down into the seat as fast as I could, but it was too late. I had already drawn his attention to my dangerous and illegal activities. We slowed down. I heard him mutter something along the lines of, you’ve got to be kidding me, as he motioned for Jen to pull over. Lisa and Christine were cracking up in the back seat. Jen and I were scared. I knew I shouldn’t have been out on that window, but I wasn’t sure if there was an actual law against it.

The officer came into view as he approached Jen’s side of the Neon. I thought, how in the hell did I think that was John? This guy is so old, he’s like 40!

We were all silent as the officer gave us a stern lecture about safety and the responsibility that comes with having a license to operate a motor vehicle. He asked Jen for her license and registration, then he asked for my license (which I had received only a few months prior). I didn’t know you could be asked to show your license when you weren’t even driving. Once the officer walked back to his car and out of earshot, I ranted about the injustice of what had just occurred.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity for his return. There was a lot of conjecture on the law. We thought maybe he would let us go with a warning. What could he do anyway? I wasn’t driving and Jen didn’t do anything wrong. We had been driving well under the village speed limit, but when the officer returned we could see the tickets in his hand.

We were busted.

We were probably the least trouble making pre-seniors out partying that night and we were nabbed. I was issued a ticket for “clinging to a vehicle” and Jen was issued one for allowing me to cling to the vehicle. It was the worst thing I’d ever done. I was going down. I would have a police record now and never ever get into the right college, panic set in. I tried to play it cool though, I spent the rest of the night bitching to my friends about the cop and how unfair he was.

Clinging to the vehicle. What the fuck is that? I was sitting. My perch was completely stable. It’s not like I was up on the roof in a high-speed chase holding on for dear life! They make it sound like some Mel Gibson “Lethal Weapon” move AND I was just the passenger, what if I didn’t have a license? What would they do then? Huh? It was all so unfair!

Jen was pissed. None of us knew that the driver of a car is automatically held responsible for all the stupid shit her friends do in said car.

Shortly after the bust, we ran into our friend Steve who was a year older than us and had graduated the previous June. He had been in an auto accident during his senior year, so when we told him what happened I received my second safety lecture of the evening. He told me he was glad I got a ticket because now maybe I would stop being so careless. I had a huge crush on Steve, so I took his tirade to mean that he cared and therefore must be in love with me too. It was simple, perfect logic.

Jen and I chose to plead not guilty and a few weeks later we went to court. We were tried together. We walked into that court room terrified, but in the end it amounted to a routine traffic stop. We were kids with no prior tickets so the lawyer pleaded our offense down to “parking on pavement”. I thought, what a stupid ticket! Where else would you park? The whole street is pavement. I did not share my thoughts on that with the judge.

The incident ended up costing me fifty dollars and Jen, forty. Our parents decided that we had been justly punished and chose not to impose further discipline. We settled our debt with the court clerk. It was a fortune to us back then, but a small price to pay for the lesson we had learned.

Keep all of your limbs inside the vehicle at all times and for God’s sake, wear your damn glasses!