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Scenes from High School

My brother was a Chevrolet mechanic, and so during high school and college I and various family members owned a lot of Vegas. My brother just recently sold the last of them -- a burgundy station wagon that belonged to my sister -- and this got me thinking about my Vegas, and subsequently about various high school anecdotes that coincided with my ownership of my first one, a hideously-green hatchback.


One night, Brian and Matt and I decided to go see a movie at Tyson's, a local mall. We went to the mall, quite a bit early, and bought tickets to To Live and Die in L.A., and then Matt produced a bottle of scotch that he had snagged from his parents' liquor cabinet. We moved my car way out to the outskirts of the satellite parking lot where, in retrospect, it would be completely obvious we were up to no good. We scampered down a grass embankment until we were up against a chain-link fence that separated the mall from some construction, and opened up the scotch. We drank a little, though I didn't drink much since I thought (and still do) that it tasted much like I imagine it would taste if you stuck a straw in your car battery and took a big sip. After a few minutes, we heard a car door and some general rustling around up the embankment where our car was. Panicked, we put down the bottle of scotch and clambered back up the hill to our car, where a mall security guard was peering in the windows with his giant flashlight.

You know the type: fully uniformed mall officers, unarmed but for a billy club and that big flashlight, who clearly harbor major delusions of grandeur and fancy themselves actual police officers.

"What were you doing down there?," one of them asked, as menacingly as he could.
"Um, just looking at the construction." (Yeah, right.)
"Can we look in your car?," he asked, once again aiming his flashlight through my car windows, and seeing my usual tremendous amount of junk inside.

We had long since been told by various delinquent friends that the police do not have a right to search your person or belongings without probable cause. But they frequently ask if they can; with your permission, they are legally entitled to search anything they want. People are often so intimidated that they consent to searches even when they are carrying all manner of contraband. In our case, there was nothing incriminating in my car; we were just being a pain in the ass.

They were clearly not happy with our lack of cooperation. "You better get out of here," one said, so we promptly started a brisk walk back into the Hecht's entrance to the mall.

As we entered the mall through the inside entrance to Hecht's, they were waiting for us. They shone their big flashlight in our faces, which is totally ineffective in a brightly-lit mall, and said, "We found your bottle of scotch." By the way, they hold their flashlights like that, up in the air with their hand way down by the bright end, so that with a minimum of swing they can brain you with the heavy end if necessary.

There is a long pause. The kind of pause where, after a few seconds of it have elapsed, it is plainly apparent that the next thing out of our mouths is going to be a lie. Matt says, with a sort of silly incredulousness in his voice, "Sco-otch?," making it two syllables with a rising note on the second.

One says, "I think you guys had better leave." We head for the exit, fully intending to just wander outside and then back over to the theater, but these guys follow us all the way back to our car. It's something like a quarter-mile to our car, and we keep expecting them to satisfy themselves that we're actually leaving and go about their business. But no, they follow us all the way to the car, at a distance of about eight feet behind us, as though they expect us to suddenly turn around and assault them. We get in the car and circle the mall a few times, still planning to park somewhere and go see our movie, but these guys are parked right in front of the movie theater entrance the whole time. Apparently we were their big action for the night, as they clearly had nothing better to do than make sure we didn't see our movie.

Eventually we gave up and went elsewhere. Later, I did see To Live and Die in L.A., which is still one of my favorite films.


Another night, the three of us were driving around, again in my Vega. We were going down Old Dominion Drive, and realized we were going the wrong direction, so I turned down a side street, and then into someone's driveway, in order to turn around. This driveway sloped pretty aggressively downhill, and was covered with fallen leaves, so when I went to back out, the wheels just spun. There was enough traction to stay in one spot, but not enough to make any forward -- well, backward -- progress. Brian started to step out to give the car a push, but I told him to stay put, and floored the gas. The wheels spun like crazy, and we started to inch backward out of the driveway, when all of a sudden the tires grabbed and we launched backward. My reflexes were fast enough that I turned the wheel as we exited the driveway, but we were going so fast that the right rear of the car ended up in the ditch across the road. No damage, but with that wheel sitting in the muck at the bottom of the ditch, and a plain old differential that allows the wheel with no traction to take all of the engine's power, we were stuck. We tried to push the car out, but the uphill out of the ditch was too steep.

So we walked down the road a bit and called Matt's mother. She came and nuzzled the front bumper of her car against the rear bumper of mine, and pushed us out of the ditch. At this point, it was time to start the car again, and my Vega had a little problem with the safety catch that prevents you from starting the car in gear. Namely, it always thought the car was in gear, so it locked out the key-switch from cranking the ignition. So to start the car, I had to turn the key to the "on" position, and then go up under the hood and bridge the contacts on the starter with a screwdriver.

Matt's mother watched me do this, and then asked, "This is your car, isn't it?"


Once Brian, Matt, and I were hanging out with Ben in the treehouse in his back yard. Somewhere toward the middle of the night we came out and headed out through the front yard, doubtless en route to getting something to eat, and we found the world teeming with grubs. These are fat, white caterpillar-like critters that normally live down under the ground somewhere, but apparently Ben's yard had been treated with some sort of fertilizer or pesticide or something that made them come out and squirm around on the ground. They were everywhere, in the yard, in the street... I'm getting the willies just writing this.

It was such a surreal and disgusting experience that, looking back, I wonder if it actually happened, or at least whether my memory of it is completely accurate. I'll have to ask Brian and Matt.