Tag Archives: teenager

You got a flat, you got to fix it yourself

You got a flat tire, you got to fix it, you got to do it yourself. You got to pull over, you need to look in the trunk, you know, assuming it’s a standard car, by which I mean, there should be a false bottom, like pull at the bottom of the trunk, OK, that’s usually not the real bottom, there’s another bottom, underneath, that’s where the spare is going to be. It’s usually just a donut, like a smaller tire. Don’t worry, it fits.

flat tire

When I was in high school, I ran on a flat tire for like a whole day. The car still drove, I just couldn’t figure out why it insisted on drifting to the left. I figured it was a steering problem, like maybe I needed to get a new steering wheel or something. And I know you think that sounds ridiculous, a steering wheel problem, but it could have been true, because in high school I wanted a cool car so badly, and I didn’t know any better, I thought this meant like buying a pair of fuzzy dice for the mirror.

I bought this Knight Rider style steering wheel, it was like a video game steering wheel, it only had grips on the sides. I bought this thing on eBay, and I had no idea how to install stuff, so I asked my friend Nick, his cousin worked at a Best Buy garage, he assured me he knew how to install it. And I was a little skeptical, because I had previously used Nick’s services to install a CD player in the dash. It didn’t really fit right, like there was a huge gap in between the hardware and the car fixture, CDs would always get lost in that hole, but what could I do, he handed me the keys and he was like, “All right, she’s good to go. Two hundred bucks.”

And while I didn’t want to use Nick again, I could just imagine me going to a real auto garage, I’d walk in there with my novelty steering wheel, the mechanic’s face would be like trying not to laugh, like sure, I guess I should take this kid’s money. But are his parent’s going to get pissed off at me? Is this wheel even legal? At least Nick was somewhat closer to my age, and his car was totally tricked out, neon lights underneath, fuzzy dice hanging from his fuzzy dice.

I showed him the steering wheel and he was just like, “Sweet. I can do that. Two hundred bucks.” And he did it, it steered, although I couldn’t figure out which button was the horn, or maybe they were all supposed to activate the horn, and he just couldn’t get the connection right, I don’t know.

But when I got this flat tire, it just naturally occurred to me that it was a steering issue, that all I needed to do was to pull to the right, almost dramatically, and since there was no top to this wheel, you know, what this steering wheel added in coolness it definitely lacked in usability, I had to twist my arms uncomfortably to the other side. So pull, turn, and just a little heavier on the gas, and the car seemed to be driving fine.

Of course, it wasn’t fine, the front left tire was completely flat. But I didn’t know that’s why people were honking at me. I don’t know, and I couldn’t honk back, because, like I said before, no working horn, but eventually this one guy got my attention, he mouthed it out for me, “Flat! Tire!” and I pulled over.

I’d never changed a tire before, so there was a lot of trial and error, like you know that trick where you take off the screws before you jack it up? Yeah, I had no idea, the wheel just kept spinning as I tried to loosen the lug nuts. And that jack, I didn’t know there was like a certain spot. Whatever, this is all pretty basic stuff.

I got the donut on, I rode that thing way past its hundred mile suggested use. Finally my parents got on my case, “Get a real tire, now!” but I didn’t feel like digging into the comic book fund, so I went to some junkyard and bought an old one for like twenty-five bucks. Nick told me he knew how to do tires, but the two hundred dollar price tag was the opposite of what I was trying to do here, not spend any money.

So sometimes you just got to get dirty, you got to change your own tires, figure out yourself how those things get weighed. I’ve done it, I’ve been there man.

What? You have a Jeep? I don’t know, isn’t it on the outside of the back door. Yeah, the tire shaped covering with the “These Colors Don’t Run” graphic, yeah, that’s the spare. You have Triple A? You do? So what are you calling me for? You really want to hear stupid stories about my car from high school? Just call them up, that’s what you’re paying them for, I mean, you could do it, but they’re pros, they’ll have that thing changed in like two or three minutes.

Four extra-large sodas

And I was like, “Just try to stay out of my way, OK?” which, yeah, it sounded a lot cooler in my head, I was going for the whole, “I got this,” or at a more basic level, “Don’t worry, don’t have any doubts in me,” but it came out the way it came out, arrogant, dismissive. It was too late for an apology, it would have killed the momentum, totally destroyed whatever we’d already set up for ourselves, the mood, the false determination.


A week earlier, my friend Rich had showed me this video online of two guys ordering four extra-large sodas at a drive-thru, and right as the cashier handed them their drinks, the driver threw the oversized containers back through the window. All you heard was the scream, she must have gotten soaked, followed by the crazy laughter of the two guys in the car as it sped away.

I remember laughing so hard at that video, the insane kind of funny that, looking back now, I’d never laugh, I’d never let myself. It’s too mean. I’d feel automatically too bad for that woman, she probably hates her job, or maybe she doesn’t hate her job, maybe it’s just me, I hate my job and I assume everybody else hates their job also. Maybe she’s happy. But she’s working the window at the drive through, she gets out the XL cups, fills them all up.

And then what does her boss say? The manager hears the spill, he looks up and the window-girl is doused in soda, there’s a mess everywhere. Did the computer get wet? What about the register? Did the soda make it to the cash? It’s everywhere. She feels bad, like even though everyone says they believe her, she’s worried some of them might suspect she’s making it all up. Because seriously, who would do something like this? And why?

But back when I was seventeen, when I finally had a car, independence, those were things I wasn’t focusing on, the who, the why. My whole world was all of the sudden open and new, I got such a crazy thrill out of anything I hadn’t been exposed to before. And this act summed up everything that I wanted in life at that moment, the ability to look around at the most mundane of situations and still be thrown for a total loop, like nothing applies anymore, everything you thought you knew, forget it.

I think Rich might have suggested we try it out also, or maybe he didn’t directly suggest it, but he said something like, “We would never do something like that,” just something to say, but I took it as this personal challenge, I was like, “Well, I would do that,” not even thinking about how this was already escalating dangerously. “No way, you would never do that,” so now here I was, Rich had thrust all responsibility my way, now this was my joke, my prank, my wild act to either carry out or chicken out of.

So we went to Taco Bell. My euphoria had definitely dwindled down into something else, an anxiety, my heart was still racing but I could tell that there was a part of me I wasn’t willing to yet consciously acknowledge that told me this was a stupid idea. And again, I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to be thinking about anybody else besides myself. I was purely concerned with what if we get in trouble, what if my parents have to get involved?

And Rich, he was pretty nervous too, but it was a carefree worry, like settling in to watch a really scary movie. Sure, he’d be along for whatever ride this turned out to be, but at the end of the day, he could always shrug and be like, I don’t know why Rob threw those sodas. I had nothing to do with it.

I pulled up to the drive-thru, I ordered four extra large Baja Blast Mountain Dews, and as we turned the corner to the window, we both kind of giggled a little bit. It was happening. The sodas had been ordered. Maybe this would be easier than the mental struggle I was setting up for myself here. Maybe all I had to do was throw and drive, and then I could laugh and laugh and laugh.

But we pulled up, and it’s this big dude, he’s passing me the sodas, telling me how much they cost. I didn’t even look at Rich, I just took out a ten, gave it to the guy, took the change, and left. Rich started laughing, I guess I deserved it, I guess he had to make fun of me, I mean, I was the one behind the wheel.

And looking back, I have that whole justification, the putting myself in the other person’s shoes, the realization that people shouldn’t go around throwing sodas at each other. But I still cringe, I still get pissed, like why wasn’t I thinking? Why did I sit there and let Rich make fun of me for the rest of the night? Why didn’t he offer me even a dollar for one of those sodas? Man, I haven’t seen my old friend Rich in forever. I wonder what he’s up to right now.

Forced birdwatching with my uncle

One time when I was in high school my mom made me go on a bird watching trip with one of my uncles. He was a member of some ornithological club, and every time I’d see him, he’d be like, “Rob! What’s up buddy? You’ve got to come bird watching with me and the boys this weekend. Come on, it’ll be fun! It’s always good to pick up a new hobby, what do you say?”


And what was I going to say? I couldn’t be like, “No, I don’t want to go bird watching, that sounds boring, all I want to do is stay inside and play Nintendo 64,” because you can’t talk to adults that way, especially not your uncle, my mom would have been pissed. So I did what probably any other teenager in my situation would have done, I gave a really unenthusiastic non-committing response, a, “Yeah, maybe, that sounds cool,” and then I’d just answer every follow up question with simply a yes or a no, making sure to pause at least two or three seconds in between each answer, trying really hard to make it look like I was just barely paying attention.

But I guess my uncle either couldn’t take the hint, or he took it and he said to himself, nah, I’m not going to take that hint. He probably thought, sure Rob doesn’t want to go bird watching, but that’s because he doesn’t realize how much fun it is. I know, I’ll go behind his back to his mother and make plans for next weekend.

And you know, being fourteen is probably the worst age any human can be. You have pretty much all of the mental faculties that you have as an adult, like, I can remember all of my high school years as if they happened last year. You think for yourself, you have your own opinions. In any other time in human history, fourteen year olds were not only expected to be completely independent, but they were most likely already parents themselves. But when I was fourteen, for some reason it was totally acceptable for my mom to shout up to my room on Friday night, “Robbie, you better get to sleep, your uncle’s picking you up for a bird watching trip early tomorrow morning.”

My fate was sealed. “What?” I could scream and protest for as long as I could sustain my pleading, “You made plans for me to go on a bird watching trip?” it wasn’t going to change anything. And sure enough, before I knew it, seven o’clock rolled around and I was being forcibly dragged out of my bed to take a drive up to some remote bird sanctuary near Tarrytown, NY.

I had expected my uncle and all of his friends to be this bunch of nerdy looking doofs, but I got in the car, there was my uncle and two guys that, I don’t know how to describe them exactly, but they didn’t fit the description of what I had imagined a birdwatcher to look like. One guy had a black leather jacket, the other guy was wearing a knit cap, it wasn’t even that cold out.

And then, once we got going, nobody talked, there was no chit-chat. I’m thinking about my life right now, if I went on some sort of a trip with a bunch of my friends, and one of them brought along his fourteen year old nephew, I’d at least try to make conversation, “What’s up champ? How’s high school? You play any sports?” basic small talk, it’s not that hard. But this was awkward, no radio, the guy riding shotgun was chain smoking cigarettes with his right arm resting on the open window.

Finally we got to this wooded area, I’m not sure if it was a bird sanctuary, I didn’t see any signs, and what happened next always made me doubt if we were where I was told we would be. We hiked around for a while, my uncle had a map but wouldn’t say where we were headed, after about an hour or so we came upon this big tree.

“All right boys, this is it,” my uncle said as the other two guys started unloading a bunch supplies. Grappling hooks, lots of rope, some weird manual drill looking thing, besides the binoculars, none of this stuff looked like anything I’d associate with bird watching. “Don’t you guys usually carry giant books with drawings of birds and stuff?” I asked nobody in particular.

“Can it, kid,” did that guy just tell me to can it? “You’re the lookout.” I asked, “The lookout for what, aren’t we all lookouts? Aren’t we looking out for birds or something?” The other guy said, “Don’t be a wise guy, now just keep your eyes open.” I looked toward my uncle for something, I don’t know, reassurance, maybe a little information as to what was going on, but he just handed me a small backpack, he said, “Just hold onto this for a second.”

And then they all put on these harnesses and started climbing up the tree. I had no idea what was going on, but like half an hour later this park ranger shows up. The guys had pulled up their ropes so, unless you were looking straight up, you’d have no idea what was going on. “What are you doing out here?” the ranger said, “This is protected land. What’s in that backpack?”

I didn’t know what to say. I only hoped that my uncle had prepared me for this, that that’s why I was holding this backpack. I handed it over and the ranger undid the zipper. He fished inside for a few seconds and came out with a small pipe, a lighter, and a dime-sized bag of pot. “All right buddy, you’re coming with me.”

I should have said something, I should have told the ranger to look up, but I froze, I didn’t know what my uncle was doing with those guys up in that tree. Years later I read some article about egg-snatchers, how in the United Kingdom there was this weird secret society dedicated to collecting various types of eggs.

But I never got to connect the dots. The ranger called my parents, they had to drive north to pick me up, my uncle played dumb, giving my mom some bullshit like, “Well, we were all watching birds but Rob said he had to use the bathroom. We looked everywhere for him but he disappeared. Thanks for ruining our trip!” and then when my mom turned to yell at me, he kind of gave me a wink, but not a nice wink, like a threatening wink, like you ever tell your mom about this, a misdemeanor marijuana charge will be the least of your problems.