The year was 1987, a day I’ll never forget.
One of us held the wheel steady while the other took his pants off. “Rembrandt Pussyhorse!,” “No… ‘King’s Lead Hat!,’” “No! No…Spleen and Ideal!” we kept shouting over one another. The crummy cassette player that was screwed sideways into my dashboard squeaked out something too distortedly to be understood anyway. Our excited fumbling made the car sway, which otherwise sped a relatively straight 80-mph line down I-35, the interstate that separates Dallas and Austin. It was a distance my friend Buck and I had traveled countless times, sometimes at 1AM to make a party at 3AM. But this was the first time we were doing it like this.
Once we finished undressing, everything stopped. It’s amazing how hot summer Texas air whipping through the open windows of a Toyota Corona 1980 hatchback can make the air arctic. Nether regions were frozen. Everything on us was frozen—especially our throats (probably because it felt like my testicles had retreated into my larynx). Where was the laughter? The hollering?
If you’d have been us at the time, you’d have thought two guys driving nude to Austin on a self-imposed dare would have been hysterical also. Yet, here we were, letting it all hang out, staring silently at the oncoming interstate rumbling beneath my wobbly alignment—speechless. Coincidentally, the tape that had been playing ran out, and switched off. More nothing. We kept our sunglasses on (to hide our eyes). Buck lit a cigarette.
Nipples-up, we were boringly indistinguishable from every other mundane driver on the Texas interstate that day. But below that, there was w-a-a-a-y too much tactile discovery going on. Do you know how your car seats feel? No, I mean do you really know how they feel? I learned. It all felt terrible. It was like the opposite of “free.” Neither Buck or I moved an inch. But hanging out the window and going “Woooo!” would have felt even terrible-er. It was a numbing moment of mordant, merciless disillusionment. As an fantasy, it had been perfect. As a reality, it had been a life lesson; only those with weak character follow through on every outlandish idea. Knowing when not to deliver on a pact between true friends is what separates the savvy from the nude and freezing. And might I add that, empirically, moments destined to live in infamy suffer greatly from pre-planning—and we’d been planning this stunt forever.
The over-planned plans had been expressed to the delight and annoyance of our friends for a whole year. Buck and I were the ultimate best friends, and had spent much time daring each other that we were one day “…gonna drive to Austin naked.” We’d verbally dissected and bragged about it so relentlessly that talk of it began as an in-joke, then officially became classified as small talk used to cover gaps of silence during cigarettes and post-drunk visits to Denny’s restaurants in remote areas of Dallas during any given 3AM (our prime time). We had envisioned it as the most deranged, genius-ly retarded, and apocalyptically stupid antic that ever would be. There would be red-faced laughter to choke us. Our lungs would explode from their inability to handle our uncontrollable screams, and our brains would implode from their inability to comprehend our own brilliance. We would blow minds. It was a hyperbolic gamble: the plan was envisioned so often that it began to define all of our self worth, and simultaneously became worthless. And hence, the stakes of our bargain soared: if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t just lose face, we’d lose everything.
And here we were, facing everything while doing it. Feeling “boo-hoo”-ridiculous instead of “ha-ha”-ridiculous, we tried to ignite the lack of drama with passive-aggressive stabs at attention. “Thinking” humor was needed, we “thought” it would be hilarious to transform ourselves into waving, honking, sitting ducks. As cars passed us in the faster left lane, we beeped our horn and waved at the blank-faced (but extremely curious) passengers. The only people able to see anything were positioned high enough to look down on us at an angle as they passed. You know, people in vehicles with really high passenger seats…like big rig pick up trucks, the types driven by tried-and-true Texas folk. Seeing their stunned faces made us smile (finally!) and we gleamed every time someone did a double take and then frantically got the attention of their driver, who would then sit up to peer over and look. What, me worry? It was going to be a super, spectacular day.
Perhaps, because once that novelty wore off, we decided that fifteen minutes of nude driving time had been sufficient. The mission had been accomplished. We could now lie and tell our friends we’d driven to Austin naked, narrowly skirted the law, freaked out everyone who saw us…and technically be bragging the truth.
We got dressed in the reverse order. One held the wheel while the other put his pants on, and our fumbling made the car sway a lot more this time.
As I was stomping my shoe onto the foot that wasn’t on the gas pedal, Buck looked over at me and deadpanned “There’s a cop behind us.” Buck was an expert liar, which meant he was also often very funny. He was a genius at matching the right/wrong facial expression with the wrong/right phrase, during unexpected situations. I looked at him laughing, then towards the road again.
My head nearly ass-ploded when my eyes brushed past the rear view mirror. There really was a cop following behind us. Right behind us. It was a highway patrolman, actually. In an icy panic, I thought of one thing: masturbation.
The word “masturbation” had been written in dust with someone’s finger on my back windshield, weeks earlier, and was still there (my car = always filthy). We never found out who did it, we just went into the parking lot one day and there it was. It was funny, so we left it. Then forgot about it. Now I regretted it.
But no time to worry about the word “m-a-s-t-u-r-b-a-t-i-o-n” written on my back windshield now. I had to be in control, think clearly. Act cool, Mark. It didn’t occur to me at the time how lucky were to have gotten dressed when we did. In the sixty seconds it took to pull over on the highway’s shoulder and stop, we quelled paroxysms while intensely whisper-shouting our agreed-upon alibi: deny, deny, deny.
The patrolman sat in his car behind us for a very long time, building suspense. Buck and I said nothing. Cars whizzed by on our left. It seemed hot again. In a flash, through my mind raced a million different scenarios of me sitting in my car looking up at a big, strong highway patrolman explaining why I had no idea why it might have appeared that two people had been driving nude. My eyes scanned our attire. Anything inside out? Backwards? Should I leave my sunglasses on? No, take them off…too guilty-looking. Wait, no…put them back on. Wait, no.
Eventually the patrolman got out of his car and slowly approached my window (already rolled down) and asked how we were doing that day. “Yes?” I un-simply answered with a strenuous smile. I tried to display how free of care I was by twirling my sunglasses in one hand—which then flew out of my grasp and clanked loudly on the gear shift and then the car’s floor. “Oh…” I said, changing expressions, as Buck and I both almost bumped heads looking down to retrieve them.
In the un-relaxing moments it took him to ask for my license and registration, and eventually coax me out of the car…the topic of garment-less commuting didn’t come up. I’d been flustered by wavering expectations of nude accusations, and acted accordingly: nervously. It was a clever trick on the patrolman’s part. Especially when he asked if he could search my car. I had nothing to hide in my car (he did ask), but still I was worried about what he might find. With vibrating eyes ruining a depicted smile, I answered “Sure…sure, I don’t mind if you search my car at all!” I really should have kept my sunglasses on.
He asked Buck to get out and join me, and we stood in the dirt behind my car as the patrolman began looking through the drivers seat. His probable cause: hope.
It was now very, very hot. The occasional 18-wheeler that would whip past us and kick up dust was the only breeze. I looked back towards the patrolman’s car because a local police car, and another civilian car, had pulled up behind it. Quite a few people got out of both cars, gathering behind the second patrolman’s car. They looked like the residents of whatever town we had just passed through, a mixed medley of locals who’s eyes all stared at us but who’s yapping mouths were all directed at each other. An audience.
I would soon learn that state and local law enforcement had a chummy relationship with the locals in these parts. Authorities didn’t seem put-off if citizens openly gawked, or even intervened in the war on crime.
And the folks gawked all right. Buck and I continued to not speak as we stood behind my car. Buck kept lighting more and more cigarettes. It frightened me a bit, like he was anticipating not being able to at all in the near future. I turned around again to look at the crowd.
Then, I was distracted by loud, gravely footsteps in front of me. I turned back around to see it was the highway patrolman now walking briskly towards me, reaching out for my hand. Instinctively, I put mine out to…shake. Goodbye? Instead, he just held it. I felt a rush of itchy adrenaline under my scalp. He then slowly and wordlessly lead me over to his car, silently placed the hand he was holding on the hood of his car, and asked me to put the other one there as well. Oh.
I remember thinking it was funny and almost cracked up. I looked up at Buck, who had a grave, pale, un-cracking up look on his face. The patrolman asked Buck to sit down in the dirt. I suddenly heard a lone “Whoot!” from the small crowd that had gathered back there.
The patrolman told me I was being detained, and asked if I had any weapons or narcotics on me. No. My sphincter clinched as he brushed his fingers quickly inside my inner thigh. He then reached around. He pulled one arm behind my back, and asked me to pull back the other. The handcuffs sounded metal but felt like plastic. He asked me to try and remove my shoes. I kicked them off (realizing the shoestrings were still unlaced). He looked through them, then helped me squeeze them back on. One of the other policemen who had arrived walked over and started talking to Buck. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Suddenly the patrolman placed his palm on my back and slowly pushed me forward, asking me to lean onto the hood of his car. I heard another “Whoot!” from the crowd. I placed my right cheek on his hood, facing my car.
Onto the hood of his car, and into my field of vision, was plopped a large, rolled-up clear plastic baggie, filled with clumps of green and brown grass at the bottom.
He reminded me I was being detailed and told me they had found this hidden in my glove compartment, and would continue searching the rest of the car. I could sort of look up and see they had now handcuffed Buck. The policeman took the baggie again, and held it for a moment in the air. There was a tiny cheer from the crowd. They actually cheered.
I turned my head to the other side and looked far into the small town federation gathered two cars down. I spied one tall, skinny guy who was eating a giant green popsicle and had one bloodshot eye. I recognized him. Buck and I had waved to him from my car not fifteen minutes earlier, while driving nude. Nabbing a pair of nudist dope fiends who looked like they’d wandered too far from fag island was probably a major coup for this town.
Buck and I weren’t exactly gay-looking. Actually, only one of us was being honest with the other about his sexuality, and it was something that, once it eventually surfaced, would end our friendship.
Still…Buck and I looked bad, and not in a good way. We couldn’t afford cool clothes. Our thrift store finds themselves were even second-hand (we inevitably learned about the newest Salvation Army stores too late). My hair was bleached, no…stripped a regrettable, bile-like orange—even though the Clairol kit promised platinum. It was hay-like with dark roots. In the wrong kind of light it looked right, but the sun was out that day. Buck had a tar-black, quadruple-processed mud clump perching on his skull. Born with curly hair, he harshly burned it daily with a sizzling dryer and gallons of smelly gel—a grueling hours-long ritual initiated after he discovered home straightening kits had lied (as a child he used to wet his hair and then sleep with a pantyhose over his head). Then it was dyed it black on top of all that (over his own natural black). He wanted to look like William Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain, and his hair did (unless there was 0.01% moisture in the atmosphere, which caused the fluffy points to retract inward like an octopus’ tentacles—revealing the trauma of his receding hairline and making him look like Bozo the Corpse). I wore a kelly green polyester button-down vintage shirt that was too small so the short sleeves stuck out at 45 degree angles. All the buttons were missing. Under that I was wearing my Brewing Up With Billy Bragg t-shirt (paid too much for at Bill’s Records) and fart-scented jeans. I’d always wanted teddy boy shoes—the rocker kind from London that have two inch-high black rubber soles and a buckle, like I’d seen in i-D magazine—and you could get them in Dallas at a store called Dress To Kill on lower Greenville Avenue (for about $10,000,000,000). Instead I settled for cheap pleather knock-off from Payless. They had 1/2 inch beige rubber soles that I’d sagaciously altered with a black Sharpie marker. Genius! Instead of socks, I wore blisters. Buck liked to wear white knit polo short sleeve shirts a lot—a jokey leftover from the time we thought it would be hilarious to show up at a goth-y Peter Murphy concert dressed in crisp white tennis outfits; headbands, shorts, sneakers, socks, racquets and all (security confiscated our racquets). But the rest of his outfit that day was sweatpants cut-offs (unevenly) and Converse sneakers. We were mall-ternative. I didn’t smoke…but Buck? He was a cigarette. So we were often hiding behind a Marlboro fog. I had dark circles under my eyes constantly back then, and often appeared sick. Oh yea, did I mention that Buck had the word “P-e-d-o-p-h H-i-t” faintly written on his forehead with black marker? (we’d actually wanted to draw “Pedoph Hitler” but we ran out of room) It was very faded but you could still make it out. Nights earlier during a party at my apartment, we drew it while he was passed out. The trick was always to draw something embarrassing on someone’s face when they were out, then in the morning try and get them out of the house—like to Denny’s for breakfast—before they could look in a mirror and see it, and watch them deal. It was about three days old. Based on our appearance, I began to assume we’d been unfairly profiled by these small town folk, then I remembered the nude driving. I guess the baggie too, now.
I turned my head back towards my car again. The patrolman and policeman were holding the bag of grass up to the sunlight. They looked, opened…smelled. How could I possibly explain? That baggie had been buried in the back of my glove compartment a very long time…and I had forgotten it. Even though friends and I had rolled the contents of that baggie and—quite appropriately—smoked it, that was a technical fact beside the point right now. We were screwed. The patrolman and police officer approached me, holding the bag forward as they advanced. They plopped it down in front of my face again, its open lip wagging in the hot breeze.
“What are the contents of this bag?” one asked.
I looked up at them, sideways, and there was a pause. I decided that honesty was my best gamble.
“It’s grass from James Dean’s grave.” I said.
They stared hard at me through their opaque sunglasses. There was another pause. “What?” one of them stated.
“You see,” I began, my cheek still pressed against the hot car, “I was on another road trip years earlier, and I was passing through Indiana. I decided to go visit the small town of Fairmount, Indiana, the hometown of James Dean - you know James Dean, right? The actor? You do, okay so anyway, he’s buried there now. I’m a really big James Dean fan, or was. Obsessed, really. I have video copies of all his movies, collected a few books and a lot of photos. Okay, so the townspeople in Fairmount were very nice, and pointed me towards the graveyard where he’s buried, and I found his grave site very informal. There were a few beer cans and cigarette butts scattered around the rather ordinary-looking headstone. Actually, it all just looked kind of very ordinary-looking…”
“What is the grass in the bag?” The patrolman repeated, interrupting loudly.
“It’s a clump of grass I ripped out from his grave site!” I blurted rapidly.
“I took it because no one was around…” I thought to enumerate.
“I…it’s disrespectful I know. I know!” I confessed, slightly catching my breath at the end. I kept looking up at them through the sides of my eyes. I was uncomfortable. They continued to stare, not budging.
“I…thought it might have James Dean’s DNA in it?” I added, timidly.
They took the baggie and turned their backs on me.
Suddenly, I heard a policeman I hadn’t seen before, and still couldn’t see because of the position I was in, approach me and ask me who someone named “Andy Wood” was.
“Who? Who is that?” I said with a quizzical, suddenly relaxed face. Genuinely not knowing the answer to a question made me feel centered again. I heard the mystery policeman just walk away as if my answer had been the one he was looking for. Huh?
I was now alone, still against the car. What was funny is that I was used to telling the story of the James Dean grass to people, showing them the bag and hoping their eyes would light up with questions. The truth was, my acquaintances were usually impressed but pretended not to be, staring blank-faced and shrugging “Oh, really?” half heartedly. Damn, scummy, insincere art friends. These policemen fell into that second category, the pretending to be unimpressed part…except they were being sincere.
Cars kept whizzing by all of us on the highway, me still bent over. This was getting complicated. I could hear what sounded like more cars pulling up behind the second policeman’s car, and more voices. I was getting more and more confused. Why weren’t they asking me about the nude driving? Who was Andy Wood? I realized I had no idea where Buck was. I tried to crane my eyes around to find him.
I decided to stand erect.
“How’d you like me to contact the graveyard people in Indiana?” another policeman I hadn’t seen suddenly came out of nowhere and asked me, causing me to bolt back down onto the car hood. He was holding up the baggie (how did he get it?), and there was a dog—lead on a leash by a patrolwoman—who jumped up and began sniffing at the bag and batting it with its paws. They all must have all pulled up in the other cars I’d heard.
“Are you aware it’s a felony to vandalize a grave site?” he continued, as the dog batted at the baggie with its nose.
It was true. Actually, was it? Yes… it might as well have been, yes. The cops and dog joined the others at my car without waiting for an answer. They continued to search through it. I watched as the dog got into my car and started rooting around as they let go of its leash.
I realized I was probably in the clear because he wouldn’t have mentioned calling the Indiana graveyard if he hadn’t doubted it was marijuana in the first place, even though the whole idea of calling a graveyard to report stolen grass was interesting. But the series of the events had gotten off on the wrong foot, and I felt like the police now had something to prove. Maybe I had just confessed to a worse crime. Maybe grave grass robbing is a gateway crime to eventual grave robbing, and then corpse organ smuggling, and eventual all-out necrophiliac orgies. This is how they break you down, isn’t it? I heard myself saying ‘Yes Sir’ in my head.
I heard my neck popping as I strained it around again to get a better view. I spied Buck, sitting back further, still in the dirt, his hands cuffed behind his back. With his back to them, he was literally arguing with the small group of locals who had gathered to watch. The policemen weren’t even keeping an eye on him. Someone from the crowd was making kissing noises. Great.
Without warning, I felt my arm being grabbed. I turned around to see one of the policemen yanking me up from the car hood. I suddenly heard Buck shouting in a high-pitched, warbly whine. I looked over and saw two policemen standing next to him, leaning down. He seemed to be yelling, trying to explain himself. I thought I caught the phrase “…a charming man!” (which caused the onlookers to howl with laughter). The itchy scalp adrenaline shot through me again. I got worried (about more than just jail).
It all happened really fast, they started handling me and Buck really rapidly. One of the patrolmen lead me over to his car, opened the back door, and sat me in the passenger seat, holding my head down. One of the other police came over and told me to put my feet inside. He told me I was still being detained. I said “What’s going o…” as he abruptly slammed the door shut.
Have you ever been inside the back seat of a police car in the bright daytime, alone? It’s zen-like. It’s sealed very tight, so all sound outside is nearly silent. The windows are tinted very dark, and the black leather interiors are thick with blinking, complex machinery. It’s like being sealed in a space pod.
I could see Buck being led past me, to one of the cars behind me. He looked flustered, his face was beet red—actually purple through the blue-tinted glass. There was a lot of activity, all of the locals were really moving around now. If there was a border between authority figures and townspeople, it didn’t exist here. I saw more dogs. Behind me, there was a circle of police gathered around one of the other police cars, looking at something. Ahead, they now weren’t just going through my car, they seemed to be dismantling the sections in back that held the spare tire and jack. They had the back hatchback pulled fully open. In the glinting sunlight, the upside down, backwards word “masturbation” written on the glass looked like “WASTIN’ BATH TV.”
Suddenly I worried about Buck. What if he hadn’t gotten into another patrolman’s car? Had the crowd of onlookers lynched him?
The door of the car I was in flew open and another patrolman I hadn’t seen yet looked in at me. He asked “What is your name?”
I told him; “Mark Allen.”
“Who’s Andy Wood?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” I said, again confused, “My friend’s name is Buck…”
“We know that.” he interrupted. “Do you know a Morris Smith?”
“Uhhhh…” I began to trail off, my eyes looking away as I genuinely tried to think, adding, “Who, again? I don’t…” The patrolman slammed the door. My confusion was confirmation for him, but it was genuine. I had no idea.
My eyes followed him as he walked up towards my Toyota. I could now see that most of the junk and garbage that had accumulated inside my car had been laid onto the ground or placed on the roof.
As I strained to see, I saw the policemen shoving something in one of the dog’s faces. It was a crumpled up brown paper bag, one which had been stuffed deep, deep into the recesses of my side arm compartment—no doubt buried under moldy Whataburger wrappers and unpaid campus student parking tickets.
Oh, shit (number two).
A rush of creepy nostalgia surged to the surface. Inside that paper bag was yet another plastic baggie, this one wrapped in tin foil. It contained about fifty teeny tiny zip-lock bags, you know the kinds you can buy in head shops? Also, a small wad of cash. Anyway, inside each of the teeny tiny bags was…
The door swung open again.
“What is you name again?” another new policeman who’s face I hadn’t seen yelled inward as the glorious less-hot hair hit my wet face.
“I forgot about that bag. It’s…” I stammered.
He slammed the door again. A lawyer would have scolded me for trying to admit the truth, but they would have been wrong. I was the believin’ type.
Inside each of those tiny clear plastic bags was a little square of white material, neatly cut and sealed. I know…it looked bad.
I looked ahead of me and watched as the police took the itty bitty little plastic bags out of the new baggie, and looked at the little squares of white material in them against the sunlight. They took the money out of the paper bag and laid it on on the hood of my car. Like I said, it wasn’t much, probably $7 at the most. They looked content and preoccupied with what they were doing.
All the people gathered around my car like it was a garage sale. They were still taking things out and putting them on the roof, and there was a lot in there. The two dogs kept jumping in and out of the open doors. Some of the locals standing around appeared to be having conversations about subjects entirely unrelated to what was happening. Besides popsicles, people were eating other food they’d brought with them. It was like a town picnic. I had no idea how I was going to get all the stuff that was piled all around the car back in. Most of it was trash…but there was some clothes in there too, some tapes, an old guitar effects pedal. Somewhere in there was a copy of that famous 1985 Penthouse with the early nude photos of Madonna. It got special attention. On its cover we had used an eraser to white-out Madonna’s eyes, and drew a cartoon bubble making her say “I Eat Human Flesh,” then blacked-out six of the letters at the top so it said “PE - - - - - - E.” First some of the locals were holding up to make others laugh. Then later two younger guys were off further in the field away from my car, slowly thumbing through it. At least it wasn’t gay porn.
I saw one of the other police begin to walk over to the patrol car I was in. I remember getting excited because I thought he was going to open the door again. I needed more oxygen. He walked right past the car even though my face followed him eagerly. I started to feel dehydrated. Despite feeling like you’re in outer space, it’s hot in the back of a sealed police car.
Suddenly the door swung open from a different direction. They had a way of surprising me with that. I instinctively inhaled as a refreshing blast of hot dusty air hit my wet face. A patrolman leaned down and held up the crumpled bag with the pieces of white squares in little bags inside of it. “What’s in the bag that we found in your side arm compartment?” he asked tersely.
“They’re pieces of Morrissey’s shirt.” I tried to say as fast as possible, knowing a had a long, awkward story ahead of me, “He’s the lead singer from The Smi…”
The door slammed shut again.
They were little pieces of Morrissey’s t-shirt. My friends and I were all way into The Smiths at the time. I had seen them perform on their The Queen Is Dead tour, at The Bronco Bowl in Dallas. During part of the show’s encore, Morrissey tore off his white t-shirt and tossed it into the crowd (I was at the front, a standing-only swarm of chanting, ecstatic fans sweatily singing along to every song). When he threw it, there was an animalistic feeding frenzy. People pounced and shredded it like rabid wolves. It was obliterated in less than a second, and I ended up with a huge ripped chunk of it, which included most of the v-neck collar. I would show it to people who demanded to see it. Everyone wanted to touch it. Soon people started offering to buy it off of me, but I couldn’t part with it, so I started selling little pieces of it, or trading them for other things. It became like a little side business for me; everybody wanted Morrissey’ microgerms. One day, while I was in a head shop on Fry Street in Denton, I saw they sold individual teeny tiny sealable clear baggies. You could get a hundred of them for like $1.50. I think they were for crack rocks. I suddenly realized that they would be perfect to put little pieces of Morrissey’s shirt in and sell them like that. Plus I got tired of people touching the shirt all the time…I wanted to preserve its smell. So one night, I cut the shirt into about fifty little perfect 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch squares, sealed them up in the little baggies, and sold them for $5 a pop. Actually, sales had dropped a bit after I’d decided to do that. So, I just kept the whole thing in the bottom of the side arm compartment of my car, where it stayed for the whole summer. Then a year. I’d obviously forgotten about it.
I rehearsed this story over and over in my head as I watched another patrolman walk back to my gutted Toyota, wearing rubber gloves and carrying a black leather satchel. I saw the patrolman with the gloves take out some little plastic vials of liquid and squeeze drop bottles. Next to them, one of the local family’s little girls was apprehensively petting a third drug-sniffing dog as it licked her hands.
I eventually noticed most of the grass from James Dean’s gave was loose and out of the bag, just laying discarded on my car hood, most of it was gradually blowing off and onto the ground by where some people were standing.
One of the police officers came over and opened the door again. I opened my mouth to speak, but instead began licking beads of sweat that rolled down my face onto the corners of my mouth, and just listened. The policeman had a painful look on his face, in contrast to the small group of locals gathered right behind him, looking straight into the car at me, grinning. He stated “I want to make it clear that you are currently being detained by the Texas Highway Patrol under suspicion of the carrying and sale of illegal narcotics.” He slammed the door again. All the locals just stood there still watching me through the glass.
I heard another woman approached the policemen and follow him back to my car, saying “euks-tuh-see.”
I just sat there. God was it hot. I wanted them to take us to jail so I could have some fresh air. Perhaps for punishment for nude driving—a charge I was sure we were going to end up on death row for now—they would force me to take off all my clothes and run up and down the grassy median naked as one of those ironic bizarre punishments you’re always reading about…ahhh, that would feel so nice right now.
I think I might have lost some time, because at one point I looked over and the locals who were staring at me through the glass were suddenly gone, and the mood outside seemed to have calmed. I was starting to notice that it weirdly didn’t quite seem as hot anymore, even though it was, and I felt my heart pounding through my chest, I thought: this is what heatstroke feels like. Suddenly the door swung open again, and gloriously less-boiling air flooded by wet clothes. I looked at another new officer standing there, this one female, holding the door as she said “Mr. Allen?”
“Y-u-u-h-h?” I slurred.
“Could you step out please?” she asked almost chirpy-ily.
I saw an entirely exhausted looking Buck (thank God!) sulking back in the direction of my car behind her, robotically lighting a cigarette as he walked. I looked ahead—the police and townspeople were hurriedly piling stuff carefully back into my car. I tossed one leg over the seat and gravity yanked it to the ground like a raw ham.
“Oh here let me help you Mr. Allen.” she said in a tone people use in nursing homes. She put one hand to my waist and placed another on top of my head as I slipped out of the back seat like a squid flopping out of a sack. She turned me around and undid my handcuffs. I saw there was a visible puddle of sweat where I had been sitting.
“Mr. Allen, we’re writing you a ticket for an expired inspection sticker on your license plate.” This was indeed a fact. I turned back around and stared at her as I kind of rubbed my wrists. My mind had slowed to a near-hallucinatory trudge, but still I was able to think quick enough to not ask why, but, or if.
“Why don’t you go have a seat in your car now,” she said, looking in that direction, “and I’ll bring the ticket for you to sign, and your license and registration back to you, okay?”
“U-h-h-k-a-a-y-y.” I said.
I almost crawled back to my vehicle with the distinct feeling that the ground wanted to rush up and slap me in the head.
As I slumped into the driver’s seat, I looked over at Buck. It woke me up. He’d been in the car for only about two minutes but I could tell he was already on his third cigarette. I smiled, as if to say “Oh my G…”
“Shutupandfuckyouandshutup!” he phlebotomized, staring ahead.
Okay. I looked at myself in the rear view mirror. Both Buck and I looked like boiled, greasy yams.
“They made me tell them the story about the Morrissey shirt again and again.” Buck suddenly offered, adding “…and again and again. And again and again and again and over and over and over.”
“Really?” I offered, and he actually smiled.
“Why aren’t we going?” he then asked in mock-anger.
“I have to wait for my license and papers and the ticket.” I said.
“Ticket for what?” he asked slowly.
“For an expired sticker on my license plate.” I said, adding “That’s all.”
“Oh.” he said, loosing his smile and getting that ironically relaxed look people get sometimes when they find out they’ve won a prize, like the opposite of when people start laughing hysterically after surviving a horrible accident.
We both just stared forward. The officer ran back up to my car window and handed me my license back.
“Here you go-o-o!” she almost sang as she handed me the metal ticket-dispensing box attached to a pen, explaining that 30-to-60 days rule thing.
“Can I ask you a question?” the officer inquired.
“Sure.” I said horsely.
“Why did you sign the back of your driver’s license with the name ‘Andy Wood?’” she asked, turning the box around to look at my signature.
“What? Oh…” I said, scrunching my face and realizing as I spoke, “That! Oh, that doesn’t say ‘Andy Wood,’ it says ‘Andy Warhol!’”
“Who?” she said, her face suddenly dropping as she raised a hand to motion the officer in the car behind us.
She yanked my license back out of my hand, which I hadn’t officially even really taken from her yet.
“Andy Warhol! You know, the artist?” I said as she looked back towards the other officer. She finally disappeared in that direction altogether.
“What now?” Buck said, lighting the last cigarette of the pack.
A few years earlier, Andy Warhol had a book signing at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Dallas, promoting his photo book America, and I went. It was a big turn-out, and a big deal, for Dallas. All my friends were there. He would sign his book, or other things if you brought them. People brought prints, record albums, soup cans, things like that. I had the spontaneous idea of having him sign the back of my driver’s license, in the organ donor signature area. Andy seemed particularly excited by doing this. He even had someone go find a pen that would sign the plastic laminate and never rub off.
Suddenly the policewoman was back at my window with a less happy look on her face, handing me the license yet again.
“You see,” I started right in, wanting to tell her the story out loud, “Andy Warhol, you know, the artist? He was having a book signing in Dallas…”
Suddenly the other cop ran up behind her and said “We ran the name ‘Andy Warhol’ through the system and nothing came back.”
“Oh yea!” I leaned out my window and turned to say to him, “That’s what I was just going to tell her! See, Andy Warhol, the artist…he was having a book si…”
“That’s all! Thanks!” the policewoman said with a huge smile as she raised her hand in one of those imaginary wall-like hand waves, adding, “Goodbye and have a safe trip!” And they both turned and walked back to their cars without waiting for a response.
What nude driving? We’re sure the Texas Highway Patrol and local police department knew about it, and that one or more of the people we’d waved to pulled over and called it in on a pay phone. Our theory is that they looked at us, and thought searching the car would reveal even more. They were right. I would say that actually they were lucky I had an expired inspection sticker to charge me with, but I think we were the luckiest of all on that count.
“I guess they didn’t want to hear about my Andy Warhol driver’s license.” I said to Buck.
“Can we go get a Big Gulp?” Buck asked, fiddling with the tape deck.
“Let’s each get two.” I said, slamming the gas pedal as I slowly and cautiously peeled out. The sun was about to set.
Mere days after the incident, we returned back to Dallas from Austin. Now I should explain, many of our friends at the time were bombastically shallow. For many of us, it would take graduating from college to realize we’d never really graduated from high school. In these very small circles, making an entrance while bragging loudly about something scandalous that had just happened to you was the most valued currency of power. Getting into those scandalous situations was encouraged at all times, being a good storyteller about them was a requirement, and lying was an unwritten rule.
We burst into my Dallas apartment, finding it filled with the usual mix. Even though it was midday summer, we walked into drawn horizontal blinds and all the lights on. The air smelled of peroxide and cigarette smoke, and a Nightmares In Wax record spun on the turntable. Two boys I didn’t know stared up at us with dripping hair-dye plastic bags on their heads, smoking cigarettes and getting Shimmer Lights shampoo all over the Nightmares In Wax cover. We excitedly told everyone what had happened. Nobody believed us.
“No! No! we really did it!” we whined enthusiastically. We told them how we were pulled over, and everything that followed, the James Dean grass stuff, the deal with Morrissey shirt pieces, the Warhol license.
“You liars!” they each blabbed in rounds. Realizing I had my ticket for driving with an expired inspection sticker as proof, I proudly unfolded and displayed it. Cary-Beth, the most obnoxious and foul-mouthed of all our friends (she was a receptionist for the Dallas chapter of Just Say No!, and dealt crank on the side) yanked it out of my hand and glared at it.
“This isn’t real you assholes!” she scathed, “You Xeroxed this!”
It wasn’t until days later that I realized I couldn’t find my James Dean grave grass anywhere in the car, or the pieces of Morrissey’s shirt (or even the Penthouse). A month later, when I would go to the DMV to update my soon-to-be-expired driver’s license, they would confiscate my prized one with Andy Warhol’s signature. Six months later, Buck and I would have a pathetic falling out and never see each other again. Three years after that summer I would move to New York City and say goodbye to Texas forever.