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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My First Blog About Firsts...

There are a lot of things I miss about being a kid. Recess, for one. Nap time. Saturday morning cartoons, and summers at my grandfather’s house. But I think the thing I miss most is the feeling that my whole life was ahead of me. Every experience was a first, and life seemed so infinite that I thought I might never run out of new things to see, feel and do.

There was my first snowfall--my mom and I were living in a single-wide trailer at the time, and I can remember looking out the window at the field in front of our home, blanketed by a foot and a half of fresh powder.  I wanted to go out and play in it, so she bundled me up and sent the dog and I on our way. Unfortunately, I was only about 3 feet tall at the time, so the snow came up to my waist. I took one step off the front stoop and promptly got stuck.

There was my first kiss--her name was April McCuen, and I met her at church camp. I remember at service one afternoon, I knelt next to one kid with Leukemia and another who’d just lost his parents and said ‘God, if you answer just one prayer today, let it be mine…let April kiss me before the end of the week.’ Funnily enough, it worked. On the last day of camp, her mom’s station wagon pulled up alongside me, and the passenger window rolled down. 

“Come here,” she said. 

Unsuspecting, I leaned in. She grabbed my face and planted a big wet one right on my lips. Unfortunately, in the seconds preceding, I’d stuffed three fourths of a bag of salt and vinegar chips in my mouth. The shock of the unexpected smooch caused me to stumble backwards and exhale at the same time, spraying her face with a thin layer of wet crumbs. Horrified, she rolled up her window and the car sped away. I spent the whole year hoping I’d have a chance to explain, but by the time next summer rolled around, she was pregnant. At 13.

Oh well, guess I dodged that bullet.

There was even the first time I broke up with someone on the spot--it was the girl I dated right after high school. We were out to eat one night, and just as I put a hot wing covered in bleu cheese into my mouth, she pointed at the bleu cheese and said: 

“I had a yeast infection one time that looked exactly like that.”

I was mortified. I looked down at the bleu cheese, then back at her, then back at the bleu cheese, and then back at her.  In that moment, all I could think to say was:

“Yeahhh, I don’t think this is gonna work.”

I took her home, and never saw her again. And I didn’t eat bleu cheese for over a decade.

OK, so maybe they weren’t always good firsts…but they were new experiences and, to me, that’s a central part of life: growth; evolution; becoming a more complete version of yourself through unique and unprecedented exploits. 

So you can understand why I was a little depressed a couple of weeks ago when I turned 31. It wasn’t so much the number that had me down; I just felt like I was running out of firsts. I’d already been to Europe and gotten married; I passed the Bar Exam and won my first case; I’ve acted in a movie, been on TV, sang in a band and gotten VD….oh wait, nevermind; I haven’t done that last one. 

Yet.

The point is, I suddenly started feeling like more of my life was behind me than ahead, and that was a truly frightening feeling. It stuck with me for days. I had trouble eating, trouble sleeping, trouble getting motivated to do even the simplest of things, like shave.

Fortunately, facial hair looks pretty good on me…so no harm done there.

Of course, eventually my rational side caught up to my irrational side (I like to call her Sheila), and I realized that I still have plenty of new experiences to partake in before I can consider myself officially over the hill. But just in case I ever start to feel like I’m running out of firsts again, I decided to make myself a little list of things that I still have yet to do. It helped me feel better about getting older….who knows, maybe it’ll help you too:

1. Get a piece of my writing published.
2. Become a father.
3. Run a marathon.
4. Travel to every continent (3 down, 4 to go).
5. Take a cruise.
6. Donate a kidney (selling it on the black market would be acceptable too).
7. Build a home (burning said home down for the insurance money optional).
8. Attend the Super Bowl, Olympics and World Cup.
9. Skydive.
10. Get in a heated argument at dinner where my date throws her wine on me.
11. Swim with dolphins.
12. Climb a mountain.
13. Learn to like fruits and vegetables (so far I’ve got most green veggies down, but that’s about it).
14. Spend the night in a haunted house--by myself.
15. Experience weightlessness.
16. Drive as fast as I can on the Autobahn.
17. Run for office.
18. Get caught in a sex scandal while running for said office.
19. Make a hole-in-one.
20. Catch a foul ball or homerun at a baseball game.
21. Build a giant sandcastle (and sleep in it, weather permitting).
22. Join the mile-high club.
23. Anonymously make someone’s dreams come true.
24. Be a mentor.

And my personal favorite:

25. Get banned from Applebees.

It’s not a complete list--I’m sure I’ll add to it as time goes on. And hopefully, I’ll take some stuff off of it too. But just having it makes me feel better, because it reminds me that no matter old you get or how many experiences you have, there’s still a lifetime’s worth of living to do. And that’s a beautiful thing.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Last Train To Tarragona

I’ve always loved rom coms. I don’t know why--they’re formulaic (couple gets together, something happens to break them up, they get back together, the end), they’re unoriginal (how many Odd Couple Bromances and Quirky Girl Can’t Figure Out What She Wants movies can we make, anyway?), and they’re unrealistic (name one person you know that married a vampire).

Still…I love ‘em. I think I love them in part because they’re unrealistic. I mean, I know I probably won’t meet the love of my life while crashing her sister’s wedding, or on the morning train to Montauk. I probably won’t proclaim my love at exactly midnight on New Years Eve, telling her ‘when you know who you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible!’ And I probably won’t die, my hand in hers, mere moments after she passes away. That stuff probably won’t happen.

But I’d like to believe it could

I think, if you’re really lucky, the universe offers glimpses of fairy tale romance from time to time. And if you happen to be in the right place when the all the pieces come together, you can experience something life affirming and, to be trite, truly magical.  

I had one of these moments around a decade ago. I was having a hard time getting over an ex-girlfriend and, in a bout of youthful melodrama, impetuously ran away to Europe hoping to get over her. 

Oddly enough, it worked.

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LAST TRAIN TO TARRAGONA
As the sun rose on the last day of our travels, I was sitting on the balcony of my uncle’s flat in Paris’s Latin Quarter, smoking a cigarette and watching the grocers put out fresh produce across the street. Will had passed out on the couch hours ago, a half-empty bottle of champagne still in his hand.  I needed rest too, but not yet…I liked Paris best in the early morning. Watching people do ordinary things like preparing their shops for the day, getting children off to school, or even watering plants--these were the things I knew I’d miss. 

My thoughts began to wander. 30 days ago, we’d landed at De Gaulle airport, half drunk and bleary eyed from a 10 hour flight. Two American college kids with a Eurrail pass and time to kill…the world was ours to discover. We slept most of the first day, but it seemed like we hadn’t slept since.

How many times over the past month had I seen the sun rise? In how many cities? During our first stay in Paris, I’d watched it from a bench in Montmarte, accompanied by Will, our driver, Gorge, and a French socialite Gorge had managed to convince that I invented Google. 

I saw it from a hostel in Munich, eating french fries with a Dutch girl named Katja. She was the only graffiti artist I ever slept with. 

In Florence, I was riding a bus with a dreadlocked hippy girl by the name of Rose. Or Sunshine. Or Rainbow. Or something stupid like that. 

All those dawns, all those women, and more…had I learned anything?

Inevitably, my thoughts turned back to her. A thousand miles, several countries, and a drunken blur of a month later, and I still couldn’t go more than a few minutes without thinking of her. It was almost 1 a.m. in the states…she was probably sleeping.  But what if she was out with another guy? Worse, what if she was in bed with another guy? The hypocrisy of caring who she slept with while I was fornicating my way through an entire continent was clear to me…but it changed nothing.

I put out my cigarette and lit another. A thin layer of clouds crept across the sky, and a light rain began to fall. The shop owners below scurried about, rolling out awnings and covering their merchandise. About that time Will joined me on the balcony.

“Been to sleep?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I replied. “Didn’t wanna miss the last sunrise.”

“I’m sure the rises in Spain, too.”

“You know what I mean.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes, me taking long drags from my cigarette and Will alternately stretching and scratching his crotch. Finally, he broke the silence.

“What time did Gorge leave?”

“Not too long after you passed out. Maybe half an hour.”

“And Marit?”

“Gorge took her home.”

“Really? I would’ve thought you’d want to get laid one more time.”

“Eh, wasn’t in the mood.”

“Dana?”

“Yeah.”

He considered for a moment, then replied “no worries…I’m sure things will be better once we get settled in Tarragona.”

“I hope so.”

We were quiet again. The rain was falling harder now, so Will got up and went inside. I stamped out my cigarette and followed him in. Gorge would be back later to take us to the train station, and I still needed to sleep. I walked into my room and fell face first on the bed. As I drifted off, I found myself praying for the first time in a long while. 
Dear God, I know I don’t deserve your help. But I’m hurting pretty bad right now. If you could just give me a sign--some reason to keep believing--I’d really appreciate it.

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By the time I awoke, it was dark out. I took a shower, got packed, and met Will in the living room.

“Did you hear from Gorge?” I asked.

“Yeah, he’ll be here shortly,” he answered, adding “I guess his wife is pretty pissed at him.”

“Did he say that? Why?”

“Apparently she has a problem with him repeatedly staying out all night with two college kids.”

“But…that’s his job. He’s a driver.”

“His job is to drive. Not go to clubs with us, drink with us, and help you convince girls you invented the internet.”

“It was Google, and that was his idea.”

“Whatever.”

“Hmmm…well damn, now I feel bad.”

“Ha, like you’re capable of feeling bad.”

Will’s comment stung. The truth was I felt bad all the time. Every girl I’d slept with and didn’t call, every person I’d been rude to…I didn’t like the person I’d turned into since the breakup. But I didn’t know how to get back to the old me. 

A while later, the buzzer rang; it was Gorge. We grabbed our bags, shut out the lights and locked the door one last time. In a couple of hours we would be on a train bound for the port city of Tarragona, Spain, where we would live and study for the next several months. It was the start of a new chapter. I hoped it would be a good one.

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We arrived at the train station with an hour to spare. Fortunately, it was late in the day and there weren’t many people at the station, so we were able to get our tickets and find our platform about fifteen minutes ahead of our scheduled departure time. 

There was just one problem…even though there was a train waiting there, the monitor overhead said it was the train scheduled to leave before ours. At that time, it wasn’t unusual for the trains in Europe to be running behind, so we assumed there was just some sort of delay and sat down on a nearby bench.

Soon enough, the train departed. We sat expectantly, waiting for our train to appear behind it, but it never came. After twenty minutes or so I walked over to the ticketing booth.

“Excuse me,” I said, “we’re waiting on the train to Tarragona. Is it running late?”

The employee stared at me with a confused expression. I thought maybe he didn’t understand me, so I began to repeat myself.

“We’re waiting on the train to Tarr--”

“I know what you said,” he interrupted, “but this train…it just left. You were sitting right there, didn’t you see it?”

“Wait, that train was going to Tarragona? The monitor said it was going to Germany!”

“Ah…I’m sorry, this was a, how you say, mistake?”

I was furious…I could feel my face turning bright red.

“OK,” I began, “let me get this straight. A little while ago I picked up a ticket from you TO TARRAGONA, yes?”

“Yes.”

“And then I sat down on that bench over there, right? Where you could clearly see me?”

“Yes.”

“And that train…even though the monitor said Germany, you knew it was going to Spain, right?”

“Yes.”

“THEN WHY THE HELL DID YOU LET ME WATCH IT LEAVE?”

He didn’t answer. Suddenly, something else dawned on me.

“That was the last train of the day, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.”

And there it was…we were stuck in Paris for another night. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, except our Eurrail passes expired that day, meaning we would most likely have to buy another ticket if we ever wanted to reach our final destination.  Defeated, I turned around and walked back over to Will. I relayed the story to him, and asked him to take care of securing our tickets for the next day, saying “if I have to hear that bastard say yes one more time I swear to God I’ll wring his neck.” 

Fortunately, Will has always been a very calm, reasonable person, and he was able to get our tickets for free.  My spirits somewhat uplifted, we decided to get a taxi back to my uncle’s flat, and started the trek back out of the vast wasteland that was the Gare du Nord train station at night...

…but we went the wrong way.

By the time we realized our mistake, we’d gone a half mile in the wrong direction, and were at the completely wrong end of the terminal. It was so late, there wasn’t a soul around that we could see…no taxis either, since they parked in the main entrance. I was overcome with the uncontrollable urge to laugh, and started cackling like a madman. I was officially losing my mind.

Suddenly, there was a tap on my shoulder. I winced at my surprise.

“Parlez-vous France?”

Her eyes were puffy from crying, her cheeks stained with mascara…but she was beautiful all the same, long blonde hair flowing past her shoulders, blue eyes and thick, supple lips. Then I noticed what she was wearing…an Arkansas Razorbacks hoodie. She was an American, and a southern one at that.

Still, I was pissed off and in no mood to waste any more time, so I got straight to the point.

“In ENGLISH, please.”

If she was offended by my rudeness, it didn’t show. A look of relief washed over her expression, and her frown turned quickly into a brilliant smile.

“You’re…American?” she asked.

“Well, aren’t you?” I replied.

"Yes, but….oh, nevermind. You have no idea how happy I am to see you."

"Why’s that?" Will asked.

"Because we’ve been stuck all alone in this dreadful place. Of course, we don’t speak French so even if there had been people it wouldn’t have mattered much."

"We?"

She turned around to point out a small girl almost hiding in a distant corner. "That’s Anna. She’s kind of shy so she wouldn’t come, but at this point, I was willing to try anything."

"What do you mean?"

"We’ve been stuck here for three hours. We’re on our way to Rome, and we were only supposed to have a stopover in Paris to change trains but there’s some sort of labor strike and they won’t be running any more until sometime tomorrow."

"So why didn’t you get a taxi to a hotel and rent a room for the night?" I asked.

"Well, we don’t really have any money, and like I said we don’t speak French. Look, I’m sorry to bother you; its obvious you’re in a bad mood. I was just wondering if you could tell us where we might go, a coffee shop that stays open all night, something like that…that’s all."

She looked hurt, like she was let down by someone who was supposed to understand. "They will surely help us," she must have said to her friend when she saw us coming closer. I wondered what she would say if I sent her back empty-handed.

"No, I’m sorry. We missed our train too, so I know how you feel. I’m just a little upset because I’m pretty sure it was our own fault. But that doesn’t give me any right to take it out on you. What’s your name?"

"Amanda," she smiled, "and yours?"

“West.”
  
I invited them to go back and stay the night at my uncle’s place with us. We all agreed that it would be easiest for us to make it back to the station if we were together, so they came. She went on tell us that she was a Sophomore at the University of Arkansas studying in Reading, England for the semester. Will commented on how good it was to be around southern girls again, and that he was getting tired of being surrounded by such shallow people all the time. I gave him a wry smile, knowing he was referring to me. 

As the night wore on, we talked about love, and football, music and movies. We shared stories, and passed around champagne, all of us drinking straight from the bottle. Eventually Anna and Will settled in to watch Casablanca, leaving Amanda and I on the balcony where I’d started the day. 

She was telling me about how, after college, she wanted to move to Nashville and be a country music singer. After a considerable amount of goading and a few more sips of champagne, I convinced her to sing for me. I can’t remember the name of the song, but it was something by the Corrs, and it was so hauntingly beautiful that I couldn’t speak for several moments after she was done. 

We talked carelessly through those midnight hours, the conversation never growing stale. Eventually the sun began to rise, and I couldn’t help but laugh. 
“What’s so funny?” she asked. 

“I sat out here this morning, sad because it was going to be my last sunrise in Paris. But I guess you never know, do you?”

“Nope.” She smiled.

I walked inside to get one last bottle of champagne. Will and Anna had been dozing on the couch, but he woke up as I passed him, uttering a groggy “So…are you in love?””

"Not in love Will, just thankful."

"Thankful for what?"

Behind us a song came on--I Won’t Dance, Sinatra. I looked over my shoulder and saw Amanda, closing the top of the record player. I turned back to  Will and smiled, then jumped back to my course, dancingly vibrantly towards the kitchen.

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Not too long after that, we found ourselves waiting for another car to take us back to the station where it all began.

Amanda leaned her head on my shoulder and whispered, "You’re an angel, do you know that? Last night we prayed that someone would come along and rescue us. Anyone would have been okay, but it was you. You didn’t have to miss your train, it happened for a reason."

I was blushing.

"You’re an angel,” she repeated. “God sent you to answer our prayers."

I thought for a moment before answering her. "Well, I’m the least likely candidate for that job." I looked at the ground, and then back to her. "But thanks."

And with that, she kissed me.

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Post-Script:

I don’t know where I stand on religion, or God, or anything like that. At this point, all I know is that I don’t know. But I know this: I was going through a difficult time in my life, and prayed for a reason to keep believing. She was in a tough spot, and prayed for help. Then, through a series of freak occurrences involving a malfunctioning computer screen, a lazy train station employee, and my own terrible sense of direction, we were brought together on a cold night in a train station in Paris. If that’s not reason to believe in something, be it God, fate, the universe, whatever, I don’t know what is.

Amanda and I dated for about three months after that. It was my first, and only, intercontinental relationship. We told the tale of our meeting countless times, and everyone agreed that it was a great story, just like something you might see in a romantic comedy. 

But life isn’t a rom com, and we eventually broke up. Not for any particular reason, we just weren’t meant to be. And that’s when I learned that not all great stories end well…some of them just end. It’s hard to accept, and that’s probably why it very rarely happens in the movies, but it’s a fact of life nonetheless. I guess at the end of the day, you just have to appreciate those fairy tale moments for what they are…a fleeting glimpse of something truly beautiful. You cherish the experiences  they give you, learn from the lessons they teach, and keep searching for your happily ever after.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Time I (Accidentally) Blew Up A Gas Station

Some things you don’t ever live down.

For my buddy Matt, it was the time in high school when he tricked his parents into believing he had a job at Food Lion so he could go out on weeknights. It worked until they ran out of groceries.  For Dave, it was when he got mugged while passed out drunk in his car. The muggers lifted his lifeless body off of the seat, took his wallet and cell phone from his pockets, and put him back down. For good measure, they also took his stereo.

Another friend once led the police on a low-speed car chase through three counties, never once going above 19 miles per hour. And still another had to live with his parents for six months after he blew all his rent money “accidentally” taking home an escort in Vegas.

The point is, it happens to all of us. At some point, everyone does something dumb enough that people literally NEVER stop ragging them for it. Especially if you’re a guy. So all you can really hope for is that it’s something trivial...

…you know, like causing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property damage and being investigated by the FBI.

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THE TIME I BLEW UP A GAS STATION

The whole thing was Dana’s fault. 

See, Dana was my high school sweetheart. But she wasn’t always sweet. In fact, a lot of the time I didn’t even like her very much. But she was my first real girlfriend, and I was still naive enough to think the first person to say I love you must be the one. 

It was Friday night, and we were on our way to dinner and a movie. For whatever reason, Dana started complaining the second I picked her up.  I found myself wondering what would happen if I dove out of the car while it was moving, or faked a seizure. In all my daydreaming, however, I completely forgot that I’d needed to stop for gas. Soon my car started sputtering, and we pulled over to the side of the road. 

“Mmmmm hmm,” she announced, like she knew it was going to happen all along. “This is exactly what I was talking about.”

“You were saying I was a terrible planner. What does that have to do with this?”

“If you had PLANNED to go to the gas station, we wouldn’t be stuck on the side of the road, now would we?”

I wanted to beat my head against the steering wheel.  Instead, I just flicked a lighter I’d been carrying in my pocket, pondering my next move.  At that time, cell phones weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today, so I looked around for the closest place to use the phone.  I wasn’t too far away from my parent’s house…I figured I’d call them, have them bring some gas, and Dana and I would be back on the road, still on track to make our reservation.

The only place nearby was a house attached to a boat racing and upholstery store. I crossed the road and knocked on the door. A stubby, freckle-faced man answered. He looked me up and down for a moment before spitting some chew into an empty Mountain Dew Bottle.

“Can I help you?”

“Umm, yeah. I just ran out of gas…was wondering if I could use your phone?”

He stared at me suspiciously. “Phone ain’t workin,’” he replied.

“Oh...well thanks anyway,” I said, and started to walk away. I got halfway across the yard before I heard:

“Got some gas if you want...”

I turned around. I guess the quizzical expression on my face indicated to him that he should continue. 

“It’s not normal gas, it’s boat racing fuel. But as long as you don’t use too much of it you’ll be fine…”

 Friends, sometimes in life you have to take a step back. Pause, reflect on a situation, and really weigh all your options before moving forward. In retrospect, this was one of those times. When someone tells you ‘you’ll be fine,’ it’s usually a pretty good sign that YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE FINE.  Any fool knows that.

Of course, I’ve never been just any fool.

I took the gas tank and walked back to my car. Dana had on her pouty face, which was basically just a slight variation of her I smell shit face. It wasn’t attractive. I started pouring the gas, but wasn’t particularly graceful about it. I ended up spilling as much on the outside of the car as I got in it. 

I returned the tank, and we headed back towards the nearest gas station. Dana wasn’t talking to me at this point. I suppose she figured her silence would bother me more than her constant bitching. She was wrong.

We arrived at the station, and I got out to pump the gas. I noticed a burly, disheveled man playing video poker inside with what looked like three or four empty beer cans sitting beside him. To this day, I’ve never played video poker. I think, subconsciously, it’s because of people like him. Think about it--have you ever seen a well-dressed, good-looking person playing video poker? Exactly. It’s the same reason I don’t do crystal meth.

I’ve always been a fidgeter, so as I filled up I instinctively reached in my pocket and began flicking the lighter again. It was right about then that I learned something: A series of seemingly insignificant events, when strung together in the right order, can come together to really f%&k up your Friday night.

For example: 1) If Dana and I hadn’t been fighting, I probably would’ve remembered to stop for gas in the first place, and we would never have run out. 2) If the phone had been working at the house I went to for help, I would’ve just called my parents, and not accepted the fuel I was offered. 3) If it hadn’t been boat racing fuel, the octane level would have been lower, and the fumes wouldn’t have been so combustible. And 4) If I had been more careful, I wouldn’t have spilt so much of it on the side of my car. 

If any one of those things had gone differently, the events that followed that moment would probably never have happened. Of course, even the perfect storm needs a catalyst to set the whole thing in motion--a bolt of lightning, if you will. In my case, that bolt of lightning was me, absently-mindedly flicking a lighter in my pocket as I tried to figure out why I was dating a girl that seemed to dislike me so much.

Suddenly, there was a bright orange burst, as the fumes ignited and caused the air between myself and the car to literally catch fire. I yanked the hose from my gas tank and threw it on the ground; only now, instead of gas, the nozzle was spraying waves of fire onto the pavement around me. I screamed at Dana, who was still sitting in the front seat, to run. She turned back, and upon seeing what was happening, took off running into the forest behind the station. I didn’t see her again for over an hour.

I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, paralyzed, watching in awe as the fire climbed the hose toward the pump itself. About that time, the drunk man who’d been playing video poker wandered out of the store and shouted “GET AWAY FROM THE PUMP, DUMBASS!

I sprinted away from the car, and joined the man in front of the store. He looked at me, a smirk forming on his lips. “How on earth did you manage that?” he said.

Before I could respond, the gas pump exploded, sending debris flying all around us. This was apparently enough to make the drunk man decide my car wasn’t safe where it was, because the next words I heard were “MOVE YOUR GODDAMN CAR!”

 For some reason, I listened, and ran back toward the flames. The explosion of the first pump had caused the fire to spread, leaving my vehicle enveloped in a circle of fire. On top of that, the blaze had worked its way to the awning above the station, so molten aluminum dripped like candle wax to the cement around me. As I risked life and limb to save a 1996 GMC Jimmy I never even liked, I remember thinking I bet this is what Indiana Jones feels like.

I jumped in the front seat and put the keys in the ignition. Time seemed to be standing still. Well, I thought, this is it. I’m going to die a virgin. I took a deep breath, and turned the key. The car started, and I drove it to safety.

I went to the pay-phone, and called my mom. To this day, she swears this is the entire conversation  that was had:

Me: It’s on fire!

Her: What’s on fire?

Me: Citgo!

(Side Note: Exactly 3 weeks earlier, I had totaled my first car, a cherry red Jeep Cherokee. When it happened, my step-dad Pat was in the mountains camping, and my mom was painting the house, wearing some old blue sweats she’d had for years. When I blew up the gas station, Pat was again camping, and my mom had on the exact same outfit she was wearing 3 weeks prior. As a result of these two events, she burned the clothes and Pat wasn’t allowed to go camping again for over a year. Poor guy.)

As I heard the first sirens approaching, I sat down on the curb in the front of the store. I was covered in ash, the left side of my car was melted, and my girlfriend was probably up a tree somewhere, but all I remember thinking was dinner and a movie…how hard is it to do dinner and a f#%king movie??

Post-Script:

Over the next couple of hours I got called every name from dumbass to moron to Corky from Life Goes On. Everyone had a different reaction to the story: The sheriff threatened to take me to jail, the EMS drivers told me it was a miracle my car didn’t blow up, and the firefighters mostly just laughed. By the beginning of the next week, everyone in town knew, and it’s never left me since. 

Surprisingly though, everything seemed to work out okay in the end:

Dana eventually came out of the woods. Her parents wouldn’t let her ride in the car with me for six months after that. Best six months of our relationship.

I was investigated for arson, but was ultimately cleared of wrong-doing--I believe the official ruling was ‘too stupid to be malicious.’ 

The gas station got brand new pumps, and best of all--because it was an accident, all the repairs were paid for by the gas station’s insurance company.  

Of course, my parents decided I shouldn’t get off completely scot-free, so I was grounded for three weeks. But I still got to go to prom, and I was free again by summer…not too shabby, all things considered.

One thing did have me concerned though. How on earth would I ever top this?

Little did I know...