Sunday 25 Sep 2016

18 Candles
AJ Robinson

People often say that an 18th birthday is important. After all, you're officially an adult; you can vote and get married. So, my buddies at Venice High decided we were going to have us one major blow-out of a good time. The thing was, we lived in Venice, Florida - just south of Sarasota, and this was the early 80's. Back then, the Sarasota area was known as "Wrinkle City"! The joke around campus was that the average age in the county was: Dead. Forget about rolling up the sidewalks at sunset, there were no sidewalks - literally!

Also, this was not an easy time in my life; my parents had divorced, and we'd moved to Venice from the Boston area. So, I was the Damn Yankee in the area, and that did not tend to help in building friendships. Most of my teen birthdays had been pretty... well, thin. They usually consisted of dinner with my Dad, and then another - separate - dinner with my Mom. As for my brothers - if I was lucky - I might get a phone call from one or two of them, but that was about it. So, it was with some reluctance that I approached the prospect of a party with people in my age group.

The guys said not to worry; just to pick them up, and they'd show me what they had in mind. I had to do the driving because I was the only one with access to a car; my Dad's old VW squareback. So, at the appointed hour, I borrowed the keys - and got an admonition about safe driving, gas in the car, when to be home, and so on. You know, the usual paternal warnings to a teenage driver. As Dad had been shopping that day, he asked that I bring up the groceries he'd left in the back, when I got home. I cringed; he'd left groceries in the car! He assured me they were non-perishables, and I relaxed.

Picking up the guys, they directed me to an area we called South Beach; it was the beach at the southern end of town; real original, huh? We got down there, and they had arranged a little 18th birthday bar-B-Q right on the beach! Technically, this wasn't allowed, but the cops never came down here; so we were safe.

As I expected, the guest list was - minimal. Yeah, I'd not made a lot of friends in my "tenure" at Venice High. Oh well, when it comes to friends, it's quality, not quantity that matters. We at least got to grill up some burgers, chow down on some baked beans and Cole slaw, and even snuck a few beers. One friend had brought his BB gun, and we had fun shooting the empty bottles off of a low jetty that ran along the beach; while we bragged of our sexual "conquests," each one a lie, by the way. Yeah, we were typical teen boys! On the plus side, we at least remembered to thoroughly drown the fire when we were done.

All in all, it was a great evening.

That is, until we drove home. Yeah, we got pulled by one of Venice's finest. You have to understand, the town had a fairly sizeable police force; yet, the area had virtually no crime! So, they were divided into two types: those that just laid back and "went with the flow" (as they say), and those that were gun-ho for some action! The latter were the ones that were always rousting the teens - especially at night - and they knew that we liked to hang out at South Beach.

Naturally, as it was late, the officer that pulled us was suspicious; he wanted to know what we'd been up to. My friend with the BB gun turned white as a sheet - not a good sign, and we all smelled of beer. Now, in my defense, I stopped drinking a good hour before getting behind the wheel. Also, getting my friends home and then getting home myself would take all of about ten minutes, and be along one back road. So, I figured I was safe to drive. I think the cop was also upset that we were four boys, and not two boys and two girls. He probably would have been okay with such a group being out on the beach for a little make-out party, but what had we been up to?

The officer wanted to have a look in the back of the car. I figured, fine, what's the harm? Besides, the BB gun was under the feet of the guys in the backseat. So, getting out, I popped the hatchback, flipped back the tarp, and almost fainted. It was full of plastic bags that were all full of white powder! Now there was an 18th birthday present: busted for possession of drugs with intent to sell. I saw the gleam in the cop's eye; he was already practicing his speech to the media. It was going to be "The French Connection - Florida Version".

I tried to explain that I had no idea where it's come from, and that this was my Dad's car, and was told, "Muzzle it!" The cop was so excited, he didn't even bother to handcuff me or order my friends to get out of the car. Looking back, that wasn't too smart. I mean, if we had been drug dealers, shouldn't he have done that, and called for backup? That's what I always saw in all those cop shows on TV. Oh well, who was I to tell him his business? He tore open a bag, took a deep sniff and a taste, and just about puked.

Laundry detergent.

My Dad, ever the searcher for deals, had bought some broken boxes of detergent at the store, and then bagged the stuff in the clear plastic bags used for buying fruit. He hadn't bothered to tell me that, and I hadn't looked in the back of the car before then. The cop was so mad; he didn't even give me a ticket. He told me to get lost, and to never speak of this incident again - if I knew what was good for me.

I didn't have to be told twice. I jumped into the car, drove off - and my friends just about exploded into fits of giggles. Oh, they so wanted to plaster the story across the campus, but agreed not to.

All things considered, it was quite the fun and memorable 18th birthday.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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