Friday, June 18, 2010

Touring the World Via DMV

The Division of Motor Vehicles, no one who drives can escape it. A huge cross section of humanity is present there during the hours of operation. Rich or poor, fat or thin if you want to legally drive a car in the United States sooner or later the bell tolls and the time has come. A grumble here, a sigh there, we gird up our loins and sally forth to take care of our required documentation, registration, and identification. A necessary evil, not unlike going to the dentist, only with much worse lighting and less laughing gas, to be sure.

However, visiting three different DMVs in the course of one day is not recommended. I know this from bitter experience.

"What's your number?" I asked my son, as he returned from the information desk.

He consulted the scrap of paper, "543."

A little more than a minute later the clerk droned, "501, now serving 501. 501, now serving 501."

Oh this was going to be a long day's journey into night, all right.

I had been settling in to write an email to my friend Angela. I'm so far behind on email at this stage in the game, there are people who likely will accept nothing less than a written note from the alien that abducted me by way of apology. Finally I'd carved out an afternoon's worth of correspondence time, and I was looking forward to it. That's when my Mom Ears alerted me to an increasingly rare occurrence: The sound of my son's voice, with that tone to it. That "I'm actually afraid to tell you how much trouble I'm in right now, but you might want to prepare to freak out." That tone. That spine tingling, adrenaline alerting, sense sharpening tone.

"Mom?" He said. Just one word, but it's all in the inflection. My son had only left the house an hour earlier, and he was back, with that troubling quaver.

I immediately closed my laptop and set it down, "Yes?"

Weirdly, I tend to keep it short when tense. Something that never fails to unnerve those who know me well. An almost perfect stranger to brevity at all other times, I become one of the most concise communicators when things go south.

"Do you have an extra copy of my car insurance card?"

And we were off to the races. Flint had been pulled over back in December, for a variety of things, speeding was the primary reason, but the officer had found three other things to cite him on. My husband and I pay for almost everything in my son's life. The roof over his head, the tuition at his college, his car and medical insurance, almost every morsel of food that goes into his mouth, heck even his clothing is still provided by us. He's only nineteen, and he's a full-time student during the school year. However, he does have two things for which he is financially responsible, his cell phone and his car registration. Guess which one he let lapse?

To try and condense his tale of woe: he had neglected to pay entirely for his ticket , having taken the installment plan with Jefferson County. On the morning, six months after receiving his violation, that he was finally going to be able to pay off his fine altogether, he was pulled over again. This time with an overdue balance at Jeffco, a car that still needed to be registered, and having misplaced his insurance card. Since we're in Douglas County, my son was earning a rep both far and wide.

Rather than impound his vehicle and arrest him, the good-souled cop who pulled him over for grossly expired tags, gaped in horror and said, "Kid, you do realize you could actually go to jail for this? I'm putting your license on probation."

With that he walked away, toting said license, and off he drove.

As my son outlined the story, I listened in almost complete silence, and then without a word, went to the file that contains extra copies of our insurance cards, and fished one out. I stopped by the bathroom, combed my hair, checked my makeup, secured the dog in the large master bath with water and toys, then grabbed my purse and keys.

"Mom, I'm going to need a ride to..." His girlfriend had rescued him from his encounter with the LawDog but I knew he needed someone who couldn't choose to dump him halfway through the proceedings, just to escape.

"I know, let's get going."

I suppose I could have swung into the lecture to end all lectures. I could have let loose with the regular song and dance about responsibility and growing up, but we had a problem to solve and only about six hours left in the day to solve it. Besides, I knew even as we embarked on the journey, that this entire adventure would likely suck with such a vengeance that he'd never forget it.

First we went to the courthouse, a mere thirty minutes away, where my son paid the remainder of his fine. Then we went to a DMV near our home which turned out to not do registrations, then to another that could not solve my son's myriad of problems, and were referred to the full service DMV another forty minute drive away. When we arrived we were greeted by a sea of humanity so diverse I half expected the crowd to burst into a rousing rendition of It's a Small World After All. All of them clutched a battered number. Surrounded by teens there to take their first driving tests, people of all shapes and sizes, many in regrettable fashion choices, and an LED screen that bizarrely kept scrolling trivia questions, sans answers we waited, and waited, and waited some more. Most of that time was spent perched on a window sill as the place was so packed with people, they'd run out of seats. I think my backside is now permanently dented.

Hour one passed at a snail's pace, and I perfected open-eyed meditation while listening to my iPod.

"515, now serving 515. 515, now serving 515. Last call for 515. A89, now serving A89..."

Yes, they had two separate sets of numbers going at once. For three clerks.

"Mom, I'm really sorry," my son said, yet again, "thank you for doing this."

"You're welcome, Flint."

Hour three and something about Yak's milk scrolled by on the trivia screen, that otherwise existed solely to inform people to have their documents ready when their number was called.

"527, now serving 527..."

A nearby child screeched at such a volume I could only assume he was expressing the pain of existence for everyone there.

"A92, now serving A92..."

The same child vomited, and I'm fairly certain his mother began to cry. I proffered tissues thinking that either one of them might be in need. They were stickily accepted. A janitor rolled forth, as if this was a common occurrence, and mopped the area with enough bleach to render all of the county incidentally sterile.

"Mom, what's taking so long?" A nearby teen whined, in a voice made from broken glass, "We've been here forever."

"We can go home, Karen." Her mother said, busily tapping away at a Blackberry.

For the fourth time the scantily clad teen huffed out that sigh all teen girls have perfected. The one I'm sure I must have emitted on more than one occasion myself, it sounds something like, "Mom-uh." That "uh" uttered with a shrill exasperation. I made a mental note to call my mother and thank her for sparing my life throughout my teen years.

My iPod battery gave up the ghost before 531 made it to the desk. The trivia scroll asked what the Donner Family was famous for, and I got a wholly inappropriate case of the giggles.

We were fortunate in that several times when a number was called, the person in question was nowhere to be found. I envisioned mummified corpses being stacked in the backroom, daily. Poor old number 537, it was just his time.

Finally after a period roughly the length of the Jurassic Age 543 was called, and off Flint went to get himself out of Dutch with the Division of Motor Vehicles. We'd still have to travel to yet another DMV in our own county to register his car, but that would have to wait until the following Monday.

"Mom-uh, how long is this going to take?" Karen inquired, yet again, as if her mother was a Magic Eight Ball that merely needed to be shaken to get a fresh answer.

"Karen, shut up." Her mother finally snapped.

On the drive home my son thanked me yet again, and then asked, "Are you mad at me?"

"No," I answered honestly, "I'm pretty sure every nineteen-year-old on the planet does something like this."

"Did you?"

"Well, not exactly but there was this time in Buttzville, New Jersey where I got pulled over at three o'clock in the morning."

"There's really a place called Buttzville?"

"Yes, and it's weirdly really pretty, it's up by the Delaware Water Gap..."

And I told him the rest of the story. I was home on a break, and had driven to Pennsylvania to visit my boyfriend at the time. While there I had either lost, or had stolen, my wallet. As luck would have it, this occurred in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, a town just as rural as it sounds. I'd been at a bar there. At three a.m. two days later I was pulled over, in my brother's car, because the officer thought I was weaving while driving. Thankfully, I hadn't had so much as an ounce of alcohol, I was just tired.

But my brother had not only let his registration lapse, there was no proof of insurance in that car and God help me, I'd lost my Driver's License with my wallet. There I was, in an entirely illegal vehicle, without even any way to prove who I was and having to say the word "Shickshinny" multiple times, which even for a State Trouper patrolling Buttzville sounded suspect.

When I told the story to a male friend of mine he said, "Oh my God Alane, if that had been me, I'd still be in jail. What did he do?"

He followed me to a diner, to make sure I was grabbing a cup of coffee, that's what he did. That was all he did. He didn't give me a warning. He didn't lecture me. He didn't throw my butt into the county jail. All of which he would have been perfectly entitled to do. Instead, he followed me to a diner, and then told me to drive safely, and stop if I got too tired. I never forgot that.

There are a lot of occasions when you're young that you screw up. You did it, I did it, the children who come after us will do it too. We learn our biggest lessons from our own mistakes, it is just part of how we grow.

Yelling about it won't often help, it will just make things louder as well as stressful.

"Mom?" My son said.

"You're welcome." I said before he could thank me again.

One word, and it's all in the tone. You might want to remember that, Karen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Not Exactly an Oracle

No matter what anyone thinks of the concept of psychics most of us have been intrigued by the idea that someone could predict the future. In fact, there was a recent TV show that flopped spectacularly with that exact premise. The entire world passes out, and sees three minutes of their lives, six months in the future. It was called Flashforward and it was so unspeakably dull nearly all of the initial audience fled in the first few weeks, knowing that at least their futures wouldn't hold endless bleatings about Mark drinking in his fast forward. More than anything the show was about self-fulfilling prophecy.

We all know someone who says they woke up at the precise moment a relative, or loved one shuffled off the mortal coil, thousands of miles away. Or had a feeling of dread that kept them from doing something that ended in full scale doom for others. A ship that sank; sank without them. A plane that crashed, plummeted sans one passenger. Even small things like deciding to take a different route home that helped us avoid a huge traffic jam. Most people have something to report about feeling as if they have been warned by a cosmic force, or they know someone who has.

I'm the only person I know that has had a premonition about the comedic stylings of Janeane Garofalo, though. An entirely useless portent of funny.

I rather like household tasks in that I can let my mind wander as I do them. You don't generally need to be mentally present to do things like dust, vacuum, or unload the dishwasher. Invariably something odd will pop into my head, and I'll find myself mulling over the practice of foot binding, or how to make cheese, the French Revolution, or what Dali's dreams were like. I'm going with blazingly ordinary, in case anyone cares, by the way.

So as I put away some plates, and recalled for no earthly reason Janeane Garofalo's making fun of bar patrons tripping out into the night, hurling snowballs in an attempt to prove how whimsical, and therefore attractive they are, I thought nothing of it. Just a comedy snippet stuck in my brain from ages ago. It seemed unrelated to anything, but that's just how disengaging the brain works at times.

Last night my husband and I watched TV, and eventually found ourselves tuning into HBO's Comedy channel. Well, who doesn't need a laugh, right? I didn't even think it was odd when a half hour special, circa 1995 by Janeane Garofalo came on. She's done a bunch of shows for HBO, and clearly I like her comedy enough to just have her pop into my mind.

I didn't recognize the routine throughout. It was dated material, but I enjoy acerbic wit, and that's Garofalo's forte. About thirty seconds before she segued into the bar/snow/whimsicality piece, I realized that's where she was going, paused the TV and turned to my husband to proclaim:

"Okay, that's creepy. Creepy and entirely useless," I went on to outline that I seemingly had a random thought about an old comedy routine, and then ended up watching that routine that same night. We both agreed that it was hardly the stuff that would have either of us canceling flights, or hopping in the car to procure a lottery ticket. It was just one of those "Huh, that was strange and completely without purpose." mind flukes.

I once had a dream about the fire hydrant in front of our old house. Later that day, when I was wide awake, the fire hydrant popped a gasket (or whatever) and sent water gushing everyone in an entirely harmless manner.

My point is that Miss Cleo, of the alleged prognostication abilities wouldn't exactly want to hire me for a psychic friends network.

Just saying, if by any stretch of the imagination anyone is willing to term that a premonition, and even if you aren't, there is one thing we can all agree upon: How boring. It got me thinking about all of the things in my life it would have been nice to have a heads up for prior to something happening. Almost every sad, traumatic, or even painful thing that has happened in my life actually ended up leading to other good things. I know I've mentioned before that a particularly painful car accident, while seemingly without value of any kind in my life, is also the thing that helped put me in the time and place to meet my husband. Out of most bad situations in our lives, eventually something good comes, if not directly, then in the manner in which it changed the course of things.

Except for shocks to the system. I can't think of even one instance where having the hair nearly scared off of my head ended up being of any value. The time last week when I was underwater in our pool, popped to the surface and discovered a complete stranger standing in my backyard? Yup, served no purpose other than to make me glad that I was unable to actually fall over at that moment. A landscaper was lost, thought he had the right address, and when he realized he didn't, waited for the woman in the pool to come up for air, so he could ask for help. Thankfully he wasn't holding anything that could be construed as a weapon, or else I'd have likely screamed the sky down. Instead he had gotten "Drive" confused with "Court" and needed to go visit a cul de sac nearby.

As someone whose mind wanders whenever I'm not doing anything that allows it, I tend to have the stuffing scared out of me on about a weekly basis. Like this morning.

Head phones on, back to the street, waiting for my dog to finish up her attempts to fertilize a neighbor's lawn, I stepped forward with the least elegant of items almost always in my possession: the poo bag at the ready. It's never fun, but hey, it's the polite thing to do. Then you get to tour the world with a bag of excrement, until you reach home, which is an equally "I feel pretty" sort of feeling.

"THANK YOU!" A voice boomed over my shoulder, drowning out The White Stripes, Seventh Nation Army which is no small feat, and nearly making me take a header into a steaming pile.

I made a sound eerily reminiscent of Beaker from the Muppets.

"Meep?" As I pushed my headphones out of my ears, and wondered if it was actually possible to morph into an invertebrate as it felt as if my spine was puddling around my heels. Even the dog jumped slightly, and wagged questioningly, one paw raised in the universal canine signal of "Huh?"

"Thank you so much for picking up after your dog," the man said with great gusto, "just wanted to let you know how much it's appreciated!"

About this time he seemed to take note of the fact that even my hair looked alarmed.

"Sorry if I startled you," he said in a congenial fashion.

"Oh don't worry about it," I said as I tried to fold over the top of my doggie bag in as subtle a fashion as possible. There's just something strange about trying to exchange pleasantries while holding the least lovely of dog decorations.

My neighbor continued on, happy for a morning chat, thrilled not to have dog landmines seeded across his lawn and eventually my pulse rate settled back into its regular rhythm. We discussed a community garage sale that is being planned, which I don't have any wish to attend, but where apparently there are going to be lots of lemonade stands. This means that my neighborly duty will involve nipping across the street to buy some from our neighbors incredibly adorable children. Prevent scurvy, support your local munchkins, don't let the dog crap on anything valuable, it's all in a day's doings.

Now why couldn't I have had a premonition about that? Instead it's stupid stuff about the lengths bar patrons will go to in the quest for romance.

I'm sure someone has a great story about how they saved a bus load of people from a dire bout with food poisoning when they knew, just absolutely knew that the chicken salad at the Denny's was a stone cold killer. Not me though.

Call them inklings, foresight, messages from beyond, or what-have-you, mine are ordinary enough to be discovered by perusing the TV Guide.

Sort of pointless, really. Much like this post.