I will be honest. like most people my age I was distracted by my personal myth of high tolerance and general invincibility, and I was not thinking. It was a night like any other, some time after I turned 21. I went to my friends’ apartment and we drank a bit, then walked over to the bar around the corner for the weekly celebration that kids around Riverside simply call “Cask.” Essentially, the Cask and Cleaver restaurant by some strange and unknown circumstances has become the place to be on Thursday nights in this college town.
The drink specials are not that good, and the bar is small. It is always packed with all of the popular people in riverside. The fraternities and sororities are well represented along with the people like me: lushes who seem to get along well with the college Greek community. The Thursday night in question was special for us. It was early in the school year and it was the first week where everyone in our crew was 21 years old and available to go out drinking, which usually takes about two days.
First you wake up the morning of the event, or the afternoon and clear your schedule. Finish your work for that day and the next day and have a lunch that involves a lot of protein and no caffeine. Once you have finished eating, get back to work for a couple hours, whenever you finish, you must take a nap, as the debauchery usually lasts until sunrise, and you need to be awake and alert and alive enough to hang. When you wake up, eat a good sized dinner, not so much food where you feel disgustingly full, but a lot of carbohydrates like bread and potatoes. This meal is encouraged and is definitely the secret to any good binge drinker’s routine. Caffeine is advised, french fries, pizza and sandwiches are encouraged. After dinner, finish any work you still have, do a light workout; racquetball or a half-court basketball game works very well.
After the workout, go home, shower, get ready and make phone calls. You must call at least half of the people who live where you plan on starting, just to make sure everyone is on board, and any people who you may be trying to sleep with at the time. Once you have made all your phone calls, head to the gas station or the liquor store and get your drink of choice. The evening in question left me with a 12 pack of natural light, which only cost five dollars and was very likely to get me drunk enough to forget whatever I would end up doing. After the liquor store, head to where you are drinking, open one on your way from the car to the apartment.
We usually drink until about 10:30pm and play stupid video games and talk shit to each other. Once we have a healthy buzz, we’ll head over to the bar, drink until last call, head back to the apartment, play more video games and finish whatever is left in the fridge and pass out. This is where that Thursday night went wrong. For whatever reason, instead of passing out on the couch, waking up still drunk, going home to my place and sleeping more, I decided that I needed to sleep in my own bed. I wish I could remember the reason for my idiocy, but knowing myself and reading my own stories I am sure it had something to do with a woman. I do not remember who or what the issue was, but I could wager a bet that it was something that was no big deal and I blew it up in my head, drank too much and just wanted to be alone in my own bed, so I told everyone I was leaving.
They knew I should not have been driving, but they know me, so they did not tell me to stay, because I would not have. Once I make up my mind, I am set on it and no logic or violence will change it if I am not willing to let it be changed. Knowing this, my friends asked, “You sure you’re okay to drive?” and “Where are you going drunkass?” instead of challenging my abilities to perform under the influence, which were stellar and have only since improved.
So I leave the apartment as my friends shake their heads and sipped their leftover domestic pilsners. I was psyching myself up to drive while walking down the hallway to the stairs. There is a rapid sober up technique that I had learned soon after I turned twenty-one. I cannot share it, because it is a family secret, but I will concede that it involves different breathing techniques and various core and limb stretches all while singing a nursery rhyme in your head as loud as you can.
I made it to the stairs in the middle of the second chorus and concentrated heavily on the descent. It was rough and each stair made the words shake a bit in my head. When I hit the pavement at the bottom and starting rounding the corner to my car I was smooth sailing. I was hitting perfect stride, striking the heel of my foot on the down beat and rolling forward. My head did not bounce with each step like it normally did. I should have dawned a shako and a plume and rejoined the marching band for the drunken stumble to the car parade just for the trophy I surely would have been awarded.
Until I made it to the row of cars just before mine and tripped over a parking pyramid. I flailed my hands up and screamed like a woman who had just seen a mouse, but instead of climbing up onto a chair and sweeping madly at the ground, I fell and laid there laughing hysterically for far too long to still make an argument for being sober enough to drive.
But I stayed there on the ground with my knees tucked into my chest thumping the iambic pentametric laughter of a man who should not by any means be allowed in the back seat of a car, let alone behind the wheel. But when the hilarity subsided I did exactly that. Driving was not too difficult actually. I wasn’t drunk enough to see tracers from street lights and I smoked cigarettes at a furious pace to keep me alert.
In total, the drive was two miles with only two turns (aside from tricky one way parking lots) so it was a fairly simple task especially for the seasoned professional that I already was. I was cocky. I broke all the codes of drunk driving.
I wasn’t wearing a seat belt. I left my windows all the way down while blaring music, smoking cigarettes and tossing them out the window, and I failed to use my turn signals overcautiously. I hit the final straight away and my foot fell onto the gas pedal without any notice or control on my behalf. The streetlamps started streaking by as if I was traveling light speed and I panicked and looked down at the speedometer.
Eighty miles per hour in a forty-five zone and my whole leg jumped. I began to slow down and was so nervous about who had seen what and the possible ramifications of excessive and drunken speed. I wasn’t exactly shaking, but my movements were sharp and quick and without reason. I’m sure I crossed a few lane lines which breaks the first rule of drunk driving: don’t cross lane lines.
All of these things combined drew a lot of attention to the red comet of death on that particular evening, and when I blew the stop sign just before my apartment’s parking lot, it was the final straw. I got hit with the lights and I never saw it coming. I had no clue how long the cop had been behind me. What did he see? What does he know? I had to think of something fast.
I breathed heavily, must have smoked an entire cigarette before the officer got to my window. I looked out the window; his cod-piece was directly at eye level. His flashlight beamed into the backseat, onto my lap, onto the ground outside of the car and clicked off. The metal slid and clanged as he put the light back onto his utility belt. He leaned down and his polyester pants screamed for mercy as he settled onto his haunches.
“Hello officer,” I said, keeping my hands securely attached to the steering wheel at ten and two.
“How you doing tonight son?” He smiled when he asked me. Some sadistic smile, looked like he had baby blood on his teeth.
“I’m doing okay, how are you tonight sir?” I gripped the steering wheel especially hard, but my elbows were relaxed, probably because of the alcohol.
“I’m doing fine.” He licked his teeth in slow motion. I waited for the hammer to fall, that inevitable four in the morning side of the road question and it came. “You been drinking tonight?
I didn’t know what to say. I knew I had and I was raised with the awful idea that honesty was the best policy, but I also know that is only the case when your lies aren’t believable enough. I decided in a flash to start the lie mill. “No sir, not since dinner.”
“It’s four a.m. Dinner was a long time ago.”
He made a good point. “Well, I had so much food that I went into a food coma, just woke up and headed home.”
“Hm,” an odd noise for an officer to make. “You sure?”
I was most certainly sure to be selling it if he was buying it. “Yes sir.”
“Ok. Do you know why I pulled you over?”
There was a list of possible answers, but I stuck with the lie. “No, I can’t imagine. Is my brake light out?” My brain smiled to itself.
“No. You were swerving and changing lanes without signals. Now are you sure you haven’t been drinking?”
“Then explain to me why your driving was so erratic.”
Why the run around? What the hell was this guy trying to prove. Did it get him off to bust drunk drivers and then add insult to injury by playing dumb? If I had told the truth would I have been on my way home now? Would I be on my way to jail? My brain kicked itself, which jostled something loose.
“I uh… um… I was um… picking my nose.”
“Picking your nose?”
Picking my nose? I don’t know where that came from. I used to pick my nose when I was a kid and my entire family teased me for it giving me massive social issues that had to be resolved through self medication, probably one of the reasons I was drunk at 4am on a Thursday night and driving home to sleep alone in my bed. Fuck it I thought. I’ll run with it.
“Yes sir. When I sleep I get terribly large obstructions and it makes it difficult to breathe properly.”
“Obstructions? You mean boogers?”
“Yes sir, boogers.”
“And they make it hard to breath, so you dig them out?”
I held up my left pinky, “Yes sir. They’re lodged in there pretty good, otherwise I’d blow them. I guess I got a little bit distracted.”
“You sure did. Can I please have your license, registration and proof of insurance?”
I grabbed my wallet and leaned over, dug the registration out of my glove box, sat back up and handed them to him. He took them and walked back to his car. I waited with my hands back at ten and two for him to return. He did a couple minutes later with my information, handed it back to me and squatted down again.
“Well, I was just checking to see if you had any warrants Mr. Boytos, and you don’t.”
“I must be the only one in Riverside without a warrant huh?”
He was less than amused. “I guess so.”
“So is that it? Can I go?”
“Where do you live?”
“Right over there.” I pointed to my building, about five hundred yards down the road.
“Mr. Boytos, I can still smell alcohol on your breath, but you made it this far.” He smiled again. “So I’ll make you a deal.”
“Yes. A deal.”
A deal? If I would have known this was a bargaining situation I wouldn’t have lied. I would have been straight forward and said I was drunk and let me walk home and I am sorry sir.
“What’s the deal then? I am interested.”
“If you can show me one of these boogers, I’ll let you drive home, if not I have to pull you out of the car and take you into custody.”
“I’m sorry?” He wanted to see one of the boogers that did not exist or he was going to arrest me and book me and have my car impounded and I would lose my pizza delivery job and I would not be able to get to school and I would not be able to get to another job if I could get one with a dui on my record, and basically I would have to beg my parents for bail money, then move back home and get a bus pass and a shitty warehouse job that didn’t care about ex-cons working for them.
“Show me one of these boogers that are so big that they distract you from driving to prove to me you’re not as drunk as I think you are.”
I had no boogers on file. Where would one keep boogers and why did this officer expect me to have one for evidence? I was confused.
“I’m embarrassed officer. I uh… I don’t have any.”
Why not? I did not know why not. That was an excellent question. I stared at my windshield awhile; saw how dirty it was. I guess I got lost in thought and the officer was getting impatient with my drunken shenanigans.
“Step out of the car please sir.”
“I ate them.” Wow. I still don’t know where that came from.
“You ate them?”
“I ate them. That’s why I don’t have any. They are in my stomach.” That would be where they went had I eaten them, it seemed like a reasonable statement.
“Interesting.” He stood up and leaned down on my window sill. “Well… show me.”
“I’m sorry? Show you what?” Surely he heard me say I hadn’t any boogers to show him.
“Mr. Boytos, I want to see you eat a booger.”
“That wasn’t the deal, you said all I had to do was show you one.” I was comfortable debating at this point, seeing as how it seemed as this officer was bored and wanted to have some fun.
“That is the deal now. I make the deals Mr. Boytos.”
I was uncomfortable again. I looked at the ceiling and sucked in a lungful of air. I counted the burn marks on the ceiling, seven little black circles from yellow lights I ran through while smoking, hitting the ceiling and sending a shower of sparks down into my shirt and on any unlucky passengers. I let all the air out.
“Ok,” I said and plunged my pinky into my nostril. I could feel the inside of my nose. It was like an upside down funnel for smell collection to my brain. I swirled my pinky around, nothing but mucus, I pulled it out and smiled at the officer. “Empty,” I said.
I tried the other nostril; a gold mine. I hooked one with my fingernail and pulled it out in all its mucoid magnificence. It looked like Massachusetts, square with a little tail on one end. I showed it to the officer, he smiled the baby-blood smile as he looked at it.
“Hungry Mr. Boytos?” He grunted a low cackle. I looked at the emerald coagulate on my pinky, then looked back at him.
“Actually, I have been eating the whole way home, I was planning on saving this one for breakfast.”
“Put it back and hop out of the car then.”
“Ok ok ok.” I closed my eyes and pursed my lips. “Ok,” I said, opened my mouth, stuck my finger in, wiped it on my tongue, closed my teeth and scraped my finger clean, showed it to the officer who began to laugh and I swallowed. It tasted like a salty baby slug and the aftertaste was only slightly better. The officer’s laughter echoed on the street between the buildings like some awful metropolitan hyena.
I sulked in my driver seat while the officer regained his composure. He stood up, adjusted his shirt, banged twice on the roof and walked back to his car. He started up and rolled past me, eyes straight ahead, deadpan face, cop computer glowing inside the Crown Vic interceptor. I watched him drive down the street, make a quick U-turn, throw his lights on and speed back past me.
I lit another cigarette, rolled up my windows, took the key out of the ignition and hopped out of the car. I locked it up and walked home, vowing never to drive drunk again, but that lasted about as long as the hangover; and to think I almost learned my lesson.