Cock and Balls.

Driving has always been difficult for me. Depth perception. Speed. Using the proper signals at the proper time. But, the more I drive, the more the act becomes an innate sense. I could close my eyes and make that 66 mile commute to work. I’m not claiming it’d be a pretty one. I’m not the best behind the wheel, but I’m sure I could make it there nonetheless.

I was a late bloomer on the desire to drive. It seemed much easier to bum rides from friends. Sometimes, it was just easier to pedal my bike across town.
But, in the mid-nineties, my mom decided to get a new car. And upon the arrival of her investment, I was offered the hand me down. A champagne colored, late 80’s Honda Accord.
It drove. It had a stereo.
For me, those two facets filled the bare minimum for usage.
I gladly accepted.

My buddy Ryan gave up his time for instruction. He’d been driving three years. Four if you count the one where he’d steal his parents car and haul us, late night, around the neighborhood.

With him at the wheel, and a worn out Black Flag tape moaning slow on the stereo, he chauffeured the two of us to the local dog track. In the vast, negative space of snowbirds gone home, we switched places.
There, I listlessly criss-crossed the parking lot, never making it over thirty-five. And that initial, conservative speed limit set the tone for years to come: I was nicknamed “Grandpa.”
—————————————————————
The light turned yellow. Driving five miles under the speed limit I squeezed through the intersection. And like clock work I switched lanes. A bad habit, yes. I tend to do it at every light. Maybe a subconscious re-loading? A new lane equals a renewed chance to make green through the next crossing.
But I was pulled over.

“You been drinking tonight?
My window was already down: the first thing you set straight in an air-condition-less car in Florida.
“No sir,” I responded, clear and concise.
“Sir, step out of the car.”

The officer drew a pen from his pocket protector. He placed it two feet in front of my eyes.
“Follow the pen.”
And I followed it. Back and forth. A half dozen times.
“Step over here, sir.”
I followed him to a white line. A parking divider. He at one end, as if a pitcher, ready to drive the ball. He wanted so badly to strike me out.
“Walk towards me.”
I laid my arms out as if balancing on a tightrope.
With torso erect, I shuffled slowly. Toe to heel, toe to heel, until I met him at the end.
“Again, please.”
I turned around, waited for him to assume his authoritative position.
And, once again, I walked. This time, much faster. My arms swaying like a Cessna in turbulence.

“Can I ask you something?”
I nodded, waiting for his barrage of questions.

“Why were you driving slow?
And why did you switch lanes so quickly after the light?
You been drinking, haven’t you?”

I gave my answer, a default I took pride in:
“Sir, I couldn’t even tell you what alcohol tastes like.”

For a second, the officer stood blank faced. With squinted eyes he cocked his head to the side. His frustration steeped.

“Son, you’re a damn liar.”
——————————————————-
We were four deep. Another night. Late. We sat at a stoplight with windows down. Planted in the slow lane, our light chatter–that late night delirium–filled a pre-dawn silence.

Above, the red light stood still. Glowing, crimson on the asphalt.
We waited.

And there was a squeal.
Behind us, headlights rolled closer out of the distance.
As they approached, the car moved from lane to lane. Right turn. To left turn. To three lanes over and back to start.
The impending car rambled clumsily, like a bowling ball pushed down an alley.

I looked up at the light. Unchanged. Bright. Bloodshot.
I looked backwards. White lights. Swerving.
I braced for impact.

And it came. Like boredom hitting you. Slow.
And the sound. The metallic crunch of steel mashing. The skid. The acrid smell of rubber burning.
And our skulls hit head rests.

Somehow, we were still alive.
———————————————————–
There were three police. Swarming. Questioning. Annoyed at our situation.
The drunk driver, inebriated and draped over the median.
I wasn’t angry. And for some reason I felt no sense of relief.
Instead, I felt sorry for him. The drunk.
A bad decision. Those oblivious bar rats–his bros–having let him creep into the night.

“What were you doing out this late?”
The officer questioned me, condescension on his tongue.

“Driving home is all–We take this road every weekend.”

“You guys been drinking?”

There it was.
Another hollow accusation stiffening the hair on my arms.
With my sober, geriatric driving, and the fact that we were stuck behind an unchanging red light, “Grandpa” had done everything right.
———————————————————–
“You think you can draw the scene? The path the driver took?”

The scene was simple. I had explained it to the officer. Once, twice.
But a schematic was what they wanted.

So I drew the median. Long. Tubular. With a rounded end.
I penned the drunken man down the center. A stick figure.
His arms splayed out. His legs spread apart, bent and crooked.
His image, a series of connected capillaries.

And at the end of the median, I scribbled two tightly cut bushes.
Round. Like traditionally pruned, Japanese Yews.
Balls.
As a finishing touch, I dotted a broken divider line, sprinkling out from the bulbous head.

Sunlight shed on the horizon. We were all exhausted. And there was still a long way home, to drive my debilitated, champagne tinted wreck.
I looked down at my shitty drawing.
Then I looked over the roof of my car.
And there lay the drunken man who could have killed us.
He was lucky to be alive.
But we were luckier.
“I hope this helps sir…” I said, as I handed the officer my masterpiece.

Matt Coplon

Work by day. Ride by evening. Write by night.