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The Volvo Incident
Say it’s a hot summer day in Atlanta, so hot you can feel the sun like it’s a foot away from your nose, so hot that every time your shoe touches the ground you leave a layer of rubber melted to the asphalt.
Yep. It’s that kind of summer day.
Say there’s this kid named Rob, who’s walking barefoot in the grass off the side of the road, because his sandals broke and stopping every five seconds to adjust them is kind of a pain in his ass.
There are a few other kids with him: one tall, one curly, one yellow, and one British, all boys, all about the same age, all melting away in the murderous summer heat. They look strange, the group of them: an ornery, sun-striped black kid, a quiet, towheaded tall kid, a big, chatty kid with curly blond hair, a worldly, athletic Asian kid, and a snarky Brit who couldn’t stand up in the shallow end of any swimming pool in the world.
As they pass, adults sip lemonade from frosty glasses on their front porch and fan themselves with yesterday’s copy of The Daily Skeptic, suck their teeth and say, There goes the Tucker Variety Pack. One of every flavor.
But let’s say the five of them had just been hanging out in Rob’s basement, shooting pool and playing game after game of Melee and NHL, and his mom had kicked them out into the heat, saying she was sick of her basement looking like a rec room. So, they’d snagged some frozen ice cream bars from the refrigerator, loaded up on ice-cold sodas, and started the scorching journey to the tall kid’s house, where the Asian kid and the Brit would settle their Air Hockey tab once and for all.
Let’s say they’re taking turns slipping off their sandals and hot-footing it up the road, seeing who can stay on the blacktop the longest without wussing out, because, you know, feet are tender and blacktop gets hot. It’s turned into a sort of game for them, and right now the Asian kid is winning with forty-nine seconds. The curly-haired kid, with a lame eight seconds as his high score, has been christened King of the Scrubs and will undoubtedly be penalized in some way when they reach the tall kid’s house.
Keep in mind that the black kid is still carrying his broken sandals.
Out of nowhere, the blast of a car horn splits the air, and the black kid turns his head to see a blue Volvo, complete with a cracked windshield, a twisted bumper, and mangled grille, tearing down the street towards them, crammed with drunken seniors from XXXXX High School.
The one seated on the passenger windowsill, of course, has a paintball gun.
Now, you can imagine this came as quite a shock to our mismatched friends. And if you can’t imagine that this might have surprised them, then you clearly must be the kind of person who’s used to seeing cars loaded to the roof with inebriated teenagers, one of whom is pointing a paintball gun out the open window. But that’s just you, isn’t it? Well, in any event, for those of you who are well accustomed to this kind of spectacle, let me just say that these five have not yet gotten acclimated to the sight of a torn-up blue Volvo speeding in their direction.
To anyone who’s studied psychology as extensively as I wish I have, it would be plain to see that these five kids have found themselves in a situation that’s totally unfamiliar to them, which can, to the faint of heart, place them in a psychological condition called weirded-outis, paralyzed by a mixture of psychoanalytical reactions. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this term, attached is a lab report composed on the subject by the esteemed Dr. Professor Sherlock Giles von Archibald Plumstead, Ph.D. M.D.: The first stage, when the subject has just been presented with a strange situation and is still questioning what exactly is happening, is the stage known to most modern scientists as the what-the-hell phase. Second comes the is-that-a-paintball-gun phase, in which the subject has nearly registered their situation, but there are still some minor details that continue to elude them. This stage is followed by the oh-crap phase, in which the full seriousness of their predicament has become apparent to them and they’ve come to realize that they have a problem. This phase often requires some sort of trigger to be fully assumed; in some cases, a paintball shot to the forehead is necessary. Finally comes the why-the-heck-am-I-still-here phase, which is when all paralysis resulting from weirded-outis has begun to wear off, and the brain is startled to register that its surrounding environment will not be beneficial to the subject and it would behoove them to depart as swiftly as possible.
So, now that some more light has been shed on the subject, you might be able to understand why our five new friends don’t move, or speak, or even think for a few seconds. In fact, it isn’t until the Asian kid takes a paintball to the face that anybody gets past the oh-crap phase, at which point, the curly kid, the Asian kid, and the Brit turn and sprint up the road as fast as they can. The tall kid, however, does something that is either the dumbest thing or the coolest thing any of them have seen all day.
You haven’t forgotten that the black kid is still carrying his sandals, have you? Good. It was important.
Before anyone can do anything to stop him, the tall kid has snatched the sandal from the black kid’s right hand, reared back, and thrown it as hard as he can at the rapidly approaching blue Volvo.
Now, this is not a big sandal. And the tall kid does not have a remarkably strong or accurate arm. But somehow – and to this day, if you ask any of these five, they will still tell you they don’t know how it happened – somehow, this light, unaerodynamic leather flip-flop strikes the forehead of the goon riding on the passenger windowsill.
And if that’s not enough for you, get this:
He falls out of the car.
Into a rosebush.
It’s probably a safe bet that these seven drunken seniors were pretty steamed about the whole thing. It’s totally understandable. Their friend just got K.O.’d by a flip-flop and landed in a rosebush. That’s kind of humiliating.
But these five kids wouldn’t know anything about that, because they were too busy high-tailing it up the road as fast as they can, ignoring the heat burning the skin off their feet, panting, choking, even puking, in the case of the curly kid, and most of all, laughing, until tears roll down their faces, until their sides feel like they’re going to split open, until they can’t possibly laugh anymore.
And say one night, when the black kid, the tall kid, the curly kid, and all of their little siblings, are walking down the street, on their way to get an ice cream, or pick up groceries, or something like that. Say they pass that one rosebush where the paintball-gunner ended up plucking thorns out of his rear end, and without even having to look at each other, all three of them burst out laughing.
Say the curly kid’s little sister snarls at them and asks, “What are you boneheads laughing at?”
She doesn’t know. She never will.
But you do.