Tales of a teenage screw-up

I got busted a lot as a teenager, twice by the law, but mostly by my parents, who were, in hindsight, exceedingly levelheaded but had their limits when it came to teen tomfoolery. Especially the smart-ass kind. 

Lessons learned: Don’t lie. Don’t smoke pot in the house. Don’t back-talk like Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club.” And don’t sneak out at night and sleep in some kid’s tree fort with your girlfriend. Just don’t.

That last one burned bad, because the punishment fit the crime. Not only was I grounded for two weekends, but any chance to see Ozzy Osbourne in nearby San Francisco was promptly jettisoned. 

I didn’t know my parents had discovered my tree fort escapade when I excitedly showed them the newspaper ad for the show. Seethed Mom: “You have the balls to ask us if you can go to a concert?” I crawled to my room, chastened, shut down. Did she really say “balls”? I thought.

Of course, months later, I sneaked out again to meet a girlfriend late at night — at a golf course of all places — so you can call me a recidivist, or, more accurately, a bonehead. This time I wasn’t caught. And this time I didn’t sleep over near the ninth hole. I pedaled my Mongoose BMX back home and was tucked into my twin waterbed (which was way outdated even then) before dawn. My antics were par for the course.

And then the fuzz found me. Senior year of high school. Four guys in a beaten brown Pinto parked on a hilltop in a suburban housing development. Drinking beer, puffing pot. Red and blue lights. Two of us cited for weed, me and my friend Mike, by one Officer Burt, whose notoriety for chasing down teen scofflaws was legendary and feared.

The upshot: I spent a weekend on a modern-day chain gang, minus the chain, digging up shrubs on street islands in the blazing sun, wearing a reflective vest. (I can’t believe I’m telling you this part: At lunch, three of us peeled off and lit up. Seriously: bonehead.) 

Not only was I cited for marijuana possession that night, I was also hit with underage alcohol possession — a little boo-boo I soon repeated. (Bone. Head.) I was doing 42 in a 30 zone when I was pulled over. Unfortunately, on the backseat I had a cooler containing a six-pack. “What’s in there?” asked the unflappable officer. I was more saddened that he confiscated my beer than getting a speeding ticket and a yet another citation. 

But I shouldn’t have been, because that second offense landed me in what’s casually called alcohol school, which is really a series of weekly night classes for young drug and booze offenders. I had to go for a month.

Busted. Again.

The “teacher” was one of those self-consciously hardened scared-straight types, scowling and threatening like he wanted to beat holy hell out of each of us loser drug-addict criminal hooligans. Too bad for him he was about 5’5” and 110 pounds. Still, it was a sobering lesson in naked unpleasantry. 

As vigilant as Mom and Dad were, they were curiously unruffled by my run-ins with the law. I don’t even think I got grounded for either citation (no, wait, I’m sure I did). They certainly weren’t shocked or affronted. I vividly recall presenting my pot possession ticket — a folded-up yellow carbon copy — to them that night and confessing my sins in full. And I recall utter calm. And I recall getting high after they went to bed. 

The teen mind boggles. Restless and wild, it pushes, tests and risks in a haze of addled morality. Often, it knows not what it does. It’s stubbornly stupid that way, and the learning curve is steep. Maturity comes at a price. See you on your next tour, Ozzy.

I found ways of getting grounded with almost self-flagellating consistency. Because Mom was around more and shared my fiery temper, most of my domestic devilry featured face-offs with her. It was never pretty and nothing to be proud of, particularly since I almost always lost. I once overheard my Dad telling my Mom that I was a “problem child,” which happens to be the name of a pretty good AC/DC song.

So I was a poor pupil in the School of Not Getting Busted. But I straightened out. Mostly. I was something of a voluptuary in my 20s and 30s, a confirmed singleton with a penchant for potent potables and an imperishable wanderlust that still whirls me around the globe. Encounters with cops dropped to nil and a safe and sane credo was duly adopted. 

I’m still a bit bonkers — where’s the fun in going totally straight? — but I’m no longer foolishly unruly. That’s kid’s stuff. And despite some good memories, I don’t miss it at all.

OK. That’s pretty much a lie. So ground me.

Radiance of the pet rat

If you want to see a rat drink beer, click HERE. I’ll wait.

That’s Becky, my long-ago pet rat, whose both alarming and comical omnivorousness knew no bounds. Seriously: zero. 

She’d chomp broccoli, rubber bands, towels, chickpeas, cheese, books, dog food, t-shirts, pizza, gecko lizards and crawly cockroaches. She’d guzzle wine and the above beer. 

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Becky shares pizza with a pal.

She once bit into a small tube of Super Glue. In a miraculous stroke, the glue was so old it had evaporated. The alternate results would have been grisly, even fatal, I’m certain.

Rats, like honey badgers, don’t give a crap.

But they are as smart, sweet, social, endlessly curious and affectionate as any animal, be it a dog, cat, piranha or wildebeest. 

They play and wrestle, come when called, chill on your shoulder, build crafty nests from newspapers and less innocuous sources (like the fluffy guts of your sofa or that pricey box of Q-Tips), play fetch, groom with OCD avidity, swim, delight in belly rubs lying on their back, and so much more. Oh, and hoard. How they hoard. Hide all small valuables. (Becky stole my watch once. It took days to find.)

They’re like super pets that delight, entertain and nourish the heart and soul. As I’ve quoted in these pages before, rats are “cleaner than cats, smarter than dogs.” Whoever said that is just about spot-on and probably lives with a thousand rats and the authorities are onto him or her. A reality TV show is coming soon.

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Becky going head-first into the glass, tippling a fine (cheap) cabernet.

Pets hold spiritual qualities with their power to elevate and expand one’s being. But, like dogs and cats, rats do it with a special, irresistible elan, magnetism and downright adorableness. Still, it’s different. For one, they don’t fart.

With their silky, curling pink paws (tiny starfish), twitching whiskers, itty-bitty tongue and translucent ears, gently nibbling buck teeth and enormous hearts, they’re lovable buggers.

Those thick wiry tails that whip around, made strictly for balance, are something else. The creatures squeak in pleasure and, science has proven, giggle like little girls. When treated right, Prozac they don’t need. (Though they’ll eat that as well.)

Like sharks, rats are exquisitely evolved specimens. Get this: They can collapse parts of their skeleton to squeeze under doors and through tight cracks. I’ve seen it. They are quicksilver with fur, superheroes with a super power, lacking only a cape and a ridiculous moniker.

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Still life: Becky

An image I cannot shake: Becky drinking wine by dipping a paw in the liquid and licking the paw, like a cowboy drinking from the Rio Grande after days without water. (Her boozing was judiciously supervised — I only let her get a nice taste.)

And yet … well, rats will obliterate you. With a life-span of an average of two and a half years, they desert you far too quickly. They become your best friend and then, like a relationship gone bad, they end it, they vanish. They die. Usually it’s a respiratory disease or, more likely, cancer. It rips you to shreds.

Becky’s death was excruciating. I spent a lot of time and money on her, all of it beautifully worth it. Still, she had to go. She’s probably tearing up heaven, nibbling angel tunics, nesting in holy beards, gulping sacred wine. Being a worthy rat, not giving a crap.

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RIP Becky

Heineken’s museum of Hell

Before I travel, I prepare like a madman, and my outstanding trip to Amsterdam last week was no exception. One night, fueled by wide-eyed, butterfly-stomach pre-travel excitement, I purchased a few advance museum tickets online: the Rijksmuseum (all majesty and splendor), the Van Gogh Museum (strong, if a tiny bit disappointing) and, in a snap of psychosis or addled hastiness, an 18 € ($21.50) ticket for the Heineken Experience, billed as a “sensational interactive tour” set in the original Heineken brewery turned museum in Amsterdam’s city center.

I grossly miscalculated.

The Heineken Experience was so massively lame, such an appalling and transparent marketing apparatus, that I was actually embarrassed to be there. You don’t go to be enlightened but to have “interesting” factoids about the Heineken family and the titular beer’s recipe recited to you by overexcited twenty-somethings wearing skinny headset microphones á la Beyoncé. If you have any idea how beer is made, the tour is old news.  

I should have known better, that a beer tour that includes two and a half “complimentary” drinks would attract mostly frat boys, their sorority cohorts and Euro trash, all of whom seemed glazed with boredom by the broad and vacuous explanations of how hops, water, barley and yeast make beer, and didn’t even seem terribly impressed by the stable of eight black horses, the so-called famous Heineken horses that stood there looking equally bored, sad that they didn’t get to also imbibe the scrumptious brew.

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One of the blush-inducing “interactive” delights at the Heineken Experience.

When the informational part of the tour ends, the museum falls back hard on high-tech filler that you can’t believe, from a ride in which you become a beer bottle to laser-lighted basketball hoops; a room pumped with blaring electronic dance music and strafed with green (the brand color) lasers, to a large photo-booth room where people sit on stationary Heineken bicycles while street scenes of Paris are projected on back-screens, so it looks like you’re pedaling through the French capital. Imagine that! People were having a good old time on those bikes, smiling at their own images as if they really believed they were in Paris. And they hadn’t even drank yet.

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Selfies, unaccountably huge here.

By then I was practically jogging to the final room, the bar pouring “free” beer. I sipped my beers with the faintest scowl, while trying to pretend I wasn’t altogether repulsed. My fellow chumps were laughing, taking endless selfies, shaking to the music, which veered from nauseating EDM to friendly pop rock. 

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A drum kit made of beer kegs! He looks elated and not at all a little confused.

All I could think was: There isn’t enough Heineken suds in this entire old brewery to numb me enough to believe this was a good idea. And then there was this: As in all museums you exit through the gift shop. But once you leave this emporium of baldly branded gear, guess what? You hit another gift shop, which is when I sighed to myself, Get me out of this Heineken hell. I felt violated, ripped off. Worse, those beers didn’t even give me a buzz. 

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A disproportionate amount of weak to bad museums litter otherwise wonderful Amsterdam — from the pot museum, prostitution museum and cheese museum, to the sex and erotic museums to the canal museum and, yes, the dopey Heineken predicament.

The antidote is to choose wisely. You can’t miss with the aforementioned Rijksmuseum (Rembrandts and Vermeers adorning a knockout space) and Van Gogh Museum (beautifully curated and suavely laid-out), plus the fine modern art collection at the underrated Stedelijk Museum, where everyone from Picasso to Damien Hirst are represented by canonical works. I’d gladly trade those 2½ beers for just one look at this ravishing blue doozy by Yves Klein at the Stedelijk:

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