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 I pedaled my Mongoose BMX back home and was tucked into my twin waterbed (which was way outdated even then) before dawn.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.