Monday, February 04, 2008


The first time I considered becoming a drug dealer was in the shower of my parents house, during my junior year of high school. I do my best thinking in the shower. I use it as a rehearsal space for standup routines, Oscar speeches and hypothetical confrontations with my boss.

“Listen, Ilana…”
“No. I’m done listening to you. How ‘bout you listen to me for a change?”

I also use my time in the shower to work out knotty problems in art and life. During this particular shower in 1995, I accomplished little in the way of body cleaning, since my mind was filthy with thoughts of crime.

Now, as I said, this was the suburbs, in an area outside Chicago called the North Shore. It was a nice place, not exactly buzzing with criminal activity. Ours was a leafy town with big houses and SUVs and miles of prime beachfront property on Lake Michigan. We had a second-run movie theater operated by an older, burly gentleman with coke bottle glasses, a mustache, and a disdain for children; just the kind of man one might expect to live with his mother and belong to a secret society of stargazing alien communicators. In exchange for two crumpled, sweaty dollars, he would grumpily hand over a ticket and a huge, shiny fifty-cent piece. This was the sort of thing that happened in my town. They shot scenes from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Risky Business” there. Our fathers were lawyers and doctors and brokers and CPAs. Our mothers were teachers and nurses and Real Estate agents and stay at home Moms.

There were policemen in my town, of course, and on two occasions the long arm of the law reached out and goosed the mischief-making behinds of members of my family. First, they picked up my cousin Sam for skateboarding in public. It was a long time coming, he had been warned and warned, but unfortunately the powers-that-be chose to teach my cousin a lesson on the very same day he was to be called to the Bima as a Bar Mitzvah. My family freaked. My aunt took to doing laps around the kitchen island, sobbing, “What are we going to say, Arthur? Sorry, you can all go home. The Bar Mitzvah boy has been unforeseeably detained in the Slammer!!!" Not for the first time, my uncle was dispatched to call a guy who knew a guy. Or my uncle might have known the guy himself. I wouldn’t put it passed him. In any case my cousin was sprung in time to perform his Rite of Passage.

The second appearance of a family member in the town blotter was when they escorted my slightly older sister to our house in a police car and wrote her up for public drunkenness. Alas, I was away at camp and missed it. (I, like many in my town, summered in Wisconsin, singing songs about friendship and complaining about the food), but I relish the mental image of an un-amused cop dragging my sister by the scruff and slinging her at the slippered feet of my be-bathrobed father. In my fantasy she throws up, right there in the driveway, but she’s a State’s Attorney now, so I suppose no one will ever know what happened that night.

My bathroom was pink and white, and my very own since my sister moved to the attic. My favorite feature was the old Hollywood dressing room-style lights around the mirror. I used to sit for hours under those lights, singing showtunes into a curling iron and studying my face to determine what angle made me look most like Mayim Bialik from Blossom. It was under the glow of those twelve incandescent bulbs, I tried to remove a round brush from the tangled mess I had made of my best friend’s hair using gobs of peanut butter. When her mother came to pick us up and saw the brush jutting out of her daughter’s head, dripping with Skippy, her mouth got wide, her eyebrows reached for the heavens, it was the kind of horrified expression normally reserved for slutty coeds in slasher movies whose time is up.

But those childish capers are but a distant memory now, as I stand under the showerhead awash in worry. The problem, to which dealing drugs seems a viable solution, is the occasion of my third moving violation in as many months. I am one of those people who just shouldn’t drive, and thankfully for all who travel by car, I no longer do. The unlucky few who took me driving with my learner’s permit came back with a new perspective on life that often accompanies a near-death experience. “As we were merging on the highway, “ my Aunt Patsy said, reaching for her inhaler, “I realized that life is short; that I should stop sweating the small stuff and start living!” At my driver’s test, when the proctor asked me to pull over, I drove over the curb, barely missing a speed limit sign. Needless to say I came away empty handed, my head heavy with shame. I did pass the second time, to the terror of all who knew me.

In addition to the three speeding tickets, I also totaled a Volvo. (I thought a two-way intersection was a four-way intersection and got nailed in the passenger side door by my father’s pottery instructor in a Ford Pinto.) Understandably, my parents were losing patience. I put off telling them about the third ticket and the due date was rapidly approaching. The wrath I endured from my father, a commodities broker and first-class screamer, after my second ticket, made appealing to my parents for help with the unimaginably exorbitant sixty-dollar fine, out of the question. I could get a job, I thought, but there’s no way I could make that much money fast enough. Plus, I am in a play. A speeding ticket shouldn’t keep a person from Godspel, should it? That didn't seem right.

So dealing drugs. It was the only solution. I could gather the scratch for the ticket in no time, and no one would be the wiser. Around my school I was known more as a theater person and a wisecracker than as a bad ass, but reputations change. My features could get hard, dangerous. I pictured myself walking down the hallway towards the language lab with a chinchilla coat. And a cigar. Yeah. (Shaft music. Fantasy sequence.)

I turned off the faucets, opened the glass doors that slid on the bathtub, reached for a towel, and exhaled with the satisfaction that comes from finding a good solution to a bad problem. A drug dealer. That’s what I was now. A kingpin. I stepped onto the bathmat, dried myself off, walked into my bedroom and dressed. A half an hour later I told my parents about the ticket.

In the end I realized getting money from my parents to pay a speeding ticket was more likely than getting money from them to get a stash together so I could sell drugs to minors. It was a practical, rather than a moral decision. I was a teenager, after all. My mental functions were foggy with hormones. Looking back, I realize that I was never really that close to descending into the underground...or was I?


Sylvie said...

First of all, I was never written up in the town blotter. The reason everyone knew was probably because of you & mom. Which goes to the more important point being you would have been the worst drug dealer of all time. I bet even if you could have found the drugs to buy you would have lost them by the time you got home!!

Emily said...

your dad had a pottery instructor?!

also - sylvie's got you pegged so well! but, as i remember you were actually better than me :)