Editorial: A Cautionary Tale for Labor Day
This is a tale from my youth, a very confusing period of my life, including the habit of drinking myself into a drunken stupor just for the fun of it, reckless driving of Jack Baruthian proportions, and generally excessive wanton behavior. In short, a day in the life of an average college kid, knee-deep in a period of Sturm-und-Drang. I was young, I was stupid and I had a death wish none of this world. I usually spent more time at the local café than in school, and I was out partying five days a week. I was twenty years old, I went to college, I had an apartment of my own, and I was the proud owner of a car, minus the driving license.
The car was a family hand-me-down, a Volvo P210 Station Wagon, of the 1968 vintage. It had remained in the family for some twenty years (eventually replaced as the family truckster by a certified pre-owned Toyota Hiace van). I was handed the keys on my eighteenth birthday, though the car usually stayed at the family residence. Again, I didn’t have the license to drive it. However, I took some artistic liberty in the use of the car, usually with the excuse that some friends of mine had a driving license. And on those occasions it was proudly parked outside my apartment. None the better for resisting temptations. I couldn’t help myself but to take it for a ride now and then, usually at night.
One night, I was playing games on my Commodore 64 (yes, it was that long ago) when I heard someone knocking at my door. It was my two friends Peter and Paul (names changed to protect the innocent). They asked me If I wasn’t perhaps in the mood for some partying? “Yes, well, of course,” I said. “And who’s gonna be there?” “Well, there’s you,” they replied, “and then the two of us.” “Sure,” I said, “why not.”
Paul wanted to party-crash his parents’ house out in the country. That meant we had to take my Volvo for a ride. Said and done, we arrived at his parents’ house some half an hour later.
It was a big and very flat house with overhanging roofs, built in the bungalow style. It was meant to be some fancy up-scale variant, with lots of white marble and tables of brass and smoked glass. Its moment had come and gone in 1983.
After a couple of hours of ransacking his father’s liquor cabinet, proving a point in a discussion I can’t remember (neither the discussion nor the point), Paul decided to fetch a cross-bow his uncle had in storage at his family’s other place. It seemed like a great idea. On our way out, we took Paul’s parent’s car, a late 70s euro-spec Ford Granada Station Wagon. I have never driven my parents’ car while intoxicated; Paul smiled in a smirky fashion. And we should have known better.
It was two o’clock in the middle of the night. There was no car in sight on the dark back roads of the Swedish countryside. Paul was up front, I was riding shotgun, and Peter was sitting in the back, right behind me.
Not long after we got started, we were lost. Paul decided to turn the car around. While backing the car into an exit, he missed it by several meters, and backed right into a ditch. It took us some time to get the car back up on the road again. If only we’d quit then . . .
Ten minutes later, we were driving on an avenue, with trees on both sides. The last time I looked at the speedometer, we were traveling in excess of 180 kilometers per hour. Suddenly, the avenue of trees made way for some open fields, the pavement made way for a gravel road, and a sharp turn to the right was advancing at an alarming speed. Paul cleared the turn to the right, but he lost control of the car. It made a violent return skid to the left, only to see the car exit the road to the field on the right.
There was a downward inclination of about a meter or so down to the ground,. The car hit a tree, two times, due to it being sideways and inclined. First the car hit the tree with the front left, then it bounced and hit the tree once again, on the left side. The tree made a man-sized indentation—on the side where no one was sitting.
After a moment of silence, we asked ourselves if we were okay. And we were, pretty much. Paul was in shock. Peter had a couple of broken ribs. I somehow managed to be completely unharmed, save a couple of minor scratches. The big tire jack, formerly placed in the open back, was fifty meters away from the car, out on the field. Had it hit us on our heads on its way out, I wouldn’t have been here telling you this.
Paul, who always had been slightly criminally bent, started meddling the locks with a screwdriver, so it would look like the car had been stolen. And then we began our way back to the house, on foot. An hour later, we arrived back at Paul’s parents’ house. It was four o’clock in the morning, and we were almighty bruised and tired.
Paul immediately woke up his kid brother, who had been at the house all the time, sleeping and unknowing that we had been there before. Paul’s strategy was for us to swiftly move back to my place, making it look like we had never been there at all, with his kid brother as a witness of the non-existent events that had just taken place.
An hour or so later, we were back at my place in town. Kennedy-like, we immediately went to sleep. I crashed on my bed, the sofas were occupied, and the kid brother made use of the spare mattress in my tiny one room apartment.
Nine o’clock sharp, there was a loud knock on the door. I went up and opened the door. “This is the Police,” they said, “are you Mr. So-and-so?” “Yes,” I answered. “Good. We have orders to escort you out of town. Apparently, you have failed to show up at your military training, which was due this morning, and we will see to it that you get there.” “All right,” I said, “let me fetch my contact lenses, and we’ll be on our way.”
While the police waited, I’m sure they had a look around in the room, and I’m equally sure that all my friends were now widely awake, but hiding under their blankets. As I hadn’t cleaned in a very long time, the room was very untidy. Empty wine bottles lying around, records out of their sleeves, someone had puked in the kitchen sink, and there were fresh cigarette marks all over the carpet. It looked like we had partied like there was no tomorrow.
In the ride out of town, one of the plainclothes men asked me who it was in my apartment. “Oh, it was Mr. Paul and Peter so-and-so,” I said. “Yes, well, I thought I’d recognized them,” he replied. “We had a party last night,” I said. “Yes, we could see that,” he retorted dryly. And the rest of the ride they were silent.
As I had failed to show up for my military training five times in a row, in two years time of not making up my mind, I didn’t have to do the usual physical routine or intelligence tests, but had to go straight to the line to see the psychiatrist. I was very thankful for that, as my entire body ached, some tremendously.
After waiting for an hour, I was let into this room with this very nice lady, who looked at my papers and then looked at me and then looked at my papers again. “I can see that you don’t want to do this year in the military,” she smiled, “but what reason should we come up with?” I took that as my cue to tell her the long and tedious story of my life, exaggerating all the points that would make me unfit for my military duty. She slapped me on the wrist and let me go, with the written conclusion that I was “too individually minded to fit in the collective whole of the army.” I was handed my one and only daily wage from the military, some 38 Swedish kronor or about five dollars.
The young cadet in the counter smirked and called me a simulating SOB. I had left my wallet back home, but luckily for me, the bus fair home was 32 kronor. On the way back, I got myself contemplating and tried to grasp the absurdity of life. Back home, on the kitchen counter, there was a gift-wrapped bottle of Gordon’s London Dry Gin and a note from Paul’s girlfriend, thanking me for insisting that all in the car should wear seat belts. I laughed with the most uncanny laughter I’ve ever heard, went straight to my bed and slept for fifteen hours.
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