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In 1989

In 1989, my friend Doug* drove a sky blue Plymouth Horizon Coupe. Despite its status as a 4 cylinder econo-box, the automotive equivalent of a grey-haired old lady, Doug drove the Horizon as if it were a Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile-certified Rally Car, at our urging. It was light, maneuverable (four of us could lift it off the ground and carry it away -- a fun trick when Doug had left it in a parking lot) and an irresistible invitation to trouble for four teenage boys.

We were living in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where fun goes to die. I know that every kid complains about his hometown, but in Scranton even the road signs and trees look bored.

One wintery afternoon, four of us were driving around in the Horizon -- Doug, Dell (who was, unofficially, Doug's sidekick) Jake (the cool one who owned a Camaro) and me, the youngest of the group at fifteen. Zipping through the snow we came upon the big church. It sits on top of a hill and the property takes up a whole city block, all of it covered in powdery, new-fallen snow. Virginal snow, if you will, without a single footprint, sunlight glinting off the surface.

"Who's up for a little off-roading?" Doug said. He got no hesitation from us. "Oh, yeah!" we said. Dell turned the radio up loud as Doug left the street and turned into the church's large parking lot.

With its gas pedal mashed to the floor, the Horizon whirred and slid through the snow, swaying on the edge of control, leaving a tattered trail of slush and exhaust behind it. Dell rolled down his window to stick his head out. "It's not too deep," he said. "Go to the back lot and we'll leave through the rear gate." Doug urged the car, with some effort, down the path to the back lot.

The back lot, as well called it, differed from the main parking lot in one crucial aspect -- it wasn't a parking lot, but a large field of grass with a narrow path which opened onto the street. Each summer, the church held a popular event that drew many visitors, and that field was used as temporary parking.

To us, it was the frozen tundra, and the Horizon a team of sled dogs.

The car roared onto the path, pitching left and right, then began to slow. Doug hit the gas but it wouldn't pick up speed. "Oh, …" someone said (you can fill in the blank). "Just try to make the gate."

The engine screamed as the car crept towards the small hill that led to the fence. As we crested the hill, we saw it.

The gate was padlocked shut, and we were heading for it.

"Crap! Turn around!" Jake yelled. Doug instinctively hit breaks and all four wheels locked. The car slid, gracefully, into the fence, where it stopped with a muffled crunch of snow.

"Oh, …."

Dell clicked the radio off. No one spoke. The engine was quietly humming beneath the snowy hood. "Caolo, you're the smallest. Get behind the wheel. Everyone else, out."

"But, I've never driven a car before," I said.

"Well, you won't be driving one now, either. Putting it in reverse and hitting the gas is hardly 'driving.'"

"OK," I thought.

The three of them got out of the car and made their way to the front end, snow up to their knees. Just then, our friend Martin, who lived across the street, came walking past. "What the hell …" he said.

Martin was bigger than the four of us, so we recruited his help. He hopped the fence and got in front of the car.

All five of them put their hands on the hood, and leaned hard on their heels. "OK," Doug said to me. "When I say so, put the car in reverse and step on the gas."

"OK," I said, certain that this would turn out poorly. I had no idea.

I watched my friends position themselves through the slush-stained windshield. Once they were still, Doug said. "OK, now!"

I placed my foot on the break and moved the shifter into reverse. Since the car was on an incline, and resting on a mound of snow, it moved forward just a few inches. "Arrgh! My legs! My legs!" Marvin yelled. I had pinned him between the car and the fence. "Oh my God!" I screamed.

"Push!" Doug yelled. "Everyone push!" I mashed the gas and the Horizon's engine roared, its wheels spinning and spraying everyone with brown, dirty snow. At last it began to move, slowly, and we managed to free Marvin, who was unhappy. I hit the brake and shifted the car back into park.

"You guys are idiots," he said. Fortunately, the fence had given way under his weight and he wasn't injured. "I'm going home to call a tow truck." Despite our pleas, he hopped the fence and went into his house.

Thirty minutes later, a tow truck arrived and got stuck at the top of the path. Thirty minutes after that, the plow arrived to free the tow truck. Thirty minutes after that, I was being told exactly how dumb that little stunt was by my parents.

This past Easter Sunday, the kids were flying on a sugar high (William eventually threw up from overdoing it. There's some good parenting right there). Grace decided to show William how to jump from Couch A to the coffee table and then from the coffee table onto Couch B. We put a stop to that right away.

"What would possess them to do that?" my wife asked.

"I don't know," I said. "It's just one of those dumb things kids do."

*All names have been changed to protect the guilty.


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