A series of stories about those days when I was even dumber than I am now.
Back in the Dumb(er) Days #1: Glovebox Gun
Date: 11 February 1997
Location: Baton Rouge, LA
I grew up in the suburbs of Baton Rouge, Louisiana where cars were a huge part of the teenage experience. Many were driving by the age of fifteen and most by sixteen. Cars brought us freedom, responsibility, and ample opportunity for post-pubescent stupidity. While earlier generations seemed content fornicating in backseats and racing each other down city streets, my group of friends desired to stretch irresponsibility even further. We leapt from moving vehicles, instigated late-night car chases, surfed on rooftops, and enacted ridiculous stunts at stoplights. It was the heyday of gangster rap and ironic humor so launching bottle caps from slingshots at each other’s vehicles on the highway and threatening each other with toy guns amused us immensely. And so it came to be that a fake plastic gun rested in the glovebox of my 1990 Pontiac Sunbird at the most inopportune of moments.
It was Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, an infamous holiday. Nearly a dozen of us had squeezed into a single Chevy Suburban the day before and experienced the most ridiculous and serendipitous New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration of our lives. That was the day before and we were all back in Baton Rouge enjoying the additional day off from work and school in a more relaxed way. A few of us spent the day shooting “Kung-fu” fights on train tracks using Steve’s old 16mm film camera. That night we watched a completely forgettable (as in I cannot remember a single frame from it) movie called The Pest with a group of dancer friends we reffered to collectively as “The Ballerinas.” Afterwards, I drove myself back home in my typical fashion—speeding. Red and blue lights shone behind me. I pulled into a parking lot and prepared for yet another speeding ticket. I had forgotten that there was more in my glovebox than my registration and insurance cards.
I don’t recall how many tickets I received in my first few years of driving. It was enough to bleed me financially, but not so many that I would lose my license. At this point, I knew the drill: I would be scolded by a condescending officer with a strong accent, asked for my paperwork, and handed a ticket that would be for an amount that seemed astronomical at that point in my life. This would not be one of those times. I rolled down my window and looked into the rearview mirror. Two cops were approaching on either side of my car. I leant across the passenger seat and opened the glovebox. There, atop the rats’ nest of papers, I saw it, a big plastic toy pistol. The officers’ flashlights were gliding across the contours of my car as they neared. I slid a hand beneath the papers pressing the gun against the roof of the glovebox obscuring it. I hadn’t moved quickly enough. Outside the car I heard the frantic words, “He’s got a weapon!” They were immediately followed with a command from the flanking officer, “Hands on the ceiling!” With the speed of a frightened gazelle, my hands shot to the ceiling, only teleportation would have been faster.
Guns are commonplace in Louisiana. The state’s motto is “Sportsman’s Paradise.” It is a popular place to shoot animals and catch fish. It was very common to hear gunfire in the woods surrounding my home as a kid during Deer Season. Gun racks stocked with rifles were often visible in the windows of pickup trucks. It is also the place where a Japanese exchange student, Yoshi Hattori, was accidentally shot a few years before down the street from my neighborhood. It is a place with gang violence and occasional drive-by shootings (a few of us had unwittingly driven past one six months prior). A handgun hidden in a glovebox was not a visible hunting rifle. The officers had reason to be anxious, as did I.
I did not move. The officers moved quickly. As nervous as I was, I knew how ridiculous everything would seem shortly, and part of me wanted to laugh. I didn’t dare. Things happened swiftly: I was escorted from the car, a hand thrust into the glovebox, a cop before me with a toy pistol—sporting a bright red tip reflecting in the headlights. We were all relieved. I felt a strange amalgam of relief and excitement. Everything transpired so quickly I am still unsure whether they had unholstered their firearms. I quickly concocted a bogus account of how I had driven a young cousin somewhere a few days before and how he must have left the toy gun in the car. I was informed it would be a good idea to remove it. I was handed a speeding ticket and sent on my way. I laughed hysterically much of the way home. I never stored the toy gun in my glovebox again (although I was dumb enough to carry it in my backpack for quite some time).