Michael Murray's Adventures in Driver's Ed
Although I’m pretty old, I’ve never had a driver’s licence.
There’s not a particularly good reason for this, it’s just the lazy way things worked out, but now that I’m married and “we’ve become one,” I’m expected to step-up, do my part and get a licence so that Rachelle doesn’t have to do all the driving.
“Goddamn it, I am NOT driving you to Ikea so you can have some meatballs!” Rachelle asserted, “Just grow-up, get your license and drive your own damn self up there if you need meatballs! I mean it!”
Marriage can be very, very difficult.
As such, I’ve enrolled in Driver’s Education and now spend my weekends in a small, windowless room with about two dozen teenagers. These classes are presided over by a guy named Clark who always wears khaki pants and a pair of black shoes that express nothing other than a willingness, and perhaps even a need to conform. Reflexively condescending, he has the defensive, almost combative manner of a pedant used to hoarding information rather than sharing it. He needs to know more than you to feel good about himself, and even posing as a teacher he worked at maintaining this discrepancy rather than levelling it.
I hated him immediately.
Adding to my hatred was the fact that Clark wanted learning to be fun, and in the service of this goal he awarded us with rice cracker treats whenever we answered a tough question. He also made little games for us to play while we learned about rural speed limits and such. One such creation was a fake interview designed to show us the consequences of poor driving, in which we were to pretend we were being interrogated by the police for some infraction. Clark, of course, was to be the cop.
There was one student — a boy whose parents had optimistically named him All-Star— whom Clark particularly disliked. All-Star typically dressed in gangster style, chewed defiantly on a straw throughout class and made deflecting wise-cracks in order to avoid having to answer questions. Clark dragged him up in front of the class and then peppered him with aggressive questions about why he had been speeding. All-Star actually got flustered, and feeling defensive made up all sorts of ridiculous excuses about why it wasn’t his fault. Clark tore him apart. Humiliated, All-Star stalked to the back row looking hurt and angry.
I tried to bang fists with him but he ignored me.
Clark was immensely satisfied, and looking around the class looking for his next victim, declared, “Maybe an old person would do better. Why don’t you come up, Michael?”
“I’m not old, I’m a late bloomer, is all.”
Clark paced behind me, “Sure you are,” he said. “It’s a likely story. Now tell me, why were you speeding?!!”
“I was playing Angry Birds and I was in the Zone. I could have been going a million miles an hour for all I know.”
This got a big laugh from the classroom.
Clark gave them a look, “You could have killed somebody, Michael!”
“I am a very angry bird.”
“Do you think this is a joke, Michael? Driving is a privilege not a right, you have to take it very seriously!”
“Well, I take Angry Birds very seriously.”
This got even more laughs, including hoots from All-Star who was slapping his desk in appreciation. Clark screamed at the class to be quiet.
“We’ve now moved into the Road Rage stage of our performance,” I added.
I had the room.
I was on fire.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Clark made a notation in his book, sent me back to my desk and gave me the stink eye. I didn’t care, during the break two girls complimented me on my hat and All-Star offered to smoke me up.
When we returned I decided to build on my earlier success and raised my hand. Clark pointed a pencil at me. “Clark, since you’re an expert on driving and everything, can you tell me why Ryan Gosling always wore that disco jacket with the Scorpion on it throughout The Driver even though it was all blood-smeared? I mean, for a guy as discreet as he was supposed to be, it didn’t make much sense. And also, how many demerit points do you think he got for stomping somebody to death in an elevator??
“I haven’t seen the movie yet,” Clark said quickly.
“Oh, I thought you would have been better prepared,” I responded. And when I looked around for all the approval and laughter I was expecting from the other students, I got nothing. Just a bunch of blank, disappointed looks. All-Star, in full slouching retreat said, “Dawg, that was not cool, some of us still haven’t see it, you know?” I nodded and began to mumble an apology when a brand new student piped up, “The only reason a guy that old is still trying to get his licence is because he has mental issues.”
The class thought this was really funny.
This new guy was probably 18, wore sunglasses, a t-shirt that said, “The Party Starts Here,” and couldn’t stop talking about his hangover from clubbing the night before and kept answering all of Clark’s questions correctly. He had a stack of fucking rice crackers on his desk.
I hated his guts.
It was clear to me that I had to immediately step up my game if I wanted to maintain my Alpha status, and so I began to speak over Gio and belittle everything he said, referring to him as “rice cracker.”
He took this as the challenge it was.
“You better get off my ass head-case,” he said without bothering to turn to face me.
“You’re going to make an excellent pizza deliver driver one day, rice cracker.”
He turned and pointed a finger at me, “I could break you in half.”
I was quiet for a little bit here.
After about 45 tense minutes, Clark decided to make learning fun again and divided the class in half to play a Driver’s Ed version of “Jeopardy.”
I completely dominated, running the category of “Cars and Movies.”
“What is Smokey and the Bandit, Clark?”
“Who is Lightning McQueen, Clark?”
“What is Gone in 60 Seconds, Clark?”
“Who is Herbie the Love Bug, Clark?”
“De Niro in Taxi Driver, Clark!”
Each time I nailed a question Gio would make the “pfft” sound, which is what losers do in the presence of a winner.
I gave him a look, “Bit of slaughter, eh?”
“You didn’t phrase the Taxi Driver answer as a question, loser.”
I told him that I did, but before I could even begin my argument, Clark immediately sided with Gio and my team was given a loss.
I lost my shit.
“What sort of name is Gio?! It’s stupid, like the name of some new age band from the 90s, and dude, no matter how much of that AX shit you pour on yourself, the only person who’s going to lay you is the fat one, okay?”
Things got a little bit slow and quiet. Gio stood up, called me a bitch and then slapped me across the face, knocking me to the floor. All-Star it turns out, did not have my back. Clark began to blow a whistle he kept concealed beneath his shirt and the building security guard came to restore order and escort Gio and I off the premises.
Apparently this sort of thing happens more often than you would think.