The Truth about Breaking the Law 11/19/01

My wife is Pennsylvania Dutch, you see.

I'm pretty sure that's why she gets sick with some regularity. Me, I'm Swedish--along with a lot of other things. I'm told that genetic variety is good for the immune system, and I'm pretty sure that's why she gets sick five or six times for every time I get sick.

Anyway, she was sick last Tuesday, November 13th. It's a scary time to be sick, because we had only one weekend left of performances (she directed the Elephant Man, and I was in three scenes as Ross, the freak's original owner). As the director of a show that's currently running, she is permitted to be sick. It's her perogative. As an actor ... well ... getting sick isn't really an option for me.

But I digress. The point is, she was sick.

She returned to the house a minute after leaving for the doctor to inform me that her car wouldn't start. So I don my jacket and pillow-head-hiding baseball hat, and I accompany her out to the car (to do what, I have no idea). We get it started--but this car is definitely not starting like it should. Something's wrong. In my learned opinion, I declare the car 'nearly broke,' and together we determine that this is something that's going to need to be fixed before we head up to New England for Thanksgiving, whenever that is.

Thanksgiving ... hmm ... that's next week. (This week, to us--but bear in mind, this was last week.) (That is, unless you're reading this months from now ...)

Okay. So, this needs to be fixed today. No problem.

It's 10:30 AM or so when she gets home from her appointment, unfilled prescription in-hand. I don't have to be at work today until 12:30 PM. That gives me two hours, minus a half-hour to get showered and dressed.

I'm a quarter-mile away from the house at 11:00 AM when I pass a broken-down car on White Horse Road. There's a very old man standing in the open driver's side door, trying to push that car by leaning on the A-pillar with all of his might, while an even older man with a cane and his back bent into a New Improved Convenient Travel Angle (Eighty degrees! Just look how well he fits into the passenger seat!) stands on the passenger side. At first, I think his wagging finger is scolding me for something, and I'm past him by the time I realize that I've just been directed around a disabled vehicle.

Do I have time to be a Good Samaritan? Dunno. Probably not. Do I have the heart to leave these two old men on White Horse Road? In Voorhees, NJ? Hell, no. This town is full of six-figure Mercedes-driving cell-phone-talking Pinheads who'd be more than happy drive around them at best or obliviously plow into them at worst. The Fire Zones at the local shopping plazas aren't Fire Zones in Voorhees--it's a row of extra-close parking for particularly important people, and Voorhees is chock-full of extremely important people whose heads are so far up their asses you need untuck their shirts to punch them in the throat.


Anyway, leaving these two old men on White Horse Road was not an option. I pulled off the road and into a nearby parking lot, and scrambled over to help. Eighty Degrees chastised me in a non-specific way about the basic unfairness of the car breaking down when he just wanted to go to the bank--which he was right to do, as I do run the universe and am responsible for all things good and bad. Another guy in a van stopped, and a cop came around. Between the three of us, we herded the old men back into the car and pushed the car into the parking lot.

Well ... it wasn't exactly that simple. We pushed the car, then the guy in the van scrambled up to move his van and the cop ran back to move his patrol car and I actually ended up pushing the car alone most of the way. It wasn't a big car (maybe a Chevy Cavalier?) and it wasn't a long way (maybe 100 yards, altogether?) and I do have the strength of ten men--for three or four seconds in a row, that is. Not for 100 yards of pushing.

It was the right thing to do, though. Eighty Degrees was a veteren of WW II, and I'd just watched the last three episodes of Band of Brothers the night before, so I felt really good about what I did despite the heaving chest, quivering legs, and burning ears.

Let's move on.

By now, it's 11:30. Run to the pharmacy, drop of the prescription (chest still heaving). Take the car to the dealership. 11:45. I know I'm running short of time because I'm going to need a rental car from the garage and they close from 12-1 for lunch. Grab the registration out of the glove compartment--because garages always ask for the registration, and ...

Hmm. No registration. There's every other fucking-thing in this glove compartment, though. The original brochure for the car is in the glove compartment. That could come in handy. There's directions to places my wife hasn't been in years. Just in case. Every insurance card the car's ever had (except the current one, the one that would make the car legal to drive) and last year's registration (but not THIS year's--the one that would make the car legal to drive). All that's there, in case we need to build a fire or something and run short of kindling. Never know when that sort of thing might come up.

Oh well. Maybe I'll head in there and--for the first time ever--the garage won't ask for the registration.

I lucked out with my timing. It was now 11:50, and they were looking to get out of there for lunch. If it's something small wrong with the car--and the battery seemed like a likely suspect, to them--then it would take less time to replace the battery than it would to get me a rental car. The looked at their watches and they pondered their sandwiches and they replaced that battery lickety-split.

Now comes the funny part.

I'm driving home. The battery has been replaced. It's 12:10. I still have the prescription to pick up, but I MAY be able to make it to work on time ... so long as I don't get pulled over by the police.

Wow, I think to myself. Wouldn't that be a hassle? Considering I already know that I don't have registration and insurance information in the car? Why, you betcha it would! Good thing I live a charmed life. Yessir.

So I'm sitting in the parking lot of a little bar called Pufferbelly's, explaining to the Nice Officer that this car is actually my WIFE's car, when my wife calls. I ask her again (I called her once from the dealership, you understand) if she has any possible suggestions for where the registration might be. If she was non-plussed when I called from the dealership, she certainly is plussed when I tell her I've got a cop out my window. She tells me that she's sure the registraion is there. I tell her that the only registration that's in there is last years. She says, "Aren't they good for two years?"

And it all becomes clear.

By now, the cop has lost interest in my frantic search and wandered back to his car, presumably to write my ticket. I ask my wife where the insurance card might be. "I don't know where that is," she says, as though my finding it in the car isn't even a possibility. Could be anywhere. Could be resting peacfully under a U.S. Flag in the Sea of Tranquility. Who knows?

The cop returns. "I'm not going to give you a ticket," he says to me.

I'm stunned. He keeps talking.

"I am going to ask you to autograph this, though," he says.

Sign the warning ... sure ... I'll sign the warning, Officer. No problem. Um ... this warning is blank. There's no writing on it. But what-the-hey--I'm not getting a ticket, am I?

"Weren't you in a play ... ?" he asks.

This time, my stunned reaction doesn't stop at the back of my throat, but instead rolls right out of my mouth. "You saw that?" I asked.

"I'm Jim McBride's brother. Ask for your autograph ... Hah!" he snatches the blank warning and the pen back from me. My first thought is, Wait! Wait! I'll sign the warning! I'll sign the warning! before I realize ... Jim McBride ... he plays Treves--one of the leads in The Elephant Man. This cop came to see his brother in the show, and he saw me in it. The reason I wasn't going to get a ticket was because I was in a show with his brother, and had nothing to do with my willingness to sign a blank piece of paper which had never been nor ever would be a warning. When he'd said 'autograph,' he'd been busting my balls because I'm an actor.

I learned a few very important lessons that day.

1) Always look at the badge of the Nice Officer and read his name--especially when you're doing a play with a retired Chief of Police.

2) Always call work from the dealership and explain that there's a good chance you'll be late for work if there's a good chance you'll be late for work.

3) Watch Band of Brothers again and again--it makes an ungrateful WW II vet seem less ungrateful ... or his lack of gratitude less important.

4) Don't stop doing favors for your wife--but know that when you do one you're at high risk for being either arrested or mobbed by armed fans.

Maybe that's a Pennsylvania Dutch thing, too. Who knows?

I've learned enough for the day. My head's full, and I'm going home.