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Sometimes You Have to Take a Detour

  • February 10, 2009

In the spring of 1988, I dropped out of the University of Iowa and moved home to Des Moines to take a job at my dad’s motorcycle dealership selling extended warranties and insurance.

In addition to providing me with an all expenses paid, albeit temporarily incomplete, college education, and now a job, my dad also drove to Coralville, moved everything out of my apartment into a big truck, and drove it home. He had also moved Trish in and out of various apartments and I rode shotgun with him once. The two of us transported everything Trish owned to California, unpacked it, and headed back east stopping only in Vegas because my dad wanted to show me the lights and buy me a shrimp cocktail.

After my dad moved my things back into my high school bedroom, I began my new job at the motorcycle dealership. I was unapologetically boy crazy so working in an environment that was, by its very design meant to appeal primarily to the opposite sex seemed like a smart move in my opinion.

Since I lived at home, every penny I earned was spent at the mall. In my twenty-one year old world the only worries I had were whether Target would continue to sell the hairspray I’d discovered (Stiff Stuff, perfect for my late eighties mile – high hair) and if my brown leather skirt was in fact too short to allow me to sit on a bar stool without flashing everyone my hooha.

I wasn’t responsible for paying any property taxes and I’m not sure I could have explained their function in relation to the free roof over my head. I’m certain I was not registered to vote and wouldn’t have been able to name a single branch of the United States Government.

I spent the time I was not working baking myself brown in a tanning bed and smoking Benson and Hedges Deluxe Ultra Light 100’s.

One afternoon when I was working at the dealership the sales manager sold several Honda scooters to three customers, two men and one woman, who came in together. They paid just under ten-thousand dollars in wilted twenty-dollar bills. I spent a half hour sitting on the floor counting and re-counting the bills which were wrinkly and smelled like dirt and sweat. I also completed all the sale paperwork. I remember the woman had the longest fake fingernails I’d ever seen and they were painted red. Her name was Mary and I wanted to ask her how she buttoned her shirt with nails that long but I didn’t.

A couple years later I took the skills my dad had taught me and, with his blessing, started working at a car dealership.

One day a man in a dark suit came in and asked the receptionist to page me to the sales floor.

When I arrived he handed me a subpoena to appear in federal court in the case of the state versus “the three scooter-buying drug dealers.” Even though I hadn’t actually been the one to sell the scooters, my name was on all the paperwork which is how I ended up in federal court as a witness for the prosecution.

I didn’t think they meant court like placing my hand on a bible and swearing to “tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God.” But that’s exactly what it means when you are subpoenaed to federal court.

If I had been paying the slightest bit of attention to anything I would have presented myself better and not shown up in a short blue miniskirt, white tights, and navy blue pumps. The minor witness for the prosecution looked like a hooker.

I was called to the stand, which was located directly in front of the defendants, in this case unrepentant drug dealers who were allowed to glare at and terrify the twenty-three year old hooker/witness that had been forced to testify against them.

I swore to tell the truth and I did. The prosecuting attorney wanted me to state that it was unusual for the defendants to have paid in cash. I told him farmers did it all the time when they came in to buy ATV’s. He wanted me to agree that paying just under ten-thousand dollars in cash, thus exempting us from having to fill out a special form, was suspect. I simply stated that that was what the total ended up being for the three scooters.

My time on the stand was done after that. I’m not sure what they thought an inconsequential witness like me could add to the case. I had listened to enough testimony before I was finally called to the stand to realize that whatever I said would have no influence on the outcome of the trial.

I never feared retribution of any kind. This was due in part to my immature and undeveloped cognitive thought processes and the fact that the drug dealers were going to prison for a while. After my day in court I simply returned to my simple life of hair spray, limited responsibility, and boys.

Eventually I started having a recurring dream that I was still attending the University of Iowa but I’m late for all of my final exams and I haven’t completed any of the semester’s assignments for a single class. I’m so far behind there’s no way I will ever catch up.

It’s that feeling that sent me back to school in the fall of 1992, shortly before I met Dave. I went to night school at Grandview College and graduated with a degree in Business Administration.

Sometimes I still have that dream and I regret dropping out of college more than anything I‘ve ever done in my life. I wish my dad had thrown a fit instead of a lifeline.

But when I hear about a marriage breaking up or an irresponsible mid-life crisis being attributed to oats that weren’t sown I sometimes feel a little better.

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