bad behavior

While I was waiting for the J train at Powell today, five cops hurdled down the escalator and made a run for the Ellis street exit. A pigtailed child asked her mother who was in trouble, speaking for the rest of us.

I have been inside a cop car only once, when I was sixteen. About six of us had packed into the only licensed driver's Volvo in an attempt to get to a party in the Presidio. As the smallest of the group, I was sitting on somebody's lap in the middle seat. We were busted between a string of military houses and the old Bowling Alley. The cop had gelled-back hair and the smooth complexion of a skincare model; he looked less like an actual police officer than an actor playing one.

"Well, this is quite the clown car," he said, tapping on the passenger window. He pointed at me, the only one without a seat belt. 

"You," said the cop. "Where do you live?"

I remember feeling surprised that the back of the police car was so unlike a regular car. The seats were not leather or even cloth-covered--they were plastic and felt hollow, like chairs from a children's playhouse. 

"I feel like a criminal back here," I said, trying to flirt my way out of trouble.

The cop said we shouldn't have been driving with so many people in the car to begin with. I expressed remorse, and soon he warmed up, asking about my favorite school subjects and what I liked to do for hobbies. When I told him my age, he asked if I'd had a Sweet Sixteen birthday party. I said no, that Sweet Sixteens weren't big in San Francisco. There was the hassle of cleaning up afterwards, and nobody wanted to pay for a location to begin with.

"Really?" he asked. "Everyone does it on the East Coast."

We spent the rest of the ride discussing Sweet Sixteens and their East/West cultural significance. He spoke fondly of his own party, and I agreed that it sounded pretty fun. When we reached my front door, I thanked him and quickly hopped out. My parents must have gone to sleep--nothing was ever said about my arrival in a cop car. At breakfast the next morning, I ate pancakes and thought: safe.

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