1988 – Paradise Valley, Arizona
Having spent the vast majority of my pubescent years doing my best to self destruct with the aid of any chemical I could find, by the time I turned 17....I was horrifyingly, boringly sober. And so were all my friends.
When drugs were eliminated from the equation, the two remaining hobbies were fucking and adrenaline. Sometime that year, I also went blonde....*shudder*
My Dad, in those days, was a magnet for all that was uncool in the world. Having acquired his AMC Pacer as my first car, four years BEFORE Wayne’s World, I ran it dry of oil out of sheer mortification. Unaware that things could be worse, Dad brokered a deal for me to buy a replacement. Yes, indeed I was quite excited until we went to pick up a brand new 1988 Yugo. Since he co-signed the loan, he attempted to control how many miles I put on the car per week. Since a Yugo is 100% pop-able plastic, this edict was quickly sidestepped by popping out the dash and unhooking the odometer.
Despite wheels the width of bicycle tires and an engine about as powerful as a push mower, my friends and I piled in and went places.
One night, a group of us wanted to check on the legitimacy of a local rumor about a serial killer’s house called Mr. Ugly’s. We searched the desert between Scottsdale and Carefree until we found a compound surrounded by a barbed wire fence that looked like it fit the bill. Despite warnings that trespassers were unwelcome, we managed to traverse the fence and went searching.
Mr. Ugly’s ended being the single creepiest place I had ever encountered in my young life. It was built like a three-story Barbie condo (you know, the kind we would get at Christmas with the little elevator when the parents were too cheap to fork out for the Dream House) – all skinny, tall and long abandoned. Inside, we found the building incorporated several palm trees to which tortured faces and Polynesian totems had been carved out. The ground floor remained fully furnished because all the couches and tables had been shaped out of the foundation concrete.
The dark floors above housed strange, small, maze-like rooms, all painted black, bearing needles, broken bongs and discarded condoms to commemorate the thrill seekers that came before us.
Outside, we surrounded the swimming pool, freaking out over the graffiti in the deep end that skaters had left to warn us that without proper ritual and penance, Mr. Ugly would, indeed, get us too.
That’s when we heard shouting from inside the house. Clearly, the rumors were true and we were headed for the meat hook.
Alas, it was only the neighbor who was long tired of the place being used as a teenage orgy shack. He hollered at us to stop, warning us that the cops were on the way.
Fuck that. We beat feet.
If there was cactus to run into, or a gopher hole to fall in, I found it as I fled. I still resembled a newborn knobby-kneed gazelle in those days.
To add insult to injury, the old coot had brought his shotgun and was firing at us. Luckily, it was only rock salt. I was able to make this distinction as I was attempting to climb over the barbed wire, by the stinging nettle-like impact on my ass and the back of my thighs as I was making the critical maneuver to throw a leg over the fence. The impact of the shot sent me flying over the other side, my knee catching on the last barb twist and holding on down most of my lower leg. (To which the scars exist to this day.)
We ran as mad hatters do to the car and I popped the clutch to make our getaway. In a blind panic, I drove the wrong way and we ended closer to nowhere on a rocky, rutty road, kicking up streams of dust in my wake. I had the little beast at full throttle as we were tossed around and bashed into the low lying roof of the car.
The great escape ceased at the blowout of one of the bicycle sized tires. The spare tire was a donut, as Yugoslavian day-old pastry and car manufacturing were being doled out on the same conveyer belt.
We huddled together to read the manual on how to use the custom made jack. The manual had no pictures or any English writing. We knew the cops were coming and there was still a pissed off guy with the firepower out there somewhere, so snap decisions were made. Within our group were two guys who thankfully didn’t believe that steroids were drugs. They literally held the car up for me as I changed the tire.
We felt safe by the time we hit Central Avenue. We made our way to the Five and Diner to celebrate our survival with strong coffee and bragging rights.
My ass was on fire, my ankle was twisted, I was still bleeding at the knee and the car was lopsided – but that is the glory of being 17 - that kind of shit didn’t matter. Rather, we were the daring survivors of a fantastic tale. We proclaimed it the Best Night Ever!