The first thing you need to understand is that as a teenager, I was basically Millhouse Van Houten. Among my friend group, I assumed the role of the nervous Nelly, the killjoy, the “I don’t think we should be doing this, you guys” guy.
Most of my friends thought it was because I was a pussy, but I swear I came by it honestly. My parents knew all the tricks in the adolescent asshole playbook before I even hit middle school. From a young age I understood if I was a dumbass, I was going to pay for it, probably in manual labor. By the time I got my driver’s license, I learned my parents were smarter than me and the juice of teenage mischief wasn’t worth the parental squeeze.
In hindsight, I was really just a pussy.
I played my role faithfully though, seeing myself as the voice of reason whenever the hive mind of my friend group began to buzz with bad ideas. I defused many a hare-brained scheme over the years, and boiled my defense of good choices down to one simple fact: I had the car and they didn’t. You want to get a ride home? Put down the blowtorch.
But even do-gooders get bored in the endless cul-de-sacs of suburbia, and you can only loiter in the Wawa parking lot for so many nights before you start to get the itch for some mischief. And so, the summer after I graduated from high school, I dabbled in being a shithead.
I think the reason I justified breaking my vandalism cherry was because of the motive behind the act. My friend Mark had just gotten dumped by his girlfriend Beth, and he was upset about it. Not only was Mark convinced Beth was the mythical one (after all, they’d dated for eight months!), but a day after she dumped him over the phone like a coward, she met some guy from another high school at a party and gave him a rusty trombone. (Side note: I had NO idea what a rusty trombone was when I was 17, and with Urban Dictionary still a decade away, I had no way of learning, because I wasn’t going to ask and risk looking lamer than my friends already thought I was.)(Side note 2: Don’t feel lame. You can look up “rusty trombone” now if you want. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Got it? Gross, right?)
We listened to a lot of bro-core around that time period (“My friends look out for me like familyyyyyy”), and we took it upon ourselves to defend our friend Mark’s honor, even though he was too depressed to leave the house. In the Wawa parking lot, we hatched a plan to get back at Beth. This time, I agreed to be the wheel man.
It was a vanilla plot and, to be honest, pretty lame considering the heinous nature of her actions, but it was the best we had.
That night, we drove to the snobby hair salon in town, the one that charged dudes $75 for a haircut and played Enya on the sound system. The front yard of this place was littered with cheesy lawn ornaments and statues. There were hundreds of them: cutouts of deer and elves and frolicking foxes and daisies. You get the idea.
Under the cover of darkness, my friends and I loaded as many of these chintzy pieces of shit into my mother’s station wagon as we could. We drove them to Beth’s house — that breaker of hearts and doer of unspeakable sexual acts — and filled her front lawn with the pilfered ornaments.
Then we went back and got a second load.
It took four of us the better part of two hours to get them all set. There was not a single square foot that didn’t contain a cartoon squirrel or flamingo or frog or silhouette of a girl bending over and showing her polka-dot bloomers.
We considered the mission a success, thinking Beth would see her front lawn and think twice about messing with our friends.
Mark and Beth got back together a couple of weeks later, and after we all vomited at the idea of kissing Beth after what she’d done (last chance to look up “rusty trombone,” seriously), we agreed nothing could stand in the way of true love. When Mark admitted to our prank, Beth laughed.
“That was you guys? That was hilarious. My dad thought it was great.”
Well, okay, not exactly the reaction we were looking for, but it did achieve one thing: my friends now knew I could be talked into shithead-ery.
But just because I opened the door to my delinquent dark side didn’t mean I wasn’t selective. I opted out of the missions my friends went on to change the marquee signs of various local businesses.
Since I wasn’t there, I won’t try to cash in by retelling a story I didn’t rightfully earn. For some reason I felt changing signs was more unethical than stealing lawn ornaments or donuting (I’ll get to that next). Suffice it to say my friends discovered some hilarious ways to anagram the Dippy’s Ice Cream sign, the best of which converted “Orange Dreamsicle is back” to the vaguely terroristic “OSAMA IS BACK.” A prank like that today would probably land my friends in front of a Homeland Security interrogation panel, but in 2003, you were allowed to make jokes without the whole world getting offended.
By far the best and shittiest shithead activity I participated in began the summer after my freshman year of college, when my friend Scott and I worked at a gas station together. For those unaware, New Jersey is one of two states in the country (Oregon being the other) where it is illegal to pump your own gas. This law allows broke, lazy college students and deadbeat felons an opportunity to make minimum wage for performing a service you are expected to do yourself if you are filling up in 48 other states. It was in that slow, bored malaise of menial wage labor that we invented donuting.
We came upon it quite by accident one night after closing the gas station and driving around looking for something to do.
“My friend Craig told me that if you go to the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru after midnight, they’ll give you a garbage bag full of the old donuts for like, two dollars,” Scott said. “Want to get some and go watch the New Found Glory DVD in my basement?”
This was the sort of thing that qualified as a good time when you were broke and bored in suburbia.
After a bit of negotiating with the man at the drive-thru window whose name tag read “Mr. Mike,” Scott and I headed home with three dozen donuts in a clear plastic bag. Rancid was on the stereo, and the windows were down, the summer night whipping through our hair.
“Ugh!” Scott said, biting into his third donut. “Boston Creme. Who the hell likes Boston Creme?” He tossed the offending donut out the window and grabbed another from the bag. More Boston Creme. This one he hooked over the roof of the car, and we watched it splatter in the opposite lane.
We both looked at each other and a lightbulb appeared over our heads like we were in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
For three months, we honed our craft through trial and error, employing different seating arrangements, personnel teams, and tossing strategies. Donuting took on a serious, almost militaristic feel.
We discovered the best method was to use a squad of three: a driver, a spotter, and a gunner.
The driver’s responsibilities were obvious, though the nuances of correct speed and lane positioning were critical. As the driver approached a vehicle in the oncoming lane, he would check his six, reduce speed, and notify the spotter they were clear to go hot.
The spotter’s duty was the most important and required the highest level of skill, for it was his job to determine the make and model of the oncoming vehicle. He sat shotgun and looked at the car’s headlights for the telltale configuration of the Ford Crown Victoria, because for obvious reasons, police cruisers were not viable targets.
Then there was the gunner, the guy who sat behind the driver and got all the glory. Deploying the baked-goods payload was more art than science though, and any gunner worth his salt could tell you a baseball-style throw wasn’t going to get you anywhere near your target. The best way to gun was to wait for just the right moment, and as the oncoming car was about to pass, you kind of lofted the donut into the air and let the car run into it. Release too early and you’d end up hitting the bumper or the grille, too late and you’d hit the roof or trunk. The ultimate goal was the windshield. Right in the pickle barrel.
Once Scott and I closed up the gas station for the night, we’d pick up our friends, determine our roles, and grab the payload from Mr. Mike at the drive-thru window. Most nights, he’d have them ready for us, and we’d give him high fives. I’m sure he thought we were a carload of stoners looking for cheap snacks, but none of us even smoked weed then. We were just in it for the ammo.
We’d troll up and down Route 45 in Mantua, waiting for cars to come in the opposite direction. When we saw a pair of headlights in the distance, we’d start talking. “Target acquired. Cop? Cop? Cop? No cop. Sure? Confirmed. Good to go? Fire when ready.” SPLAT. “Go go go!”
18-wheelers made for the best targets. They required a bit of skill to hit right because you needed more height on your lob, but when you got the windshield with a direct hit, it made a SMACK like a firecracker.
Once in awhile, a car would pull a U-turn and try to chase us, but we’d have a good head start and duck down a side street before they caught up to us.
I hung up my donuting spikes for good at the end of that summer when I went back to college, and Scott retired his a bit later at the request of the Mantua Township Police Department.
I’m not sure who was spotting that night, but he must have been asleep at the switch, because the gunner got the green light and deposited a raspberry jelly donut on the windshield of a police cruiser.
The cop pulled a screeching U-ie and hit his lights, and Scott tried for a time to outrun the Crown Vic with his tiny Acura before pulling over.
He concocted some bullshit story about biting into the donut and not realizing it was jelly, and since he was allergic to jelly, he tossed it out the window without looking. I can’t imagine the cop bought it, but Scott got away with a $50 fine for littering. On the ticket itself, the remarks section read: “Jelly Donut.”
And so ended our foray into donuting. I don’t know why I never once turned to my friends during the three months we did this and said “I don’t know guys, I don’t think we should be doing this.” Looking back, obscuring a driver’s windshield with Boston Creme wasn’t the safest way to raise hell, certainly more dangerous than misplacing some lawn ornaments. I think I was just happy to be a part of the group without being called a pussy.