I was the smart ass in your class who tested the teacher’s patience but always made everyone laugh. So by 11th grade when I started to feel entitled to ‘personal days’ just like the staff, the people responsible for my education didn’t seem to miss me. My truancy was a stealth operation covered up by forged letters from colleges I supposedly visited and a calculated scheme that cracked the attendance policy at my suburban New Jersey public high school. It worked like a charm back then, but I still awake to cold sweats in the middle of the night brought on by nightmares in which Randolph High School administrators force me to retake Calculus in order to retain every degree I have subsequently obtained. In short, I don’t recommend cutting class as much as I did.
The best day I ever cut class was in the fall of my senior year. Cold temperatures had blanketed the Northeast just before Thanksgiving, and Hunter Mountain in Upstate New York boasted one of its earliest openings in memory. Two ski friends from other public schools were itching to get on snow as well, so we devised a plan to skip school on a Friday and rally to and from Hunter in a single day. It was a 2.5-hour drive in each direction, but I possessed the two keys to instantaneous teenage celebrity: determination and a car. ‘Car’ was a loose term I used to describe the gasoline-dependent engine and metal frame I cruised around in. My brother would later confirm that the $3,000 Honda Accord my dad bought for me from the Middle Eastern man who ran a chop shop in Edgewater, NJ was in fact a ‘Franken-car,’ or two vehicles that had previously been in accidents and were welded together to create a single automobile. The radio and heat were both broken, so I drove around with a battery-powered boom box in the backseat while wearing ski clothes through its three winters of life.
But at the start of the ’98-’99 winter, I picked up my friends Erin and Ashley and headed for Hunter Mountain. Erin was a total hottie with a wild default. Some people have a wild side or a wild streak, but wild was Erin’s status quo.
In stark contrast, Ashley was the tame, reserved, shy, ‘good angel’ who sat on my opposing shoulder. She had recently taken a liking to a mutual friend of ours who was a freshman at Cornell, and on the whole drive up to Hunter we had to hear about Adam. Adam, Adam, Adam.
We envisioned ourselves taking ripping, top-to-bottom ski runs while our friends sat in Biology class learning about the Krebs Cycle. When I pulled into the parking lot at Hunter Mountain, however, our delusions crashed into the reality of early season skiing. A narrow ribbon of snow weaved its way from the peak and came to a sudden end in a pile of mud fifty-some odd paces from the chairlift. Patrons were walking over hay with their skis underfoot just to load the lift; tickets were full price.
Never one to waste an opportunity, I called for a round-two rally and suggested we continue northward nearly four more hours to the Vermont ski mecca of Killington. By a majority-rules vote, Ashley was forced against her will to join us for additional adventure. We arrived at Killington just after lunchtime, paid full price for tickets, and skied on psneaux (manmade snow) for three hours. By the time the lifts closed at four, I was exhausted and wondered how I could ever make the drive home to New Jersey. It was, after all, the Dark Ages between the decline and fall of Jolt Cola and the glorious invention of Red Bull.
Ashley had what at the time, and without a map for reference, seemed like a brilliant idea. She suggested we “stop off” at Cornell on our way home from Killington to visit Adam. We could sleep in his dorm and could tell our parents we were staying at each others’ houses. She had an additional stake in the proposal that seemed to swing her over to our delinquent side, but it sounded like a reasonable solution with my limited experience navigating Upstate New York. In present day, with my handy GPS, I could never be persuaded to drive well out of my way for someone else’s booty call. But this was 1998 and we were still convinced we’d have flying cars before everyone drove around with miniature satellite computers on their dashboards.
I began to panic when the road signs to our next major map marker in Adam’s directions indicated vaster and vaster expanses. At a critical juncture when we realized our money was running low, we made the group decision to eat only Taco Bell from there on out. Breakfast nachos, anyone? We had only our ski clothes and Erin refused to set foot on a college campus without some swankier duds, so during one of our pit stops she came back to the car with a whole new outfit. I exclaimed, “Erin, we’re eating Taco Bell to conserve funds and you’re running off to buy clothes? I don’t know how we’re going to afford the gas to get home.” She just shook her head at me and replied, “Calm down. I stole this outfit from K-Mart.” We were headed straight for the juvenile detention facility that was right down the street from my childhood home.
Although Adam was expecting us, he had no warm welcome for anyone other than Ashley, and even that greeting was tepid. He walked us around campus, took us to a frat party that was promptly broken up by security after someone pulled the fire alarm, and then escorted us back to his cramped and cluttered dorm room. Ashley got to share his extra-long twin mattress with him while Erin and I found some floor space. It was November in Ithaca, and these Cornell guys had their bedroom window propped wide open. I slept for five minutes between the shivering.
The next morning, we bummed some cash off Adam and walked to my car in the visitor parking lot where I discovered my entire CD collection had been stolen. So much for the return on investment of my Columbia House membership. As we drove off the Cornell campus and through Ithaca, Ashley was in a sour mood. She just kept saying how terrible the whole trip was. Adam had not given her the attention she sought, and he was hardly happy to see her. She kept saying the drive was one big waste of time.
Erin lost it. “A waste of time?!” she yelled. “At least you got to sleep in a bed last night. We had to rub butts on the floor just to stay warm!”
As my car puttered into the driveway back home, the gas gauge registering empty, I made a decision that proved invaluable to my crime-free future. I determined that I could cut any class in life I wanted to except–of course–for Geography.