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The Curse Of The Parking Ticket

Kaya Oakes

February 13, 2010

Kaya Oakes is the author of Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture, and Telegraph which received the Transcontinental Poetry Prize in 2006. She was the co-founder and senior editor of Kitchen Sink Magazine. She currently teaches writing at UC Berkeley, but previously worked as a bookstore clerk, comic book shipping supervisor, coffee foamer, house cleaner, and carpet stain removal expert.

Back in the Pleistocene era, before the Internet, before cell phones, and back when I was skinny enough to squeeze between parked cars without having to turn sideways, I “dated”. Those quote marks are deliberate, because the kind of guys I went out with did not take me on dates, per se. There was no dinner, no dropping me off at home afterwards, no follow up phone call to say how much they liked me and to ask if I’d see them again. The guys I went out with – all of them were “musicians” in “bands” – considered a couple of 40 ouncers, a backstage perch at their shitty band’s gig in a club with five goateed friends in the audience (it was the 90s; everyone, even some of my hardcore lesbian friends, had a goatee), remarking on my need to “maybe lay off the donuts” once they got my clothes off, never calling again and/or dumping me for someone blonde and emaciated, and leaving me with various rank bodily souvenirs that threatened to require a trip to the free clinic. That was “dating”, and I did it for a very, very long time.

But, dear reader, like every other girl who grew up with headphones on and a book in my hands, I believed in love and figured eventually I’d meet someone who did too. After years of swimming in the fetid pool of local “musicians”, I decided it was time to try something else. With a lot of teeth-gritting embarrassment that even as a marginally attractive writer/musician blessed with rather impressive jugs I just couldn’t meet someone nice, I started answering personal ads. Back before the Internet this was a very dicey proposition, because the local alt weeklies that ran personals did not feature photographs or much beyond a paragraph of self aggrandizing, often cryptic prose. Luckily, they still had copy editors back then, because bad spelling is a major libido killer: nothing says “back off” like someone describing themselves as “innersetin”. I decided to rule out any ads from writers (too onanistic) or musicians (I was tired of itching), and answered one from a guy who sounded like he might be kind of sweet from his wee little paragraph. He liked vintage soul and jazz and said he lived in a pretty cool part of San Francisco, and he did not, thank God, play in a band: he was a dj. This all takes place back before being a dj had the kind of douchey, electro-techno bay pacifier rave Day-Glo etcetera connotations it has for most of us now, so I was okay with the idea of someone who owned a lot of records. I owned a lot of records too.

We met up a few days later and went for drinks at the Noc Noc, a hole-in-the-wall bar in the Haight that wasn’t so noisy as to drown out all possible conversation, and I was pleased to find out he was attractive and soft spoken. In retrospect, I realize he looked a lot like Terrence Howard in Hustle and Flow, minus the curlers in the hair and houseful of hoes. He worked in some sort of office grunt job that involved drudgery and filing, which was something we had in common, and said he had his own car (praise Jesus! I was so tired of guys who dated me just because I owned a truck, which was handy for shuttling amps to gigs). Anyway, there wasn’t anything particularly hellish about this date; we had a nice chat, I cracked through some of his shy façade by making dumb jokes, and after a few drinks we walked around the panhandle of Golden Gate park for a while, stepping over passed out drunks and crusty gutter punks. I think we even held hands, and at 21 I was a hand-holding virgin (again, my typical type was more likely to walk three yards ahead of me so as not to be seen with me, and so I wouldn’t catch him checking out other women). All in all, it was kind of sweet, and even though he was a bit shorter than me (not unusual as I’m just under six feet tall), I decided I liked him.

We walked back to my car, parked the typical San Francisco distance away (five miles uphill), and I gave him a kiss and a hug, which he said was nice. He even giggled shyly (adorable!). But then he got one of those cloudy male looks that inevitably precedes bad news, and shuffled his feet a little before saying, “Um, I had a good time. But I might not see you again for a while.”

“Oh yeah?”, I replied, trying to be casual. But I was thinking, fuck, he’s got gonorrhea or he’s going to rehab.

“Um, yeah, I had some trouble recently, and I’ve got to take care of it.” He was peering intently at the pavement throughout this entire conversation, studiously avoiding looking up into my ever-widening eyes.

“Really? What’s up?”, I asked, growing ready to bolt if the words “free clinic” or “anger management” were involved.

“Um, yeah… I’m going to jail.”

Oh shit oh shit oh shit I’m going to end up chopped up in a dumpster and I’ll never publish a book and fuck what will my roommate do with my stuff and shit I have a final paper on hermaphrodites in Shakespeare due in a week and crap my mother is angry at me already and shit shit shit where are my keys?

I surreptitiously fished my keys out of my pocket and started back slowly up Divisadero Street, hoping that my ability to sprint across the basketball court in eighth grade would miraculously re-emerge after years of literary lethargy. It was Saturday night in the Haight, and somehow the streets were suddenly deserted.

The guy finally looked up and held up his hands. “It’s not what you think!”, he said, obviously aware of my growing terror. “I… uh… it’s county jail”. Yeah, that’s terrific news, I thought. At least it’s not San Quentin.

“Um, I, yeah, it’s because I live in San Francisco. And, um, I have a car, you know, parking? It sucks here. I, um, I got a lot of tickets. And… uh, forgot to pay them. So they, uh, impounded the car and I, um, missed a court date… and another one, and, um, yeah. I’m going to be in for a month or so. But I’d like to hang out! You know, when I’m, uh, out.”

By this point I was pretty sure I wasn’t in any immediate danger, but I was also ready to get the hell home. I mean, parking tickets? PARKING TICKETS? Seriously, that’s not even badass. If he’d robbed a bank to feed his impoverished grandmother or something, that would have been okay, but I’d been arrested myself for civil disobedience during the first Gulf War, and PARKING TICKETS? Come on, dude.

“Hah, well, good luck!”, I said, turning to fishing trudging uphill to my car. “Nice to meet you”.

“Hey,” he called out. “Can I write you?”

Reader, I am weak. I had never received a letter from prison before, and when I imagined the cachet this would give me, and thinking maybe it would be fodder for my writing, I agreed. But I’d also seen “Looking For Mister Goodbar” enough times that I knew giving this dude my home address would mean I would definitely end up on the side of a milk carton. At the time, I was the music director at my college’s radio station, so I hastily scribbled out that address, jumped in my truck, and drove home, where I drank a few beers and thought how pathetic and ridiculous that attempt at dating had turned out to be. I figured I was doomed to a life of hauling amps for guys who thought toothpaste was bourgeois and showering was anathema, and decided instead to take vows to live in the monastic solitude of records, writing, and books.

A week of so later, a red-ink missive did indeed arrive at the radio station from Parking Ticket Dude, a brief epistle letting me know how much he liked me, how he’d enjoyed our date, and other romantic sentiments clouded only by two obvious problems: he was in jail, and he could not spell. It was tragic, because it was a lovely letter any cynical, hard-hearted woman would be lucky to get, but it was full of mistakes like “the food hear is better than it’s rumored to be”, and he spelled my first and last names incorrectly, and, well, he was in jail. For unpaid parking tickets.

Shortly afterwards, I started going out with the biggest fuckup I’d ever gone out with, an alcoholic, moronic idiot who treated me like shit, and of course I stayed with him for way too long, and sometimes when he’d disappear for weeks on end or I’d come home to an answering machine full of messages from someone who wanted to know if he was going to take a paternity test, I’d think wistfully of Parking Ticket Dude. He was nice, after all, and polite. He wrote me a sweet letter. I’d handled it badly, never writing him back and not returning his calls when he got sprung and returned to civilian life. I felt guilty for a long time for being so callous. But I came to my senses with the fuckup guy, dumped him, had a couple of short but decent relationships with nice guys, met a really nice guy with good hygiene, went out with him even after I found out he was not only a musician but a drummer, married him, and twelve years down the road, am living a pretty good life. Whatever happened to Parking Ticket Dude, I wish him well. Hopefully he’s happy and healthy, and most importantly, he remembers to feed the meter and move the car on street sweeping days.