They Made Me a Criminal
THE JAIL DOOR SLAMMED and I was left in a women’s holding cell with seven teenage girls. There were no benches so we sat on the floor. I was fifteen but looked twelve. With long hair on my head and not a whisker to my chin, I resembled a homely girl, although the plainclothes officer who frisked me could have verified otherwise. The cops had picked us up in Point State Park after observing us pass a joint. They’d intended to bust a big dealer named Lonnie—a white guy with long red hair. Fortunately for Lonnie but unfortunately for us, a white guy named John also had long red hair, also happened to be in the park, and also happened to possess and publicly share a joint.
I was there after trying to find a summer job selling hot dogs at Three Rivers Stadium. 10,000 other boys my age had had the same idea that day. Possibly a dozen of them landed a job. My friend Mike and I did not. It was a hot day, and after waiting in line for three hours to fill out a job application, we were ready to go home. But first we had to pick up Mike’s friend Donny, who was tripping in Point State Park.
Donny was our age but looked eighteen. His dad was in the Mob. There were guns in his house. Mike looked up to him the way I looked up to Mike.
Mike and I found Donny sitting in a circle with a bunch of teenage girls and a red-haired guy resembling Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. We were tired and they were girls so we sat with them. Someone passed a joint and I pretended to smoke it so nobody would know how uncool I was. Moments later a half-dozen men in suits and dark sunglasses burst from the bushes like clowns from tiny cars and began frisking and collaring us. Nobody tried to run away. It took a while to realize these guys were cops. A man in a hat made me stand up, then felt my balls. I asked if he was gay and he hit me in the face. After that I didn’t say anything.
We rode downtown in the back of a genuine paddy wagon. It must have been more fun, or scarier, for the kids who were actually high.
The officer who separated us by sex put me in the women’s cell, which was good with me. We were the cell’s only occupants; me and the girls hung out playing with matches, learning each other’s names, and wondering what our parents would do to us if we ever saw them again.
A few months before this, I’d been picked up for shoplifting. I hadn’t actually done the shoplifting—my friend Paul had. I didn’t even know he’d taken anything. But the sales girls at G.C. Murphy’s hated Paul and me, and the cops believed their story, so I now had a juvenile record in my parents’ suburb, and was about to get one in Pittsburgh for drug use.
I’d spent the previous year getting beaten up for moving to Pittsburgh from somewhere else, and for being Jewish, and for being small, and for having no facial hair, and for not knowing how to fight, and for not swearing, and for not stealing, and for not smoking, and for sucking at gym, and for raising my hand in class, and for knowing the answers to the teacher’s questions. Now I was a delinquent and almost nobody picked on me. Maybe there was an alternate path out of being the class punching bag, but, if so, nobody had clued me in.
There was a little window in the jail door, just like on TV. After a few hours a lady cop appeared in it and began taking everyone’s information. I was the last one to go to the window. The lady cop asked my religion and I said none. She didn’t like that, although it probably explained things in her mind. She shut the jail door window when she left.
Two minutes later she was back with a male cop—a huge black guy named Tiny, who made me leave the cell and follow him. During the jail door window interview, I’d given my name. I guess somebody had looked twice at it and realized I was a guy. Tiny escorted me to the cell where they were holding John, Mike, and Donnie. I joined them and the door closed. We all watched Donnie come down from his acid trip. It didn’t look like fun.
My father cut my hair short and grounded me for two months. He cut it himself with a hair cutting kit he’d bought at the drugstore in the town we’d lived in before Pittsburgh. The box the kit came in said “Cut Hair At Home And Save!”
We were tried as a group in juvenile court. My parents and Mike’s parents attended. Donny’s dad did not. Before the trial my lawyer instructed me not to deny I’d smoked pot because nobody would believe me. I was to plead emotional instability and request probation on the grounds of being from the suburbs. Right before our trial began, they sentenced a 14-year-old black kid to six months in a juvenile detention center for stealing chewing gum. I stood up. I don’t know what I intended to do. Yell at the judge for being racist, I think. My dad grabbed my hand and pulled me back to my seat. I could see in his eyes that he was afraid for me. My whole life, I’d never seen my dad look afraid. His eyes made everything real.
As part of a plea bargain, my parents agreed to send me to a psychiatrist. I was given a year’s detention and forbidden to enter Point State Park.
I started using drugs the next day. If I had a record, I was going to live up to it.
This is my story from Graphic Content: True Stories From Top Creatives (Print, 2014), curated by Brian Singer, available in hardcover and Kindle editions.
I Remember Mama
TODAY IN 2000 the lady who brought me into this life left it.
Pneumonia was listed as the cause of death, but she was really killed by Alzheimer’s, a disease that, to all intents and purposes, had already taken her life back in 1993. What died in 2000 was not my mother, although I mourned her again when her body finally passed, and I was shocked by the depth of pain I felt at her demise. I thought I had already grieved for her during the seven years of her mental and spiritual extinguishment.
My mother was a natural comedian. If you’ve seen Woody Allen in a movie—particularly the early, funny ones—you’ve met her, in a way. The comedy was a defense against a despair she could never shake—because of what happened to her father, because of what happened to the boy she loved when she was a teenager, because because.
My mother loved her children more than anything, which is a big reason I love myself and can love others.
If there is a heaven, she is in it, and if she is in it, she is surprised and pissed off and complaining.
My mother never met my daughter, but I am startled by the ways my daughter sometimes reminds me of the grandmother she never knew.
Filed under: glamorous
Not a Thing in Texas
6:00 AM, AUSTIN. My nine-year-old vegetarian daughter just phoned from New York to inform me that matzo ball soup is made with chicken broth. She has just learned this fact, and wanted me to know so I wouldn’t accidentally eat food made from animals while I’m away. I thanked her and assured her that matzo ball soup is not a thing in Texas.
AN EVENT APART Chicago—a photo set on Flickr. Pictures of the city and the conference for people who make websites.
Notes from An Event Apart Chicago 2013—Luke Wroblewski’s note-taking is legendary. Here are his notes on seven of the ten presentations at this year’s An Event Apart Chicago.
#aeachi—conference comments on Twitter.
Chicago (Foursquare)—some of my favorite places in the city.
An Event Apart Chicago—sessions, schedule, and speaker bios for the conference that just ended.
AEA Chicago 2013 on Lanyrd—three days of design, code, and content on the social sharing platform for conferences.
A handful of seats are available for the final event of the year, An Event Apart San Francisco at the Palace Hotel, December 9–11, 2013. Be there or be square.
Filed under: An Event Apart, architecture, Best practices, Chicago, cities, Code, creativity, Design, Designers, glamorous, IXD, mobile, Mobile, Multi-Device, Standards, State of the Web, Usability, User Experience, UX, Web Design, Web Standards, Working, Zeldman
ME: Why’s your girlfriend’s sweater on the back of your chair?
MALE OFFICE MATE 1: It’s my sweater.
MALE OFFICE MATE 2: He’s Metrosexual.
ME: I experimented with that in college.
Filed under: glamorous
Dog Day Morning
THE DOGS leave today.
While my ex has been away this month, I’ve watched her two small dogs. And so have my two cats—especially the black alpha. Add an active eight year old girl to that menagerie and you have 34 busy but blissful days.
That time ends now.
This morning my daughter and the dogs shuffle off to her mother’s apartment, where her grandparents will take loving care of them all.
I mark the occasion by packing my bag for Boston and clearing away a last wet wee wee pad.
Funny the things you can get sentimental over.
Response to an anonymous note left on my apartment door, complaining of noise.
While my ex-wife is in treatment for a serious illness, I am watching her two small young dogs.
They get along well with my two cats and soothe my young daughter during her mother’s absence.
I am sorry that the dogs sometimes bark when I am at work. They are probably somewhat afraid.
The dogs will only be with us for a few more days. God willing, my ex will complete her in-patient treatment early next week.
I apologize for the noise during the day, and thank you for your patience and understanding.
Filed under: glamorous
And now for something completely different
IN THESE PAGES I have written on many subjects, but I never expected my ass to be one of them. The untimely passing last year of Hillman Curtis changed that.
Hillman was a friend, an inspiration, an artist admired by many designers and filmmakers. Over a brief but luminous career, he invented himself first as a songwriter in a touring post-punk band, then as an art director and eventually the design director of Macromedia (and Flash evangelist Numero Uno), next as the founder of a boutique design studio and the author of design books that have sold over 150 thousand copies—a staggering achievement in an industry where cracking 10,000 copies sold makes you a rock star.
He was a generous mentor and pal to the digital design community, perpetually sharing his insights and enthusiasm, and encouraging others to do and be everything they could be. If you needed studio space, he would find you a desk. If you were low on funds, he would help you land a suitable gig. Hillman and I worked on a couple of projects together when I first founded Happy Cog. The jobs went well and the work was good. He was a supportive and honorable design director.
Hillman’s final public creative incarnation was as a filmmaker. He is probably best known for his “Artist Series” about designers including Milton Glaser and Paula Scher, and artists David Byrne and Brian Eno.
Even his personal life was inspiring. He had two children and a wife, and the love in that beautiful family could be seen a mile away.
Colon cancer took Hillman from us on April 18, 2012. He was only 51.
I don’t know if Hillman’s cancer could have been prevented with a simple screening, but I know a colonoscopy is recommended for most men and women when they reach a certain age, and I know I love my daughter very much.
And so, this morning, for her sake and per my doctor’s recommendation, I set aside feelings of embarrassment and fears of discomfort and had the test.
It’s really not bad. There’s no pain, it takes only a few minutes, and you’re unconscious.
This post may cross a taste line for some readers; sorry about that. I’m also sorry this page won’t help you write better HTML or sharpen your collaborative skills. But I love you and would like you to stick around.
Worst Snow Ever
WORST snow ever. If you are eight and want to play. Because it has already melted. Climate change, you suck the Charlie Brown out of this world.
Filed under: glamorous