There’s a freedom that comes with getting your driver’s license. For many, this is the first step into the realm of possibilities that is adulthood. Some people abuse this newfound power, while others understand that this privilege comes with an enormous responsibility. That first solo drive can make the difference between a trustworthy member of society and a reckless hooligan that cares nothing for the burdens of adult life.
On my first drive alone, I took my rundown Toyota Camry to the nearest K-Mart and bought a four foot tall sock monkey. His name was Mr. Jenkins.
Mr. Jenkins was more than just a ridiculously large stuffed animal. he was my partner. He was the Chewbacca to my Han Solo, my eternal co-pilot. I can’t even describe the looks of confusion I got from people who needed rides when I told them that they had to sit in the backseat because my giant sock monkey had shotgun privileges. If I really wanted to freak people out, I would have fleshed-out conversations with Mr. Jenkins, complete with reactions and responses to his imaginary statements. Needless to say, I didn’t give too many rides during high school, and I saved plenty of gas money because of that plush primate.
I also owe Mr. Jenkins for saving me from what would have been my very first speeding ticket.
It was a cool autumn morning, the time of year when T-shirts wouldn’t cut it until after the sun was high in the sky. I had snoozed through my alarm and woke up right at the point where I could still make it to school on time if I hurried. I rummaged through a pile of unfolded laundry, wolfed down two Pop-Tarts in record time, and snatched a jacket from the rack as I leapt out the door. I pulled out of the driveway without even looking for oncoming traffic and blasted down backroads in a desperate attempt to make it to class on time.
I rounded a corner and noticed too late a police car sitting in the parking lot of an old church. By the time my brain had registered what I had seen, there were blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror. I swore in frustration as I pulled over into a gravel-filled strip along the road, trying to figure out what I was going to tell my parents when they heard that I was both pulled over for speeding and late for school. My heart was racing from anxious anticipation. I hadn’t had too many encounters with the cops, and the only protocol I knew to follow was from what I had seen on television. Nervous, I drummed fingers on the steering wheel as I waited for the officer to walk over to my car.
He was an older man with an irritated-looking face, as if my speeding had been an interruption to his otherwise pleasant morning. He stooped down to my window and didn’t bother to look at me. He was already scribbling on the ticket, as if nothing I would say could keep him from fining me. He asked me if I knew how fast I was going. like an idiot, I was honest and stammered out that I thought I had been going around 60 on this 40 mph road. He grunted and asked to see my license and registration. I fumbled with my wallet to pull out my ID and then dug through the wadded-up documents in my glove box for the car registration. I found it and handed them both to him, and the cop finally looked me in the eye.
At first, his expression was stern, almost scary. In retrospect, I think he had been trying to scare a first-time offender into never breaking the law again. However, he glanced over my shoulder, and his mask of angry disappointment completely shattered. It was replaced with the look that a child has when they broke something valuable, this look of shame and guilt that would have been comical if I hadn’t been so scared out of my wits at the time. The cop handed me back my information and told me that I was getting off with a warning this time, so long as I promised to slow down. I nodded furiously, in my mind thanking every god that I could name for this miracle. The police officer took one last look over my shoulder and then headed back to his car, returning to the speed trap he had set up at the church. In confusion, I looked to where he had been staring and tried to figure out just what had him so unsettled.
In the passenger seat of my car sat Mr. Jenkins, as usual. However, in my nervousness and haste I had forgotten what I had done the day before in an effort to spruce up my sock simian. Mr. Jenkins was not only seated and buckled in like an actual passenger, he was also decked out in a dirty pair of cut-off jeans, a brightly-colored Spider-Man jacket, and a bitching pair of cheap sunglasses that I had bought from a gas station. His ridiculous attire was nonetheless meticulously put on, making it obvious that I had spent a good deal of time ensuring that this children’s toy had been clothed and seated as if he were a real passenger. My brain raced to figure out just how this ludicrous image had somehow saved me from being given a ticket, and I arrived to the only conclusion that made any sense at the time.
I say this with no offense to any group of people, but I believe the police officer had thought that I had some kind of mental handicap.
I laughed my ass off the remainder of the drive to school. Of course, I arrived late, and I was asked by both my teacher and the office attendant why I hadn’t arrived on time. I had a very original and hilarious excuse to provide them. My parents also didn’t seem to mind my tardiness or my speeding once they heard just how foolish I had looked in front of a police officer. They thought that was punishment enough.
Jenkins made the best out of a bad situation that day, and that was only one of our many adventures together. There were plenty of times when that sock monkey brightened my life, which makes me feel that much worse for abandoning him.
I gave Mr. Jenkins away during my senior year of high school. Like most bad decisions a teenage boy makes, it involved a girl I had been crushing on. We had been flirting a little – talking in class when we weren’t supposed to, mocking the teacher behind his back, the usual high school nonsense that brings people together – and I wanted to express my feelings for her in some grand romantic gesture. I knew she loved Mr. Jenkins, so when her birthday came around I decided to go out and get her a giant sock monkey of her own.
Mr. Jenkins and I rolled up to K-Mart in my crappy Camry. I went to the shelf where I had first met my simian soulmate and found it filled with dumpy-looking teddy bears. I asked one of the employees where the sock monkeys had gone, and they told me that they had been on clearance when I bought mine. They weren’t coming back.
Mr. Jenkins and I drove home, neither of us knowing this would be our penultimate ride together. That night, I checked online to see if I could find a giant sock monkey within my price range. I had gotten Mr. Jenkins for $30. There was nothing online under $100. My wallet had more lint than money in it, and even if I did have the money, the monkey wouldn’t arrive until after her birthday.
I was so frustrated. I had been so dead set on getting this girl a sock monkey of her own, a sort of Mrs. Jenkins. She was one of the select few I was willing to move Mr. Jenkins to the back seat for, although she usually liked to sit in the back and laugh as I made jokes and sang duets with my primate pal. She loved Mr. Jenkins almost as much as I did, and I had really wanted her to have something like him that connected us.
I realized that I still had one option. It meant losing my favorite inanimate friend, but it was also a chance to show this girl how I felt about her.
The next morning, I took all of the clothes off of Mr. Jenkins and attempted to tie a red bow around his neck. The bow ended up being more of an ugly knot, but it was still clear that he was meant to be a gift. We rode to school one last time, belting out our favorite songs and taking it slow in case any cops were hiding around the corner. When we arrived, I walked into class carrying this marvelous monkey, this awesome ape, this cherished chimp, and set him down at the empty seat next to the girl. She looked at me in confusion, wondering why I had brought my co-pilot to class.
“Happy birthday,” I answered with a sad smile.
A week later, she started dating some other guy. I never saw Mr. Jenkins again.