“We have a report of three men running out of the forest and chasing a vehicle, one of whom was wearing a trench coat and a hat.”

That is among my favorite sentences in the English language. Poetry like this rarely stumbled into real everyday life, and when it does, it should be tumbled and slipped into back pockets like a semi-precious stone.

The sink and the toothbrush and the shower and the shirt and tie and the minivan and a bowl of cereal inhaled in hurried spoonfuls. This—from the maternal wakeup nudge to the tardy sprint through the doors of my prep school—was my ritual. A decade old, ancient and untold, never to change. At least until I got my license a few months later, at which point everything stayed the same only I couldn’t eat cereal in the car anymore so I usually ate a granola bar.

And the day unwound the way all Friday afternoons reliably unwound. Ties lolled loose around necks and shirttails liberated, we found ourselves sipping cool chocolate milks in the cafeteria. Some shipped off to practice or rehearsal or whatever, but inevitably we were all shuttled back home in our respective minivans. Then came another recurring ritual. Now we would figure out how we were going to enjoy our Friday night; or, more aptly, we would determine whose video game console would be tapped for collective use that evening. That fateful day it happened to be mine.

We knew nothing of trench coats or hats.

The night began as an innocuous one, notable only for how staggeringly average it was. Three chums sitting around a lukewarm box of Domino’s, Coke cans fizzling their way into static: a set piece borrowed from countless sitcoms, life imitating art but only the boring parts. Some benign impulse—perhaps the king of benign impulses, Boredom—led us away from the pizza/soda stasis, out of the basement, into the pleasantly quiet street behind my pleasantly suburban home. There was no conceivable plan in mind, but along the way we gathered some random detritus sitting in my garage:

i. A Canon digital camera.

ii. Several pieces of sidewalk chalk.

iii. Three bucket hats.

iv. A neon orange skateboard.

The agenda: carve something worthwhile out of this night’s mediocrity.

The hats were easy enough to figure out. The chalk, too. But not a single one of us knew how to ride the skateboard, and perhaps that was for the better, because this was where the camera came into play. First, one of us would leap into the air and position the skateboard at some glorious improbable trajectory. Using careful timing, a not insignificant amount of luck and quick trigger-fingers, we froze each faked moment on film. With nonexistent skateboarding skill, merely average leaping ability and a passing familiarity with the flash button, we assembled a portfolio, formidable by any real skater’s (read: gullible person’s) standards. A beautiful hoax.

Whenever two people were off a-hoaxing, the other member of the trio would be scrawling out some pseudo-graffiti in the middle of the road. Crayola on asphalt was our oil on canvas, a perfect medium for this midnight magnum opus, though admittedly we had curfews to make and it wasn’t quite midnight. Cartoon faces (real creepy), meaningless phrases (“Evry Bodi Tans A lot” [sic]), an only half-ironic “Anarchy” symbol (O we were young) … all these strange runes etched out in pastels for no one to see.

[I pause the narrative for prolepsis. If all this—the faux-skateboarding and jumping and photographing and graffitiing—seems totally baseless and bizarre to you, you are not alone. Let it be said that I have no idea why any of this was taking place. This was the product of clinical boredom, of shapeless gray routine and ritual. More than anything it was teen rebellion, rated PG.]

This was a quiet road but whenever a car approached, we’d grab the skateboard and hop off onto the sidewalk. That is, until a familiar black-and-white car sidled up next to this bunch of law-abiding hoodlums, and there was no hopping anywhere, just honesty. My stomach lurched even though I knew I hadn’t done anything worth punishing. Out came the cop, greeting us cordially, searching our pockets, soliciting our addresses (this was essentially my backyard), smirking at the skateboard. I just went through the motions and didn’t know why. But as I set a piece of chalk down on the hood of a car, explanation arrived by way of police radio buzz:

“We have a report of three men running out of the forest and chasing a vehicle, one of whom was wearing a trench coat and a hat.”

Now. This sentence deserves some parsing. Rarely is life so exquisitely misinterpreted.

“men” = _perhaps generous for a couple of skinny 16-year-olds_

“running” = _sauntering back onto a road_

“forest” = _a little copse of trees by the side of the road_

“pursuing a vehicle” = _sauntering back onto a road, maybe in the general direction of a car that had passed by a few seconds earlier_

“trench coat” = *a tan, waist-length jacket*

“hat” = _the hats_

It should be revealed now that the hats were not ordinary hats. These were relics of a baffling third grade phrase when floral bucket hats were all I ever wanted to wear. This spell proved short-lived because my tiny nine-year-old head couldn’t quite fill out the empty space; now, years later, skulls swollen with time and schooling, we wore that floppy Hawaiian print with aplomb.

And the sentence reproduced, in all its glory:

“We have a report of three men running out of the forest and chasing a vehicle, one of whom was wearing a trench coat and a hat.”

I tried to repress the dumb smiles that sprawled across my face while the cop calmly picked up the receiver and responded: “I have three juveniles.”

With the smiles came the realization. Everything we had done tonight had been hugely and hilariously misunderstood. One of the drivers that passed us by must have felt threatened by our imposing 5-foot-something presence, enough to warrant a call to the police in which he or she described us in rather flattering if inaccurate terms. I figured our lively headwear would have blown our cover as rough-‘n’-tumble hooligans.

So the cops were obliged to make an appearance. And given the circumstances—we were three inexplicably happy kids holding sidewalk chalk, wearing flowery hats, holding a shamelessly neon skateboard—it was not unreasonable for the policeman to assume some potent substances were at play. But they weren’t. The only things in our bloodstreams were some vestigial caffeine and the impulse, the aching impulse, to do Something Else. The cop left and left us in a daze, a fog of silent laughter: we all knew something surreal and fundamentally teenage had just happened, but no one was sure quite what, just that it was Something Else. At the very least it was an unforgettable sentence and an odd Facebook album.

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