The Spatula Incident
By Jake Vigliotti
May 21, 2008
There’s an old African proverb that goes: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Teddy Roosevelt stole and made it his own. I think my phrase that pays is “keep a small debt, and carry a spatula”. After you read this, you’ll make like TR and heed my advice. Especially when in New Jersey.
The glorious month of May, in the year of our Lord 1999; May 25 to be exact, was the DMB concert at Giants Stadium. I was stoked to be going for a few reasons:
So now you have the prelude, here’s the real story: Bob made me an offer I couldn’t refuse; drive over to a hotel in New Jersey (A Holiday Inn at the time, and now the Keniworth Inn – Exit 138 if you really care), some place that his friends used to ditch their cars when they made trips to The City or Jets games, and from there he’d drive us to The Meadowlands.
I laid off the drugs (prescription – the legal stuff) a bit before the drive since this would be my first driving experience since I hurt my back. I also anticipated driving left-footed due to the radiculopathy on my right leg. Besides, I also knew Bob would have some beer for our tailgating. Because of the meds, I hadn’t had a drink since January 24 (no Brian Epstein/Heath Ledger for me!). That drink was a pint of Maker’s Mark upon the initial injury (didn’t stunt the pain, not that you really care). Incidentally, that’s the longest any breathing human being had ever been without alcohol while living in Bristol. If you’d ever been there you’d know why and probably be having a drink while reading this story.
Since Bob was bringing the beer my contribution to the tailgating would be my world famous hamburgers, and a spatula.
At the time, I was pretty well known among that crowd of co-workers for great beans and unbelievable burgers. The keys to those unbelievable, world famous hamburgers is in the meats, and the size. Got to make em big. OK, of course I’ll give you the recipe; Just call em Jake’s Burgers or Ants Burgers when you serve em. Just remind your prospective guests that no ants were harmed in the burger making process.
The drive over was surprisingly easy and pain free but the napalm-like victory smell that is New Jersey, but that’s another story. I arrived at the hotel at just a little before 3, and per Bob’s suggestion, I parked on the side of the hotel, opposite a side entrance to the joint, facing a set of pine trees. There was a small dirt path/road, large enough for a car, right behind the line of trees. I thought that was a bit odd, but hey, it’s New Jersey. About 20 minutes later, Me, Bob, my burgers, and my spatula all headed out for the concert.
We parked conveniently near a Put-John, but I’d rather crap in my hands then even swing open the door of a Put-John. That and the fact that my tolerance would be way low, I already made the decision that beer-drinking would be in case of emergency only. And I was having a really good back-day, it’s like the 2-hour drive actually helped. Bob, who when bringing beer anywhere always prepared like he was packing in case of a nuclear holocaust, he had carefully placed two 30-packs and 40 lbs of ice into a cooler that stretched the entire length of the back seat of his Toyota Corolla.
We weren’t planning on seeing the opening acts, The Roots, nor Santana, so we weren’t even concerned with getting in until close to 7 or 730p. We sat in some chairs, and I nursed a beer (and I mean nursed) while Bob threw back 4. We just sat back and chatted, while politely declining the solicitous requests from 14 year old Jersevites wanting our beer. They kept calling us “yahassholes”; must’ve been some slang the cool-kids were saying. Now (like 530p.m. or so) it was time for the burgers.
As a fire in an underground cavern beneath Venice will drive rats away, a fire at a tailgate will bring them in. Thankfully, we only brought 4 burgers (1/2 lb a piece, but that’s beside the point), so we couldn’t share with the rats unless we wanted to risk disease or starvation! I think we fought off about 20 rats, er… the good people of New Jersey, until I finally started telling them that the burgers were Hepatitis-flavored. We polished off the burgers, again swatting the beggars away with the zeal of someone who just read Oliver Twist and hated the little schmuck. I was still nursing on that very first beer (which admittedly was going to my head), whereas Bob was on his second set of four. He decided to risk disease and jump in the line for the porta-potty.
In a planned attack, this little 14-year old trollop came sashaying over wearing a freaking cut-off tank top right out of a Bon Jovi video! And it was cold that day! Bob was wearing his UCLA sweater, I recall. Here’s her kick-it-to-the-guy script.
Me: It’s quite obvious.
Girl: Where are you from?
Me: Burkina Faso.
Girl: What exit is that?
Girl: Wow. That’s far.
Me: I took the autogiro, so it wasn’t too bad.
Girl: Can I have a burger?
Girl: Come on.
Me: You? Here? I shouldn’t.
Girl: What’s your name?
Girl: Wow. What grade are you in?
Me: 9th. My mom dropped me off here. (Note: I was 25 at the time. And looked 25)
The girl just stood there, swaying in the cool New Jersey garbage-laden air, and turned her hair sprayed-hair with a flip to watch Bob approach from his 11 minute jaunt to the pisser. Her intoxicated eyes squinted back at me, as if Con Edison flipped the switch to her skull.
Girl: Hey, did your friend go to UCLA?
Me: Don’t you know who that is? That’s Cade McNown, former UCLA quarterback!
Girl: (To Bob) Are you Cade McNown?
Bob held it together for about 4 seconds before he started blowing beer out his nose in laughter.
Girl: What’s the matter, Cade?
Bob’s a handsome man, sure enough, and looks a bit different from how he did then, but at the time, the celebrity he most resembled was Vincent D'Onofrio’s Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket. During the simpler time of 1999, slow, white, short quarterbacks with questionable arm strength who went to high-profile schools and were good with the media could get drafted in the NFL. The Chicago Bears made McNown their first round pick only a few months earlier. McNown had a reputation for bagging Playboy models two at a time. Private Pyle he is not.
I just stood there crying because the guffaws of laughter wouldn’t stop coming. Finally the 14 year old sex-kitten finally slouched back to her pack in shame. So finally, Cade and Nebuchadnezzar were left alone.
The show was “OK”. I did have 1 more beer before the show started, but I girl-beered it by ditching 1/4 of it on our walk to the stadium. A good change from last year was that beer was served but neither Bob nor I drank inside. It’s not that I’m a Lemonade Lucy, but my ideal DMB show isn’t to pass out drunk before the show starts. But who am I to judge? If that’s your thing, you shine, star! The only things I remember is that we entered during Santana’s last song and the girl in front of us took an absolute header between sets, and came up with what looked like a small mountain on her forehead. That and they did not play Ants Marching, which was rare at the time.
The traffic at Giant Stadium is notorious – too many cars trying to all head out to the same highway, and we staying through the encore, so we didn’t even plan on leaving the venue until there was hardly any traffic left in the tri-state area. Bob had a beer, but I did not (meaning my nightly total was 1 ¾ beers over a 7 hour period). At around 1230 a.m., we got into Bob’s car and headed back to the hotel.
Back injuries are funny. You can be fine, and then go over a bump or a pothole on the f’n Jersey Turnpike, the old sciatica gets a twinge, and the next thing you know you have to pee like a racehorse.
”Bob, I gotta pee.”
”There’s no place to stop, its 1 a.m., and we’re almost at the hotel.”
I was already saying my goodbyes as we pulled into the hotel. Bob bypassed the drive-thru check in area to not bring suspicion, and drove me right to my car.
“Do you think that door is open?” referring to the side door of the hotel.
”I don’t know, just piss in the trees.”
I’m not a big pee outside guy, but desperate times take desperate measures, and I had to go! I didn’t even bother stopping at my car, I just got out of Bob’s car with the spatula in my back pocket, handle side to buttocks, and made a bee-line to the trees.
As I stood there, doing the old wandering-pee trick, I turned toward the back of the hotel, looking down the before mentioned dirt ‘road’, I thought I saw something. But at that time, it could’ve been the Jersey Devil standing there in his glory, I didn’t care. I had other things to take care of.
I meandered out of the trees toward my car, which was only about 15 feet, when suddenly, a car burst up from that same spot I thought I saw something. It wasn’t the Jersey Devil, it was a police car.
”What are you doing?” The officer screamed at me as he jumped, and I mean jumped, out the driver’s seat.
Shocked, adrenaline kicked in quick and without even a thought I just reached my left hand to my back pocket and said, “Cleaning my spatula.”
The officer just stood there. It threw him as much as it threw me.
Before his partner even exited the car, the copper asked me, “Where did you put the drugs?”
Drugs? I’ve never even done drugs! I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about, I just walked back there to clean my spatula on the pine bristles.
The officers, now both double teaming me, explained to me that this hotel was a hot-spot for drug runners to meet and transfer their goods.
I calmly told them, no no, I was not trafficking drugs nor using them, I was just here in the Garden State to attend a concert of the Dave Matthews Band, you know, that band that is sort of like the Grateful Dead.
Yea, I’m really not helping my cause.
They had even called for backup. A plainclothes officer, part of the drug enforcement taskforce, showed up. He found no drugs. He also didn’t find any wet spots. Thank you wandering-pee trick! He just figured I was some crackpot and left shortly thereafter. Whew! Maybe I have a chance of getting out of this thing?
One of the officers is being nice to me, he seems to actually believe me, and he just wants me to admit that I was taking a leak. But my Uncle Marty, a retired cop, told me never, ever, tell a police officer, no matter how kind he’s being to you, that you have fractured a law. So I’m sticking to the ridiculous story that I just ran into the trees to rub some bristles on my spatula so my car doesn’t stink like hamburger on the way back to Connecticut.
That was actually the other problem. Connecticut.
I still had a Florida drivers license, and I guess there’s some drugs around sunny FLA, and I was claiming that I lived in Connecticut. And there’s still the whole spatula defense.
Finally, they asked me where I worked. I figured this was my only chance. If they’re sports fans, I have a chance.
”I work at ESPN!”, I exclaimed with a sense of pride. The sort of pride that no one that actually worked there would ever utter.
The nice guy cop looks at me sort of crooked. “Do you know a guy named Brian (last name withheld)?”
”Do I ever! I owe him money!”
What I meant to say, and explained in full detail, was that Brian and I ordered dinner together the night before my time away from work. It was a time honored tradition that if someone was ordering dinner, they’d ask around. Brian and I ordered some dinner from The White Burch, a restaurant that used to sit at the edge of ESPN property, but I only had a $5 bill, so I owed him $4. Which I’d pay him tomorrow at work, I assured the officers. Hell, I volunteered I’d drive straight to his house right now and pay him if it’d help!
Turns out this police officer went to Boston University, and Brian was his roommate. Small world, and it saved me a trip to the slammer.
The only problem was, well, me. Besides my incoherent speech due to lack of sleep and dearth of drugs (the legal ones!), and penchant for cleaning spatulas on foliage, I didn’t exactly look to be the picture of health. I was fat to be kind, the kind of fat you get when you lay around on your back eating foot long sandwiches (from Grinders Keepers, the best in the world) and popping painkillers. The ‘bad cop’, officer McMeany, didn’t want to let me go because my eyes were bloodshot, and I was, “clearly drunk.”
Now, as a proud drunk, I took umbrage to that! I had my first drink in 4 months, and he dare accuse me of being drunk! I exploded!
”Of course my eyes are bloodshot! It’s 230 in the morning and I’ve been on drugs for 4 months!”
Yep, I said it.
Yep, it went bad.
I basically had to recount my entire life story from there, how I hurt my back, why I was in New Jersey (again), why I had the spatula, who the DMB were, and why I owed Brian $4.
Thanks again, Bob.
It was another full half hour, and almost 2 hours since I ‘cleaned my spatula’, so to speak, when the two officers finally decided that I was free to go. But not go. The agreement was that I was to stay the night at the hotel, and then leave the next morning. In 3 hours.
I went inside, with the officers still waiting outside for me to make sure they had a room, and swiftly went to a pay phone. This was a time before everyone over the age of 6 had a cell phone, as some of you may not recall. I called my girlfriend, collect.
At around 315 a.m., she answered with a sleepy, “Hello…”
”Hello, this is AT&T. You have a collect call from ‘__ohmygodialmostgotarrestedinnewjerseyan..’ Will you accept the call? Please press ‘1’ for yes, ‘2’ for no.”
For some reason, she pressed ‘1’.
So, for the 3rd time, I’m recounting my evening; the Cade McNown experience, my lack of alcohol, the spatula incident, the good cop who knew Brian, all of it. I told her of my current lodging plan, and she said, “Just tell the cops you have a room, and wait for them to leave, and just take off.”
Sure, what the Hell? I already perjured myself once; why not go for the quinella?
After informing the goodly officers that yes, a room was available at the inn, they happily went on their way. Across the street. In a gas station. Facing the only exit of the hotel.
Again, thanks Bob.
They sat there until 406 a.m.. Then, they pealed out of their spot, and hit the lights and sped off to the turnpike. I followed 3 minutes later, and got back to Bristol at 626 a.m.
The next night, even though I was still on medical leave, I went into the alleged ‘Worldwide Leader in sports’. I gave Brian $4.
To this day, I always keep a spatula in my car. Just in case.
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