Magazine article The New Yorker

Cone Head

Magazine article The New Yorker

Cone Head

Article excerpt

In the spring of 1970, when I was twenty-two, I was arrested by the Orono, Maine, police. After a traffic stop, I'd been discovered in possession of some three dozen rubber traffic cones. After a hard night of drinking Long Island Iced Tea at the University Motor Inn, I had struck one of these traffic cones while driving home. It bounced up under the car and tore off the muffler of my ancient Ford station wagon. I had noticed earlier that the town of Orono had been painting crosswalks that day, and now realized they'd left their damn traffic cones all over the place. With a drunk's logic, I decided to cruise around town--slowly, safely, sanely--and pick up all the cones. Every single one. The following day, I would present them, along with my dead muffler, at the Town Office in a display of righteous anger.

The Orono police, who already had reasons to dislike me (I was a notorious anti-Vietnam War "hippie"), were delighted with their catch. The arresting officer found enough cones in the back of my station wagon to elevate the bust into the category of larceny. Only I knew that I'd actually been caught on my second cone run. Had I been caught with the hundred or so already stashed in my apartment building, perhaps we would have been talking grand larceny.

Months passed. I graduated from the University of Maine. With a potential larceny conviction hanging over my head, I looked for a teaching job. But jobs were scarce, and what I got instead was a gig pumping go-juice near the town of Brewer. My boss was a woman. I don't remember her name, but we'll call her Ellen. Ellen didn't know I had a trial for larceny in my future. For the minimum wage she was paying me (I think it was a dollar-sixty an hour), I didn't feel she was entitled to know.

There was a price war going on at the time, and we at Interstate 95 Gas were selling regular at twenty-nine cents a gallon. But wait, folks, there's more. With a fill-up, you got your choice of the Glass (an ugly but durable diner-style water tumbler) or the Bread (an extra-long loaf of spongy white). If we forgot to ask if we could check your oil, you got your fill-up free. If we forgot to say thank you, same deal. And guess who would have to pay for the free fill-up? That's right, the forgetful pump jockey, who, in my case, was half past broke already; dinner in those days often consisted of Cheerios fried in lard with a cigarette chaser. …

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