A Doorknob Named Kevin: A Digressive And Cautionary Tale On The Dangers Of Organ Donation
After people get to know me a little bit, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “How did you get into my apartment again, and why are there high definition cameras installed in my panty drawer?” No, wait, I was thinking of the other question: “Where do you run into all these weird characters you’re always talking about?” I’ve got a lot of stories, and it seems that more than a few of them involve people who are kind of odd ducks, so I guess that it makes sense that people wonder if I’ve been hanging out by the local sanitarium, or maybe I just like to spritz people with liquid LSD to make them a little more interesting. The answer, of course, is a little bit of both.
No, not really. I just pay attention to people’s quirks, because for the most part, people are fucking boring and what else are you going to do, actually listen to them tell you what they watched on TV last night? No one cares about that shit, so I subtly steer the conversation towards more interesting topics.
Some Lady I Work With: So, did you see American Idol last night? That guy? Who couldn’t sing? Oh, man, am I right?
Me: Tell me about the most repellant person you’ve ever had sex with that didn’t involve a cash payment.
Some Lady I Work With: (dials HR)
Ok, it may not always work, but you’d be surprised how often someone will tell you something incredibly personal and odd, especially if you encourage them by making something up first.
Me: One time I felt up this chick dressed as a clown at a child’s birthday party.
Some Other Lady I Work With: That was me, and that was my five year old’s party! Remember? Last week?
Me: Wait, I really did that? Oh, now I remember! You’re the chick whose boobs honk!
Some Other Lady I Work With: THEY DON’T HONK!
And sometimes you just have to accept that people have some kind of fucking attitude and don’t want to share anything of interest with you, the selfish bastards. But if you keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll find that most people have got something interesting going on, even if it’s not obvious at first.
For instance, I went to school with a kid named Kevin for many years when I was young. He grew up about a mile away from where I lived, but I didn’t really get to know him all that well. Kevin was dumber than a box of doorknobs, a description I hesitate to use only because I’m concerned that doorknobs might take offense.
He was also a weird kind of fat that prevented him from taking part in any outdoor activities, which ruled out the stuff my friends and I were into: Sports and petty vandalism. Some kids are just fucking FAT, right? Pools of blubber spilling over the elastic waistbands of their their Husky Boy mock jeans, face like a Moon Pie, you know the drill. But Kevin was fat like an old Irish alcoholic: A barrel shaped torso, with thick, gelatinous arms and legs that didn’t taper with distance, but instead went on and on until suddenly a chubby hand or foot erupted out of the end. Picture W.C. Fields at the age of ten, and you won’t be far off from the reality.
So we didn’t hang out with Kevin, but we got along with him just fine when our paths did cross, almost always in school. To tell you the truth, Kevin was the sort of kid whom you’d expect to find on the wrong end of bully-administered swirlies, purple nurples, pink bellies, and later on, flat-out beatings. But he had a genial attitude that kept bullies off balance, and therefore at a distance:
Bully: Kevin, you’re a fucking retard, you know that?
Kevin: Haha, yeah, I’m not that smart! Hahaha…
Bully: Uhhh, okaaaaay…
Bully: All right, see you later, I guess…
Kevin mostly kept to himself, but he’d say hi if he made eye contact with you and because he didn’t know any better, any salutation was translated literally, which turned “How’s it going?” into a strangely detailed response. This is how I ultimately came to find out that Kevin was having a hard time getting his driver’s license in high school.
I don’t know how it works in the rest of the world, but in far suburban Chicagoland during the 1980’s, you took Driver’s Education as a class in school, which was awesome because it made for a fun break in the middle of the day, and also because your instructor was usually a gym teacher or taught shop, and so they pretty much had low expectations in general. You could do donuts on top of small children and still pass the class if you checked your blind spot first.
But before you could get behind the wheel of a school-provided “learning vehicle”, you had to take a full semester of Rules of the Road. Think about that: An entire semester of learning the rules of the road. Ever seen the pamphlet down at the DMV? You could skim that a couple of times and pass the test, but as high school sophomores, we had to sit through an entire semester of that shit which, as you can imagine, was a little bit on the dull side.
That’s why they livened things up by showing us driver’s ed movies from the 1950’s, mostly showing horribly mangled teens who had tragically had their lives cut short when they decided to “drag race” their “souped up” “hot rods” while “hopped up” on “goofballs”, and crashed into the local “malt-shop”. Seriously, the movies were extremely out of date, which didn’t help in terms of delivering a message of any sort. When the ambulance driver is Wolfman Jack and Sha-Na-Na sings a sad doo-wop song at the funeral, you’ve pretty much lost your typical 1980’s audience.
Anyway, the class was pass/fail, and 100% of your grade came from the official “Do You Get To Even Try To Drive A Car Written Exam” that they administered on the last day of class. This test was chock full ‘o head scratchers such as:
Q: When approaching a stop sign, where should your vehicle come to a complete stop?
a) The white line extending into the road, even with the stop sign
b) The middle of the intersection
c) In front of Wolfman Jack’s house
d) Stopping is for fucking tools
It wasn’t much more difficult than that. I breezed through mine in less than five minutes, earning a 100%. Kevin, on the other hand, didn’t have such an easy go of it. “How did you do on the written exam, guys?”
“Uh, I passed. Why?”
“I’m going to have to take the written class again,” he said, a hangdog look on his face.
Yes, Kevin had somehow managed to fail the exam, something that puzzles me to this day. When I was in college, I had an apartment with a bathroom that had colonies of mold that could probably have passed that test. How an actual human being who was free to wander the streets could take this exam with the specific intent of passing it, and then fail is utterly perplexing to me.
And you only had to score 75% to pass, which is all kinds of fucked up if you think about it. “What’s that? You want to hop behind the wheel of this 4,000 pound machine that’s capable of pounding flat a room full of senior citizens in less time than they can say, ‘Bingo’? Well, ok, but only if you prove that you know 3 out of every 4 traffic laws first!”
And not only that, but Kevin managed to fail the class the second time through as well. And the third. It wasn’t until his fourth attempt, two entire school years later, that Kevin finally passed his written exam. Like I said, he wasn’t terribly bright. (When you spoke to him, you pretty much had to speak about physical objects, because if you began discussing more abstract concepts such as happiness, you got the feeling that something deep inside that mushy brain of his would snap, and he’d start whirling and beeping furiously or something.)
After taking the driving class (and seriously fucking up the student driver car twice), Kevin was ready to take his official driver’s test, which is where things got very interesting. We started having lunch time chats with Kevin on a regular basis.
Me: Hey, Kevin! You get your driver’s license yet?
Kevin: No. I took the test last week, but instead of going backwards in the parking lot, I went forward and ran over that concrete block thing.
Another time the passenger side door swung open during a left turn. And another time he just flagrantly blew through a red light. “I don’t know why I did that,” he said.
His last failed attempt caused him to have to wait six months to try again: He was driving to take his test (with his father in the passenger seat, as required by law), when he sideswiped another car, ending his test before he got within five miles of taking it.
Finally, one day late in our Senior year, Kevin approached me and my friends, a glowing smile on his face. “Hey guys! Look what I got!” he beamed. And sure enough, Kevin handed us his license. He had somehow passed his driver’s test (I suspect a bribe of the whopping variety).
As everyone offered their congratulations, I idly flipped over the id and noticed the organ donation card that was built into all Illinois driver’s licenses at the time. It was backed with a special kind of plastic that allowed you to easily fill it out with a pen, something they urged you to do when they issued you the license.
I don’t recall what the checkboxes were labeled, other than that there was one marked “Yes, I would like to donate my organs”, a few (probably) marked “Eyes”, or “Heart”, or whatever. There was also a box marked “Other”, which I checked off and then clarified with a hastily scribbled description in the appropriate slot.
A week or so later, Kevin approached us in school again. “Did you guys fill in the back of my driver’s license?” he asked.
“Because I got pulled over by a cop, and he looked at my license and then flipped it over and then he REALLY looked at it. Then he said to me, ‘You packin’ somethin’ special the rest of us don’t have, son?'”
Because naturally I had filled in the blank with the word PENIS, in all upper case letters.
You might wonder how Kevin managed to make his way through high school. A lot of people I know wondered the very same thing about him and a few other students who were one step above knuckle-dragging (barely). We had a thing back then called “social promotion”, which teachers applied to any student who failed a grade. The theory was that repeating a grade would damage these fragile students in some way, and that they were better off being shoved into the world unprepared, which I hear does fucking wonders for your self-esteem.
A year after graduation, Kevin was charged with defending our country, albeit briefly. (A note to those who thought I’d never amount to anything: I just used the word ‘albeit’ in a sentence!)
I was walking down the street one summer day when I saw Kevin approaching from afar, although I didn’t recognize him at first. His head had been shaved, and with his disastrously unwieldy physique, he looked like an albino Milk Dud. After exchanging hellos, I asked him what was up with the haircut.
“I just got out of The Corps,” he said.
“You were in the Marines?” I asked, astonished. In my mind, there could not have been better evidence of the need to drug test our armed forces, because no way in the world would any sober person capable of operating shoelaces think that Kevin was the kind of person that you’d just hand an automatic weapon to. Yet some yahoo in the recruiting office looked at him and said, “Yeah. Why the fuck not?” And then went back to doing a million bong hits.
“Well, I was only there for a few days, ” Kevin said. He then proceeded to tell me how mean everyone was at boot camp, and how everyone yelled at him all the time, and it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t do a pull-up, or run five miles, or any of the other things you’d expect of the people who make up your nation’s fighting force. And so it seems that on Day Two, Kevin broke down and informed his drill sergeant that he wanted to go home.
“What happened?” I asked, because frankly I’d always wondered how they handled this situation. There have always been a lot of fuckups in the armed forces, and surely this kind of thing happened on a regular basis.
“They got really, REALLY mad at me and everyone came over and yelled at me. Then they put me in a room and took turns yelling at me. Everyone was SO mad. Then another guy came in and he didn’t yell at me, but he told me that all I had to do was sign some papers saying that I liked men, and they’d put me on a bus right away.”
“What did you do?”
“I told him that I didn’t like men, that I just wanted to go home. So he went away, then more guys came, and they yelled at me a lot. Finally I just told them that I’d sign anything they wanted. I just wanted to go home.”
That was the last time I saw Kevin. I have no idea where he is today. I picture him working as a janitor at an elementary school, a quiet, kindly man who keeps to himself and spends his nights passively watching TV, having long since stopped trying to make sense of a world in which the police and the Marine Corps both care so very much about who you donate your organ to.