Don’t Throw Tennis Balls at Cars

We were driving Jeremy’s mom’s Mercury Topaz, so the police called his parents, even though I was the one throwing tennis balls out the window at passing vehicles. I would have only thrown one, but Jeremy started laughing, and that provided me with all the nerve I needed to hurl the remaning five.

The goal was to hit the windshield of an on-coming car, which had I been more successful, clearly would have resulted in numerous fatalities and an involuntary manslaughter conviction. Luckily, the complicated physics of throwing at a moving target from a moving vehicle was too much even for an ex-pitcher. That’s not to say I failed completely. When I finally nailed a minivan, we both let out an excited but terrified “Oh shit,” and watched in the rearview mirror as the driver pulled over to write down our license plate.

Jeremy dropped me at my house a few hours later. When I opened the door, my father was sitting on the sofa staring at me. “What?” I asked defensively. “Throwing tennis balls at cars, eh?” “Huh?” It was my response to any question from my parents during that year (and the four surrounding it.) I walked into the kitchen to microwave some sausage links and drink milk straight from the plastic gallon jug. Instead of following me, he simply raised his voice, “Jeremy’s mom said the police called her because they got numerous complaints about someone throwing tennis balls out of her car, and she swears it wasn’t her.” My dad was, and still is, at his funniest when angry.

“Yea, it was me. So what. What’s the big deal?” At sixteen, I didn’t know it was possible to get in trouble with anyone other than my parents. I was aware that kids went to juvenile detention, or as they called it, “getting sent-up”,  but their dads weren’t professors, and their moms didn’t work at the high school. I think my father was aware of my obnoxious sense of entitlement, and decided that the best course of action was to scare the shit out of me. “Well, I have to take you down to the station. They want to talk to you.” A thousand joules of panic coursed through me, “Woh, what? Why?” “Because they want to press charges for reckless endangerment.” I was frozen, standing alone in the kitchen holding a sausage in front of an open refrigerator.

I stuffed the rest of the sausage in my mouth, and walked quickly back into the living room. My dad could see that I was shaken, and realizing that his tactic had worked, let me off the hook immediately. “Jace, we’re not going to the police station, but how is it even remotely possible that you don’t know not to throw tennis balls at cars?” My mouth was full, so instead of answering, I chewed nervously.

“Do I need to tell you every single thing that you’re not allowed to do? Ok … Jason, don’t throw tennis balls out of cars. Don’t throw bowling balls out of cars. Don’t throw people out of cars. Don’t throw cats out of cars. Don’t throw baseball bats out of cars. Don’t throw mink coats out of cars. Don’t throw yourself out of a car.”

I was swallowing and laughing at the same time.  “Okay, I get it. I’m sorry, it was stupid.”

“Jesus Christ boy, I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you.” He could barely get it out before he started laughing too.

“Dad, so what CAN I throw at cars?” I pondered innocently. “NOTHING! DON’T THROW ANYTHING AT CARS!”  “Got it. OK, so let me get this straight. Can I throw a shoe at a car? You didn’t specifically say shoe.” Now it was a competition to see which of us could come up with the most bizarre thing to throw from a car window. But within all that, I had learned two important things. 1. Don’t throw tennis balls at cars. 2. Great dads can teach their kids lessons without making them miserable.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

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