“It is dangerous and illegal to walk on the highway.”
—Quote from the Michigan driver’s ed manual 
I grew up in Detroit, Motor City, and so my delight in carless transportation has always seemed a bit perverse. But anybody who is a writer knows the feeling. What we do might not be dangerous or illegal, but it can sometimes look a little crazy from the outside.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

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This could be a test. Multiple choice: A, B, or C.

You get a text message. You barely know how to use the feature, owning not only a dumb phone, but a keyboardless one. The message has only this text: “Response?”

The picture to be responded to is a tattoo, which is actually text, too: “Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo.” Whose tattoo is it? The message is from your son, but the arm couldn’t be his; he just turned eighteen, doesn’t speak Italian, and is squeamish around needles.

You don’t speak Italian, either, so you plug the words into Google and read: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” A Sergio Leone film you’ve watched with your son, one of his favorites. Now you know the arm is his, but you text him back anyway, because you have to say something: “You got a tattoo?”

The words appear almost immediately, his thumbs so much faster than yours:


Your stomach starts to ache. You want to ask: Does it hurt? You can almost feel the pricks on your own skin. You want to ask why. You want to say: Are you OK? You try to think of all the things he could have done that are more dangerous, more permanent, more painful. You tell yourself you’re glad he wanted to show you.

Finally, you write back: “If you like it, I like it, too.”

“I know you must be freaking out, but I appreciate that you’re trying to act cool,” he texts. How does he know you so well? Maybe he can almost feel your stomach clench the way you can almost feel his skin prick.

“I freaked out for five minutes but now I’m cool,” you text.

“U da best,” he responds. “Love you.”

“Love you back,” you write. And you do. Of that you’re sure.

You remember being eighteen, when you vowed to always remember what it was like to be eighteen. But have you?


You wish you could take a phone picture of this rite of passage, this getting-under-your-skin rebellion that ended with a love note. You wish you could text it to all your friends who have parented eighteen-year-olds or been eighteen themselves, so they could tell you if you guessed the right answer to this test. You would send a picture of this milestone, or write a blog post about it, with this text at the end: “Response?”


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