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Back to school with Tim Kinsella, class of '93

"Sam stealing Owsley Stanley's car seemed like just the next logical thing"



Tim Kinsella is a musician who's played with Cap'n Jazz, Owls, Joan of Arc, and Make Believe; and author of the forthcoming novel The Karaoke Singer's Guide to Self-Defense (October 2011, Featherproof)

Senior year, Sam stole Owsley Stanley's car. Yes, the Owsley Stanley.

He'd gone to see the Grateful Dead. Tripping and separated from his ride, he ended up wandering backstage in a daze, stepping into a running car and driving himself home. Then he drove the car to school the next morning.

Sam's locker was next to mine, but we didn't immediately hit it off. Though conspicuous as the only two students in the AP classes outpunking each other in combat boots and clashing plaids (even matching Bad Brains shirts the day after they played the Vic), it wasn't until week three, when I interrupted biology class with a loud belch—and Sam immediately echoed me with a spot-on belch impersonation—that we finally broke the ice.

Meeting Sam at 13, I'd been intimidated. He had one half of his head shaved, so in profile from one side he appeared to have a perfectly normal nice-guy haircut and from the other side he appeared to be bald with a halo.

My freshman year I watched a small guy stab out a big guy's eye in the lunchroom. I stumbled over a guy smashing another guy's head against a stairway between classes and pushed among a thrilled mob when another guy smashed another guy's head against the parking lot after school. A few of us quickly intuited how to climb on to the roof when someone pulled a gun out front in the lunch crowd. I politely declined a heavy metal friend's invitation to a human sacrifice in the forest preserve. The school had a smoking section, a circle drawn in chalk near the loading dock. Isn't that weird? This is in the suburbs, pre-Nirvana or at least pre-Nevermind. Shortly before my dawdling puberty arrived, I lost my virginity one afternoon in front of a full-mirror closet door. One glance severed experience from self-awareness.

So by 18, Sam stealing Stanley's car seemed like just the next logical thing.

Two art classes, an independent study, a study hall or two, and lunch kept me hidden in the art room most of each day, but Sam and I suffered gym together first period. I was changing in the locker room. He insisted I cut class and come look at something. When he opened the trunk, we really did have that prototypical reflection of gold on each of our faces, like in Pulp Fiction when they open the briefcase in the diner. The trunk was filled with Grateful Dead jewelry: heavy gold skulls and bears.

When he attempted to sell the jewelry the next day to a "Grateful Dead store" in Evanston—a store whose employees had been instructed via Stanley to get the name and address of anyone who shows up with the jewelry—Sam locked the keys in the car. After an epic walk home, his tear-stained mom introduced him to Mr. Stanley sitting at his kitchen table.

Next: Tonika G. Johnson, cofounder of Media-N-Motion

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