One of my favorite tunes is “27 Jennifers” by Mike Doughty, with the opening lyric, “I went to school with 27 Jennifers.” The song title is based on the fact that between 1970 and 1984, Jennifer was the most popular name bestowed on baby girls in the United States. This is not conjecture; the Social Security Administration keeps impeccable records. As they say, you can look it up.
One of these Jennifers was sitting alongside me as I drove my taxi, her four friends squeezed happily together in the back. This particular Jennifer had blue eyes and a blond pageboy and was cute as a button. She was also in the process of devouring a drippy kabob, the Middle-Eastern bane of my existence. I reached across her and extracted a couple of napkins from the glove compartment.
“Could ya please use these and not make a mess?” I requested, handing her the napkins. We were driving south on Route 7 en route to Webster Road.
She batted her eyes at me, a gesture that — if I had to speculate — probably resolved most of her conflicts with people. “I’m quite tidy,” she explained with a musical giggle.
“How great was that concert?” one of the girls shouted from the back.
“Who’d you see?” I asked. Normally, I’d know who had been playing in town, but during this week of the yearly Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, it could’ve been any number of acts.
“Ba’ington ’evy,” Jennifer garbled, her mouth stuffed with kabob. Laughing, she swallowed and said, “I mean Barrington Levy, the reggae guy.”
“I think I heard of him,” I said, stretching the truth in a lame effort to come across slightly hipper than I was. I confess I was tickled to be conversing with a pretty girl. I’m an old dude at this point, but if I live to a hundred, I doubt that impulse will ever recede.
I said, “Hey, what was your first-ever concert?”
“Hmm, lemme think,” Jennifer replied. “Ooh, I remember now — it was Richard Marx at Memorial Auditorium. I think I was 15.”
“Richard Marx?” I said, chuckling. “He was kind of cheesy, wasn’t he? But before he went solo, the guy was actually in a pretty cool band — the Raspberries. They had a couple of big hits.”
“You sure about that, dude?” one of the backseat girls interjected. “I think you’re mixing him up with somebody else. ’Cause I was a big Richard Marx fan, and I don’t remember anything about the Raspberries. Let me look it up.”
Checking her cellphone, she laughed and said, “You must be thinking of Eric Carmen. He was the lead guy in the Raspberries. But I could see why you made that mistake, because I’m checking images and the two of them look so much alike. They both had that big, poufy hair.”
I thought about it for a moment and said, “My God — you’re right! I’ve had these two guys hopelessly confused. And it was the hair.”
Jennifer reached over and held a piece of tomato to my mouth. “Eat it,” she said, giggling sardonically. She had had enough of the Eric Carmen/Richard Marx discussion, and apparently it was now time for me to eat.
“Jennifer,” I said, “thank you, but I don’t want any tomato.”
“Eat it,” she persisted, holding the tomato in place.
“Jen,” one of her friends admonished her, “what is, like, wrong with you? Stop harassing the cabbie.”
“I’m not harassing him,” she insisted. “He wants it. I know you want it. Am I right?”
Oddly, I wasn’t upset by Jennifer’s antics. Perhaps this proves how much you can get away with when you’re extremely cute. I was more amused than anything else. There was something so ridiculous about the scenario: a bouncy, pretty girl, probably buzzed, attempting to force-feed her cabbie. If nothing else, this was a first for me, and I’d thought I’d seen it all after 30 years behind the taxi wheel.
“No!” I said jokingly, shaking my head like an obstinate toddler in a high chair. “I won’t eat it!”
Jennifer withdrew the tomato, but a moment later she threw it at me! It struck my neck and fell down my shirt. The girls in the back gasped as a group.
“Jennifer, that wasn’t very nice,” I said, trying to shake the food particle out of my shirt while I drove. I should have been insulted. I mean, my dignity! But I just couldn’t get mad at this girl, and it wasn’t merely, or even mostly, about her good looks. Though her behavior was totally inappropriate, even bratty, there was something sweet about her spirit. If someone was going to toss a tomato chunk at me, I was glad it was her.
“Oh, my God!” she said, utterly changing her tune as the reality of her actions dawned on her. “I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, it’s OK,” I said.
“No, I really mean it — I’m so, so sorry.”
“Well, I’m gonna forgive you if you promise me something.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“That you’ll never throw food at your cabbie again.”
Jennifer placed her hand on her heart and pledged, “I will never throw food at another cabbie.”
“Well, I forgive you,” I said with a grin.
Jennifer leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, which made the whole incident more than worth it.