Nick thought he'd finally found a space for his Audi. He had to be careful where he parked. It was less than a year old and was already scarred with nicks and scratches (welcome to Boston). He'd wedged it into a tight space between two SUVs before he noticed the no parking sign. When he got out of the car, he stood back and looked the car over. It was filthy with winter road grit. He'd have to take it to the car wash. It was a great car, although if he had a few more bucks to spend he would have gone for the A6. His wife had really been the one who paid for it. She was the lawyer. He was a teacher; he made less than half what his wife brought home. Damn, he said to himself, it is really cold. He hated February. He checked his watch, ten past four; as usual he was late. He had stopped at Brookline Liquor Mart for beer and wine. As he walked up the hill to the adoption center he slipped on the ice and fell.

"God damn it!" he said. He managed to catch himself with one hand but then he banged his elbow. He got up and tried to brush the sand off his topcoat. He had bought it at Barney's mid-winter sale. It was a good deal but it still cost a fortune. Money, he shook his head.

He should have been used to it by now. That's the way it was in this damn country. He caught his reflection in the glass door. He'd have to have his coat cleaned. Plus, he needed a haircut. He shook his head. He was always shaking his head.

It was warm inside the building. His wife, early as always, was waiting for him. Nick gave her a quick kiss. She looked good, if a little tired. She had her black suit on. The skirt was short and her heels made her look tall. He liked the new hair-do. She had to get up early every morning to blow it dry so it would be straight. She had recently applied lipstick and make-up.

A secretary told them they could go into the counselor's office. Nick took a deep breath. Soon he and his wife would be able to focus on the child they were going to adopt. They were upsizing their family, restructuring their life in a good way, finally. He wanted the child. The child would change everything. Isn't that what everyone said?

The process, though, was like applying to college. They had passed the home study. The counselor had visited their house and approved of it. She had interviewed them separately and together. They had filled out forms, written about their values, ("family is very important") and gotten friends to write recommendations ("the Brown's will make great parents"). It should have been a walk in the park. Weren't they both professionals? Well, teachers were sort of like professionals except that no one respected them and they didn't make any money.

They had signed up for an infant from Guatemala. It was going to cost twenty thousand dollars. They had a photo of a baby girl who was one month old. She had brown eyes and a little brown fuzz on her head. She appeared to be smiling. If everything went smoothly, they would have her in a couple of months. He was just beginning to allow himself to get excited about the idea of having a new little person in their house—their home. He and his wife agreed they would share in the parental duties. He was going to be a good father. No screw-ups. Just take it slow and work at it. He sighed and felt the pressure go out with his breath.

They were meeting today because the counselor had been waiting for a "CORI"—a criminal activity report on him from the FBI. He was a little nervous because he didn't know whether he had an official arrest record or not. He had written on the form that he had never been arrested or convicted of a crime but he had in fact been arrested. Twenty-five years before, when he was twenty-one, a senior in college, but the case had been dismissed and his lawyer had told him there would be no record of it.

Twenty five years ago. Senior year at U. Mass, Zoo-Mass, they called it. He was living with Albie, Gillis, and Goody at a student ghetto called Swiss Village. They had a party. The parties at U. Mass. had been wild. All their college friends were there and friends of friends too. He'd gone out with Gillis to get some booze, and at the liquor store they'd picked up these two cute local girls. When they returned to the party, the crowd went through the booze fast and the two local girls circulated to collect more money for beer and vodka. The girls were climbing all over the college guys, rubbing up against them, grabbing them between their legs. Sometimes the girls would kiss each other and fondle each other's breasts. Soon the girls had a wad of cash, and Nick drove them back to the liquor store where they stocked up with cases of beer and fifths of vodka, tequila, bourbon. They put the booze in the back seat and all three of them squeezed in the front seat of Nick's Challenger. Nick had started driving back when one of the girls unzipped his pants, pulled him out and gave him head. He came at a red light, horns blaring behind him, the girls giggling.

When they got back to the party the girls made drinks for everyone, handed out beer. A lot of people had taken Percocets. Joints were going around. Albee had the speakers from his bedroom in the living room and the stereo was blasting the Rolling Stones. Everyone was wasted. Girls from upstairs had come down and were dancing on the coffee table until it cracked in half and then they got up on the kitchen counter. About then the two local girls initiated an orgy. People started having sex all over the place—on the coach, in chairs, on the floor. One of the college girls lost consciousness and had to be brought to the infirmary. Someone put his foot through one of the speakers and Albee just pulled out a back-up speaker and hooked it up.

There had been a lot of parties at U. Mass., lots of drugs. God, senior week a couple of Albee's friends returned from a trip to Columbia with a pound of cocaine and put the bag on the new coffee table in the living room and said, "Help yourself guys." Really, senior year was kind of a blur. Maybe that wasn't one party he remembered but a few parties blended together like a mixed drink in his mind. Now Albee was a lawyer and a slumlord. Gillis was out in California, in and out of jail for assault, breaking and entry, stealing cars. Gillis had done too much acid in college. He could have been a poster boy for the ad: this is your brain on drugs.

Anyway, Nick had stumbled out of the party to pee when the Amherst Police pulled up. One cop went into the party and broke it up and the other grabbled Nick and put him into the back seat of the police car.

This was just after the administration had changed their policy at U. Mass. When he was a freshman, the college had protected the students. They didn't want the bad publicity of arrests, but that was before the nationwide strike against Vietnam when the colleges were closed down for a month in May of 1970. After that, the Amherst police were called in if there was a problem—drinking, drugs, disturbing the peace.

The Amherst police were housed in an old brick building. Inside, the arresting officer removed the cuffs and Nick was told to empty his pockets onto the counter in front of the sergeant's desk. It was when he reached for his wallet that he remembered he had a joint in it. He always kept a joint in his wallet not so much because he liked marijuana but because girls liked marijuana. He thought he could get the joint out and hide it or maybe eat it or throw it away. He dropped his wallet on the floor but when he reached down for it, the sergeant reacted. "He's trying something!" he yelled and leaped over his desk and tackled Nick. Nick and the sergeant wrestled on the floor and tumbled back into the wall. There was a painting of a fisherman in a rowboat on the wall and the painting fell off the wall on top of them.

"He's wrecking the painting!" the sergeant called out and two more officers appeared and jumped in and pulled Nick to his feet. Nick remembered feeling as if he had entered the wonderful world of pro wrestling and he laughed.

"You think this is funny?" the sergeant said. The sergeant grabbed Nick by his collar and held him against the wall. One of the cops picked up Nick's wallet and discovered the joint on the floor. "Look at this," he said.

"Well, we've got you now," the sergeant said. "Book this bastard for possession." He cackled and shook his head.

One of the cops pushed Nick down the corridor and put him into a cell and locked the door.

"The damn kid ruined the painting," he heard the sergeant say.

That was a Friday night. On Monday morning he was arraigned. He'd called Albee to get a local lawyer for him. In the courtroom, the judge announced the case, his lawyer and the D.A. approached the bench, whispered something to the judge and the judge hit the bench with his gavel and said, "case dismissed."

That's what Nick thought he said but really, he couldn't remember. Maybe he said, case continued. His lawyer told him not to worry about it. It was over.

The adoption counselor closed the door and told them to take a seat.

"I'm afraid I have bad news for you," she said. She was quite pleasant looking, the counselor. She had a comforting smile. She was wearing gray slacks and a white mohair sweater. Her short hair looked like it had recently been washed. "The criminal activity report, Mr. Brown, is not good. It isn't so much the drunkenness and disturbing the peace. They don't care about that. It's the "possession of a controlled substance." I know it seems silly but anything with drugs and they won't approve the adoption.

"Who? Who won't approve the adoption?" His wife looked suddenly stricken, as if she had been hit in the chest. The color drained out of her face.

"The government of Guatemala," the counselor said. "I know this is hard," the counselor went on quickly, "other countries though are not as strict about this kind of thing."

They were sitting in chairs that were side by side and he reached over to take his wife's hand but she drew it away from him onto her lap. She was crying. The counselor got up from behind her desk, came around and took one of her hands. "I'm sorry," she said. She glanced at him. "This must be difficult for you too, Mr. Brown."

Nick looked up at the adoption counselor. He realized he had to say something. "I'm sorry I didn't say anything earlier," he said, "but when it happened, my lawyer told me there wouldn't be any arrest record."

The counselor handed him a photocopy of the report. "It says right on it that the charges were dismissed after a continuance without a finding," she said, "but there's still a record of it and so, I'm sorry to say, we can't go ahead with the adoption. I suggest you go home, take some time to think about it and then maybe try another country."

So they had been rejected. He had been rejected by the government of Guatemala as an unfit parent. Nick and his wife stood outside in front of the adoption agency on the sidewalk. There was a parking ticket in his window and he cursed. On top of everything else, he gets a ticket.

"I know how you feel," his wife said and stepped toward him and put her arms around his waist. He didn't tell her it was the ticket he was cursing about, not the adoption.

She was way too good for him; that was for sure. She should have married another lawyer instead of a fuck-up like him. She and the lawyer could have adopted kids together and had a family. They would have a nanny to help. He felt her leg between his legs and he started to get aroused and felt embarrassed and stepped away from her. God, he was an asshole.

"We'll talk later," she said. She was still crying. She turned and walked toward her car. It was a Volvo wagon, a much more sensible choice than his. She looked good, his wife, but she was getting older. They were both getting old. They were in their forties. He was forty-six, already too old for the adoption rules for a lot of countries.

He took the ticket off the windshield and got into his car: twenty-five dollars for the privilege of parking illegally in Brookline to find out they were not getting a new member of the family. It was his fault. It was all his fault, right? Or was it a stupid rule, this rule about a drug arrest--one fucking joint, disturbing the peace, twenty-five years ago? He should have been a lawyer. If he had been a lawyer maybe he could have "disappeared" his record. The United States was a petty country to arrest people for marijuana. It was a stupid country not to value schools. He worked hard. His wife worked harder. He needed to lighten up a little. He took his wallet out. In it, he still kept a joint. He had some matches in the glove compartment. The minute he took a hit, he felt better. He pulled a Harpoon Ale out of the bag on the floor and opened it up. "That's the ticket," he said. He put the joint in the ashtray and pulled out onto the street and turned on the radio. Some guy was talking about how optimists were more successful and well-adjusted. Maybe that was his problem. He wasn't optimistic. He was picturing the little girl's face as he went through a light just as it was turning red. He and his wife had come up with a list of names: Lucia, Maria, Rosa, Isabella. Now, it was as if they had lost a child or maybe she had lost them. He shook his head. He saw a cruiser pull up behind him with the flashers going. He hit the brakes and pulled over spilling the beer onto his coat. He put the half empty beer back into the carton and hit the button to open the window.

"Could I see your license and registration, sir?" The cop stood looking down at him.

As Nick handed his information to him, the cop sniffed. Then he noticed the open beer. "Step out of the car, sir," he said. He put one hand over his gun while he reached for his handcuffs.

"Come on," Nick said laughing. "What are you going to do? Arrest me?"