As a teenager and young adult, Stephen Lonsky was a huge fan of punk music. One of his favorites was the band Fear, an L.A.-based group fronted by a singer called Lee Ving.
Lonsky distinctly remembers seeing a movie in the early 1980s where a badass 1957 Chevy pulled up, and out stepped Ving. The car's license plate read "GETBENT." Lonsky wanted it.
He couldn't have it. Not then, not in Minnesota, where license plates were limited to six spaces. Then one day he saw a plate that said "FANTASY," and realized they'd upped the limit. Soon, Lonsky had the plate of his dreams, "GETBENT," and stuck it on the car of his dreams: a cool new 1983 Chevy Camaro. Black.
"I got that plate specifically for the car," says Lonsky, who was 24 years old at the time. "The car's got attitude."
Two and a half decades later, and the state of Minnesota is suddenly wondering just what kind of attitude that is. Last week, Lonsky got a letter from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's vehicle services division, informing him that his vanity plate had been flagged for review.
All specialized plates issued by the state were recently scrutinized after one that said "FMUSLMS" was spotted driving around in St. Cloud. That plate was immediately revoked and taken off the streets, but other, less clearly offensive ones are being challenged. Like Lonsky's. (He reports that he was only "a little disappointed" when his plate didn't make our list of 65 vanity plates worth noticing on Minnesota's roads.)
"Specifically," read the letter Lonsky got, "your plate has been flagged because we believe it is a sexual innuendo."
This assertion raises the question: What the hell does "get bent" even mean? Minnesota's vehicle services office isn't the first one to have this curiosity. It seems there is no definitive origin of the two-word phrase: Some suggest it's indeed vulgar, referring, either, to the suggestion that the recipient bend over in order to receive something unpleasant, or maybe a wish that a particular part of his anatomy should become misshapen.
This 1950s slang guide says "get bent" is a "disparaging remark as in 'drop dead!'" but then doesn't define quite how it's disparaging.
To Lonsky, the phrase has always meant "get wild, get crazy," and nothing to do with sex. It also means identity. He's had the plate for more than 20 years. "Get bent" is part of Lonsky's email address and the user name he picked for online gaming.
"Anyone knows that phrase who knows me," says Lonsky, who works as a supervisor at a production facility. "That's my phrase."
He's only had one bad reaction while driving, when a cop who pulled Lonsky over told the driver, "You shouldn't have a license plate like that." He didn't ticket him, and sent Lonsky on his way. Meanwhile, the state of Minnesota has re-approved the plate several times over, including a few years ago, when he applied for a collector's edition to put on the Camaro.
Other drivers almost always laugh when they see it, Lonsky says. Some take pictures. The worst he sees is in his rearview mirror is a smirk and an eye roll, as if to say, "Very funny."
Lonsky was given 30 days to respond to the department's request, and met that deadline easily. This is important to him.
"I am banking on this working," Lonsky says. "I've had this more than 20 years. I don’t want another license plate. I got this one for specific reason, it's part of me, and I don't feel it's offensive."