As Tricky Dick Nixon said right before he got caught with 'em around his ankles, “I am not a crook.”
And I am not. I may be an opinionated, loud-mouthed pinhead, but I am not a crook.
Blame my parents for that. Their inconvenient morality. Their meddlesome supervision and irksome need to know exactly where we were and what we were doing. Why couldn’t I have had parents like the kid up the street, whose folks barely noticed if he drove the car to town, despite the fact that, at age 10, he couldn’t even see under the steering wheel, which was the preferred driving method his grandmother employed.
There are two kinds of people in this world: the “caught” and the “uncaught.”No matter what I did, no matter how carefully I schemed and brilliantly executed my crimes, no matter what cover stories of perfection I meticulously concocted to maintain the facade of my innocence, I invariably wound up in the ranks of the caught.
The result is, I am a law-abiding citizen. It’s easier.
But it took some pretty serious, both-hands-on-a-hot-stove kind of lessons.
The most important thing I learned was that I’m not the brilliant master criminal I thought I was.
For example, once upon a time, three neighborhood kids decide it would be great sport to destroy a recently built brick foundation of a new home going up across the street. Itís a bad thing to do, but they decide they can get away with it if theyíre careful.
Unfortunately, one of them leaves a smoking gun at the scene of the crime.
Or to be more specific, a bright yellow bicycle. Two kids realize the bike is missing, go back looking for it, ask one of the owners, who has arrived on the scene, if she has seen it.
She turns the question around. “I might know where it is. Do you boys know who might have done the damage here?”
Looking up at her with big, luminous brown eyes, I reply, “Why no. But it certainly wasn’t us. We’re just looking for a bike.”
Tiger Lady then flexes her claws.
“Well, you’ll see it soon enough. The sheriff has that bike, and he’s on his way here right now. BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”
Blast! Trapped like rodents! Don’t panic; don’t break; give up nothing; say nothing; what’s my fake name…
The truth was soon easily extracted from us, first by the cop at the scene, who told us in no uncertain terms that we could count on spending our summer vacation breaking rocks in reform school.
This little incident would cost me. In fact, I did hard time on the rock — I was restricted for about a month doing nothing but yard work every day to earn money to pay for my part of the damages.
Then there was the time, not too long after I was sprung from that first sentence, when one of my juvenile delinquent friends and I decided to try cigarettes. I was probably 10. Way too young to buy smokes, I resorted to two artifices. The first required a smooth ability to look adorable and lie like the shag rug in our family room. I bought a pack at one place, telling the person who sold them to me that “these are for my mother.”
The second time, I crossed the line into the realm of the unthinkable. I did the old self-generated credit purchase with extremely liberal payback terms. I gave myself the old five-finger discount. A most heinous crime, shoplifting, but brilliantly planned and executed. Yet somehow, about two days after committing the perfect crime, I got caught.
It went down this way. I’m leaving the house, two cigarettes in my jacket pocket, when I heard the voice of doom behind me: my mother.
“What do you have in your jacket pocket?”
“No reason. It just seems odd, your wearing a ski parka on an August day with one hand crammed in a pocket.”
Her voice dropped to a menacing, cold-blooded hiss. You could almost see the shoulder swastikas, the swagger stick, the slow, deliberate goose step around the coffee table.
“Ve haff vays of making you talk. What do you haff in your pocket?”
The jig was up. I pulled out my hand. Two cigarettes and a pack of matches.
The voice suddenly jacked up from cobra hiss to banshee shriek.
“Where did you get those! Where? WHERE?”
I told her I bought them, that I had told the sales clerk they were for my mother. For some reason, that little revelation launched her into even more intense paroxysms of rage.
“GO TO YOUR ROOM!”
A few minutes later, I realized the jig may have been up, but it was far from over. She came into my room a few minutes later, eyes slitted, voice low and menacing.
“It’s interesting, young man. You say you bought one pack of cigarettes. Yet one is a Salem, and one is a Raleigh. How do you explain that?”
Inspiration hit me.
“What?” I said, with just the right tone of consumer outrage. “They put a Raleigh in my Salems?”
No sale. Interrogation followed by full confession and a trip to the store to pay restitution was only the beginning of my penance.
Crime does not only not pay; it’s downright painful. And embarrassing.
So unless you’re willing to pay the price, live right. It’s easier.