Like a lot of kids growing up I got into my fair share of trouble. Often that trouble didn’t go far beyond mouthing off to my parents, causing a little mischief around the house, and getting grounded. As I entered into my mid-teens, and started thinking I was really hot shit, I cranked it up a notch, egging houses, spray painting buildings, and swiping the occasional item from stores. I was slick, too. Whether it was something as simple as a candy bar, maybe a toy, or even a piece of jewelry, I never got caught. Later, again like a lot of other kids, I wised up and stopped doing stupid stuff. Hustled myself up a couple of real jobs with actual responsibilities, and decided to be a more productive member of society. Imagine my surprise, then, when I was busted by the cops after I had decided to stop looking for trouble.
It was 15 years ago today as I’m writing this, when I was 19 years old. I was due to start a new job doing technical support for a broadband internet provider in a few days, and was just kind of hanging out until I had to show up for orientation. It was stuffy as hell in my house that day. I was sweating just sitting around, and my clothes wouldn’t stop sticking to my body. I had to get out. There seemed to be a bit of a breeze outside, so I decided to go for a walk. Around the corner from my house was the elementary school I went to years before, and I thought it might be a good idea to pay an afternoon visit to my old stomping grounds.
After traipsing around through the ample field behind the school for a bit, checking out the baseball fields I used to play in as a kid, and saying hello to a few old ghosts, I started heading back. As I was approaching the rear of the building, I ran into a couple of people I knew. They were out for a walk, too, but were looking for more trouble than I was. In fact, I caught them right in the middle of deciding to break into the school through an open window. Well, I was too fat to hoist myself up, nor was I interested in committing a B&E that day. I should have left. Stupidly, I stayed.
Those two managed to get in through the window and, after rummaging around a bit, began tossing a few items out the window and onto the grass where I stood. Nothing expensive. They were in a school, after all, and while I’m sure there were probably staplers and other assorted school supplies as well, all I remember seeing were notebooks.
There has always been something about blank paper that I find alluring. Sometimes, if I’m out at a store, I’ll buy myself a cheap spiral notebook, even though I have no immediate use for it. I must have a dozen or so laying around at home now, most of them in varying stages of disuse. I looked down at the ground that day, and there was a small notebook with Garfield on it, untouched by pencil or pen. I slipped it in my back pocket just as the others were climbing out of the window.
I don’t recall what happened immediately after this. We probably stood around gabbing and laughing for a few seconds. But what I do remember is looking to my left and seeing a police car. Without even thinking, we began to run. Suddenly, there were police everywhere. There were even a couple of cars in the street out in front of the school. Aside from being overweight, I’m also not exactly fleet of foot, so Johnny Law was able to lasso my rotund ass in a grand total of about 30 seconds.
The cops handcuffed me and swiped my Garfield notebook from me (foiled by Garfield!). They asked me several questions about who I was with and what we were doing, but I’ve seen Goodfellas, so I knew to keep my mouth shut. While sitting in the back of the cruiser, I heard over the radio that the others were captured. Criminal masterminds we were not.
The police then took me downtown, and I was cuffed to a bench somewhere deep inside the bowels of the Toledo Police Station. After sitting in there for a while, thinking maybe I could pull of a daring escape like famed outlaw Billy the Kid, I was brought to another part of the building where I was fingerprinted and photographed. Then I was tossed, along with a few other guys, in a holding tank that, while roomier, smelled strongly of piss. That was probably because there was a drain on the floor at the far end where everyone did their business. Be that as it may, the odds of me escaping were looking a lot less likely.
There was glass on the door of this new place, and I could see a cop at a computer across the way. One fellow I was locked up with entertained me by pounding on the door, repeatedly yelling at the officer to bring us juice and cookies. He seemed to believe we were not prisoners, but guests at a hotel serving a lovely continental breakfast. One by one, the others in the cell with me were taken out, and either released or taken elsewhere. Now I was alone. I laid back against the wall, closed by eyes, and retreated off somewhere into my own mind.
What seemed like hours later, the door opened, and I was released to the custody of my parents. I don’t even remember making the phone call, but I guess I must have. My mom hugged me, despite the fact that I had probably broken her heart, and caused her enough stress to last a lifetime. Kids always break mom’s heart the most. At least I know I did.
The car ride back home was so strange, and while I would have completely deserved a thorough tongue lashing along the way, I don’t remember much of anything being said. Even my dad was surprisingly calm, and I figured for sure he would have beaten the hell out of me. Instead, we just made idle chatter about what happened, what my stay at the police station was like. and how to go about getting an attorney. Nothing in depth. I think we were all ready to crawl in bed. That night, I considered pounding on the door and hollering for juice and cookies, but I thought better of it.
Weeks went by, possibly even months. I got that attorney, explained to him what happened, and I ended up getting the most serious charges of breaking & entering, and receiving stolen property dropped. In the end, I pled to simple disorderly conduct. I went to court, was respectful to the judge (who very much appreciated me ending sentences with “sir,” and “Your Honor,” by the way) and that was that. It actually didn’t work out that bad for me. The others, because they had actually entered the school unlawfully, ended up spending a short time locked up. One of them may have had to write a letter of apology to the school as well, but I can’t be certain.
So that’s my story. I may not be a hardened criminal, but it was still one hell of an experience. And I got a stupid looking mugshot out of it, too. I ended up starting that job I mentioned and worked there for three years before moving on to other things. I turned 20 years old shortly thereafter. My teens were over, as were my days of trouble with the law. Of that I assure both you and my mom. I pay for all my Garfield notebooks now.