March 26th, 2012

Fire Spinner

A Saga of Lawlessness: The Early Years

The Anarchy of Youth

When I was 19, I was stupid.  And I can say this as an otherwise rather inteleg  intelig  smart person.* 
*(For the record, YES, I CAN spell… but where’s the fun in THAT?)

But seriously, though, isn’t everyone a little dumb at 19?  Or, at any point in our lives, I suppose, we all can have short bursts of taking mental vacations from our normal reasoning powers… as you get older, they start to be referred to as “senior moments.”  Maybe when you’re a teenager, out on your own for the first time, those vacations just happen to last a little longer.  Maybe because vacations from reality are more fun than the real world is, and maybe at 19 you just don’t have so many responsibilities in your life to keep you anchored enough to want to come back down to earth in all that much of a hurry. 

To be perfectly honest, maybe by then I’d just been too smart for too long, and needed to try out a little dumb for a little while.  You know... to see how it fit.  Have you ever been there?  Ever found yourself looking at the ignorant masses, and while some part of you shudders and cringes at the asininity of it all, another quieter, softer, more still voice from somewhere deep within your subconscious longs, haphazardy, for just that fraction of an instant before your ego slaps it back with the get-a-clue-stick, to be able to experience just a moment of that kind of bliss. 

But, really, at 19, I’d been making it – or some lesser version thereof – on my own for more than 2 years by then.  Holding down a job and my own apartment, keeping an aging car running with rubber bands and bubble gum; paying bills, buying groceries, cooking dinners, entertaining guests and doing laundry, all with no help from an estranged family… I remember how proud of myself I was the first time I bought my own detergent.  No, really… that was MY laundry soap, that I paid for with MY money!  You know, big girl stuff.   I was all growed up.  

Yep, I was living the American Dream.

It wasn’t until I got to age 19 that I realized… I was still a kid.  It was one of those slaps-you-in-the-face-like-a-ton-of-bricks revelations that hit me one afternoon (yes, there’s a story behind how that happened, too, but I’ll save that for another day), when I realized… 19 was the perfect age.

It was the perfect age for me, at that point, because, I’d pretty much been living as an adult for most of my life.  Maybe I’d only been paying for it myself in my own space for a couple of years, but, I’d spent a great deal of my childhood just thinking way too far ahead.  And, really, what did I have to show for it?  No one my age could relate to me, and no one I could relate to (usually 15 – 25 years older) could feel completely comfortable being connected to me because of my age.  (Yes, the kinds of folks I tended to be drawn to were bright enough to be able to spell statutory, and, it even mattered a little to a few of them.)

But 19, on the other hand, was just at the first cusp of a jumping off point between adolescence and adulthood.  So, if I wanted (and, more often than not, I convinced myself I did, because I needed to), I could dress the part, and act the role well enough to fit with other “real” adults, just as well as if I actually belonged.   I’d put on the corporate monkey suit: a professional length skirt, nylons and heels with a silk blouse and a sharp blazer (>*gasp!*<  Yeah, I know, right? …can you imagine?  It makes me wince to think, now!), and I’d know all the right things to say so I wouldn’t stand out in a crowd of folks with ten years on me as the only one without a graduate degree.   It was the first time I started to be taken seriously by people I respected, who’d previously found themselves uncomfortable with returning that respect for me as they’d look at me with longing and sigh, muttering something along the lines of, “…if only you were 10 years older…” before getting a faroff, dreamy look, and changing the subject, or just drifting away.

And yet, the real magic in age 19 revealed itself on the occasions in which I might somehow slip up from what I probably should otherwise have recognized as the acceptable or appropriate course of action.  You see, at 19, it was the first time in more than a decade I finally realized… that WAS allowed.

          I didn’t HAVE to get perfect grades (not that I was in school anymore by then). 

          I DIDN’T have to be the best at everything I tried.   

          I didn’t ALWAYS have to do the most responsible, respectable thing. 

And do you know why?  Because
no one expected me to.  I was nineteen.  Mistakes were not only allowed, they were expected.  If I screwed up, people just chalked it up to growing pains, gave me the proverbial pat on the head, wagged their fingers at me with a wink and a smile, and a nostalgic, if wistful fondness for the good ol days when they were that age, then went on about their business.

It was eye opening.

          And… maybe… it was just a little too much freedom.

So, okay, I admit… I took a few liberties.  I let myself become a little… reckless.  I learned some common lessons I’m sure I actually already knew better about the hard way, anyway, just to experience it myself, I guess.  It seems it’s not really the same to learn from other people’s mistakes, or from your parent’s wisdom.  Sometimes, you just have to go through a little stupidity of your own, for its own sake. 

Like, for example....

          Where’s the fun in not coming to know firsthand that just because you have checks in your billfold
          doesn’t necessarily mean you actually have money in your account?

          You can't tell a 19-yr-old that there aren't at least some bills that don't necessarily have to be paid every month.

          And really, who needs auto insurance, right?  It’s so expensive!  After all, I'm a good driver.

Okay, now, really, no, don’t laugh.  I was 19.  I get a break, right?  I was 19!  (Also, stifle your giggles for now, because, I promise, it gets worse.)

I was fortunate to not be in an accident without insurance at that time.  But, back then, in the State of Minnesota, in order to get your tabs renewed (a requirement by State law to prove you’ve registered your automobile with the Department of Motor Vehicles), you had to show proof of insurance.  Well, I didn’t have it.  When you’re under 20, living on your own, not in school, with no one to claim you as a dependent, at least, back then, insurance rates were really outside the realm of sane.  I don’t know how they expected anyone trying to keep a head above water to shell out more than $400-US per month, but, I couldn’t, so, I didn’t.  And, for the first few months after I bought my car, that wasn’t any big deal.  But, then, the tabs expired.

Now, here’s where I got creative.

This was the mid 90s, and, that year, tabs were going in color from royal blue to black.  So, on the month mine were supposed to be changing, I took my plates off, and with a white wax pen, I painted the second digit of the last year to the current year (it wasn’t a huge change in look), and then colored in the rest of the tab with a black Sharpie.  And, hey, then I had current tabs!  I figured if a cop was looking at my tabs, that’s because he/she was in a car behind me on the road, and probably wouldn’t be close enough to tell the difference (you actually didn’t notice until you got right up on it, or, even, as it turned out, until you touched it).

So, that little bit of graffiti saved me over $5,000 I didn’t have in my budget that year, and, life went on.

Until the next year tabs were due.

Now, this time around, tabs were changing in color from black to green.  That’s great for the State, but, once I’d already colored the damn thing black, how the hell was I supposed to change that tab to green???  I stewed a bit about this concept for a while, mulling over my options, in the weeks prior to the due date of the tabs renewal, and, apparently, for just a few days too long.

That’s right. 

          I got pulled over.

I don’t remember what for.  I was probably speeding.  (I was 19, remember?)  The cop was nice enough... I think he was amused.  He even let me sit in his car while he searched mine, and had another squad drive by (standard practice).  And then a tow truck showed up.   Yep.  I wasn’t going anywhere in that car for a while.  Expired tabs?  That’s a petty misdemeanor (minor offense).  Fraudulently modifying government property?  Well, see, that, as it turns out, is considered TAX EVASION.  Now, if you don’t happen to know your American history too well, I’ll tell ya… that’s the same charge they used to put away AL CAPONE.

So, yeah.  I’m nineteen.


Now, I did say the cop was nice.  I think this whole encounter was totally a new one on him, maybe even a new one for the books.  In his line of work, one sees all kinds of hoodlums all the time, all types of stupid ways people try to get around the law, or just say #_@% you to it and hope not to get caught.  This was not on his list on common outlaw themes, I don't reckon.  I was a pretty, smart young 19-year-old girl, who just couldn’t afford auto insurance, but still needed to get to work every day, and, I was clever, and resourceful.  He wasn’t dealing with a hardened criminal.  He worked really hard to restrain himself from laughing, but couldn’t help handling me with that same Dumbledorian twinkle in his eye.  In the patrol car ride to the precinct, I sat in the back, but he left the window between us open, so I was hanging over the seat back between us (yes, I was sitting in the middle, and, no, I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt), punching buttons on his computer screen, asking questions like, what does THIS one do?  It was fascinating.  And he was fairly cooperative.  Patient as a bishop, he’d explain everything to me, and even seemed to like the attention.  I wondered to myself if he had a daughter my age.

When we arrived at the station, he got out, came around to the back seat, and opened the rear door on the passenger side, with a motion for me to come out, just like he was the footman of a horse-drawn carriage waiting to take my hand and escort me to the red carpet.

I was confused.

Mind you, I’d never been arrested before, but, I had seen a lot of the show “Cops.”  I just couldn’t imagine being calmly walked in to be booked like it was a casual stroll into the mall.  Granted, it was Edina: the Gold Standard of the Twin Cities, and, we were parked a mere fifty feet outside the entrance, but, still... what do I know about policies and procedures??  So, I sat there a moment, not sure what to do.  We stayed like that for a few blinks, me and the cop, watching one another, waiting each other out, until finally, with that same glint in his smile, and a clearing of his throat, he asks,

          "Do you need a written invitation?" 

To which I naturally responded,

                    "Aren't you going to cuff me?" 

At this point, he was working hard to maintain a professional demeanor.  He followed up with,

          "Is the prospect of handcuffs exciting to you?"

At that point I lost it and busted out laughing, shaking my head at the notion.

                    "No, Not really, No." 

He inquired a little further.

          "Are you planning on trying anything funny with me on the way in?"

We were full swing in true banter mode, by then.  I batted my eyelashes playfully.

                    "Not unless you really want me to.  But I'm not sure that would work out so well for me."

He took a step back and sized me up and down; 165 pounds soaking wet, mostly cleavage, and not so much as a pocket in sight.

          "Good,"  he grinned.  "Cause I'm pretty sure I could take ya."

And that's how I was taken into custody the first time I was ever arrested.

When we got inside, he parked me in a tiny little room about 6' x 8', with nothing but a bench built into the wall.  There was nothing to read, and nothing to do, so, all alone with nothing but time to kill and my thoughts, I leaned back into the corner, resting my head, closed my eyes, and began to hum along to the tune inside my head.  (Don't you always have a tune inside your head?)  As it happens, the internal radio at that moment was tuned to "
Somewhere Over The Rainbow."  This, as it turns out, is not a song that can be quietly hummed to yourself.  It practically screams to be sung out loud.  Especially if you happen to be alone in a tiny room with fabulous acoustics.  (The acoustics, of course, are naturally what one notices about being held in a locked room at a police station when one is 19.)  So, by the chorus, I had broken out into full-blown Broadway mode, and was letting loose at the top of my lungs, testing the strength of the bounce back on the walls to their fullest capacity.  About the time I was practically ready to stand up and start into a jazz-handed twirl-spin, I opened my eyes to find three male cop heads
crammed into the tiny space of the viewport window, peeping back at me, their mouths slightly ajar.  I was so stunned, I came to a sudden and complete halt mid-descant.

          "Oh, please don't stop," one begged. 

                    "No, really, we want to hear the rest!"  Another echoed.

I don't actually remember if I continued the song from that point or not.  I wasn't really the slightest bit embarrassed about singing to myself... just, perhaps a bit sheepish about letting the volume get away from me.  I do remember they gave me an enthusiastic ovation, accompanied by giant grins and wild cheers.

I eventually signed whatever paperwork I needed to in order to be released, and was probably given at least a hefty ticket, which, naturally, being 19 and broke, I never paid.  I'm not sure if my license was actually suspended at that point, or if it just expired eventually, but I know after that I went
some time (more than four years, before the end of it) without driving a car again, so by the time I found myself in court nearly a half a decade later over another matter, worried that this experience might have negatively tarnished my record, enough water under the bridge had passed that the State really didn't care all that much, so they had me I pay $50 and take a test to get my license back.

Guess some crimes just aren't really worth making a fuss over.

I can't speak for anyone else's criminal record.  If you've never been arrested, good for you.  I'm certainly not a hopeless hooligan, by any stretch of the imagination, either.  But, I can't deny it (and even if I did, I'm sure it's a matter of public record), my fingerprints are now on file in the county where I live... and that probably means they'd be accessible to the FBI, which I suppose I should keep in mind if I ever find my very own
"Thelma" with whom to go off on a cross-country convenience store robbing spree (avoiding Texas, naturally).  But, I do know one thing... I have no problem telling this story because it relates to me, and yet, I've come to end up since that time with a brother on the force, which resulted in me learning that intakes like mine are the type your standard law enforcement officer won't soon forget, either, and somewhere out there, this story is told in some other circles around water coolers with a bit of gusto, and a great deal of laughter.

And, I admit, I can't help that to think of that makes me smile, even if just a little bit. 

So, there you have it: the case of the Mick and the Manipulated Manifold Marker. 
Tune in to another episode for more of the Lawlessness Saga. 

Next time: The Fairy and The Tease.

LJ Idol | Season 8 • Week 20 - Topic: OPEN
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