Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Crime and Punishment

I'm enough of a grownup to realize that almost everyone in prison is guilty as charged, and that the guilty go unpunished many times more often than the innocent are convicted. It's the natural result of a system set up to protect the rights of the accused from the arbitrary judgments of authorities.

Yet, when I see someone in trouble with the law saying, innocently, "Who, me?" I admit some sympathy. It's because of an experience I had when I was about 13.

I used to stay the night at a friend's house about once a month. We would eat pizza, build model airplanes and ride around his neighborhood on his minibike and snowmobile. Once, a scruffy older kid I hadn't seen before was hanging around his house: his older sister Janice's new "boyfriend," Ken. Ken was 16 and had just gotten his driver's license. He went to a rival school in the next town.

Ken had the great idea that we should go for a ride in his little 1970s wood-paneled station wagon. (It must have been his parents' car.) So me, my friend, and a friend of Janice's squeezed into the back seat, and with Ken and Janice in front, away we went. Later I found out that both Janice and her friend, a sturdy brunette who played French horn in the marching band, had a big crush on me, but that has nothing to do with this story.

Ken drove us into the downtown area of our little town. It was about 10 pm and all was dark. Ken spotted a couple of kids walking up the road. He turned his headlights off, coasted quietly up behind them, and when we were within about 10 feet he put the car in neutral, hit the lights and gunned the engine. They yelled in fright and ran off. Ha!

We then tooled around a little until we came upon our high school. Ken said, "Your school sucks," and drove across the parking lot and onto the front lawn of the school. He proceeded to "turf" the entire front lawn of the school, with us bouncing around in the back seat. I don't know whether turfing is a well-known term, but it means to vandalize a lawn using the tires of a car. He even did a couple of donuts, right in the lawn. After he was through, he drove us back to my friend's house.

A turfed lawn

The next Monday morning when my bus drove past the high school, I could see tire tracks and skids all over the lawn. They were there until the janitor rolled them down and seeded them the next spring.

Since that night, the following alternate history has often played out in my mind:

Cop car arrives at the high school just as Ken completes his last donut, jumps out of the car and runs off into the night.

OFFICER: You in the back. Yes, you, the chubby kid with the bad haircut. What the hell do you think you were doing just then?

ME: I don't know! Some other kid was driving! I never saw him before in my life! I didn't know he was going to do this!

OFFICER: Right. Get in the cruiser.

And then my juvenile criminal record prevents me from getting accepted to the college of my choice.

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