It began with a pack of Fruit Stripe gum. You know, the stuff advertised by a rainbow colored zebra. I didn't particularly like it, especially since I tended to cram several sticks of gum in my mouth at one time, and when you mixed lemon with whatever the red was supposed to be, it tasted like a mouthful of rotten fruit. It was lying, abandoned, on a shelf in the toy section of the grocery store. I picked it up, with every intention of returning it to its rightful home at the checkout. But it went into my pocket. As we stood in line at the cash registers, I considered how to get the contraband from my pocket to the rack without being seen. Openly pulling it out would cause all sorts of embarrassing questions, like "Why must you touch everything you see? Why didn't you give it to me? Why are you wearing your sister's favorite shorts? How many times do you have to be told to stay with me in the store? Remember the time you got lost?" So I left the gum in my pocket and stood silently, waiting for a security guard to clamp a beefy hand on my shoulder and lead me away through that mysterious swinging door in the back of the store. We made it home without being accosted by a SWAT team, and I dutifully ate my ill-gotten goods, but it tasted far worse than usual. Even the zebra on the package didn't look his usual jovial self.
A few weeks later we all went to the mall. There was a fountain in the center of the building, and since I didn't care for furniture shopping (and Mom probably didn't want to be mortified once again as I placed a doily on my head and announced loudly "Look, I'm a nun"), I was allowed to sit by the fountain and wait for them.
"Don't fall in" was the only admonition. So I sat and waited, watching the people go by and wishing that I had some money for a soft pretzel. Dangling my hand in the water. (She didn't, after all, say don't stick hands/feet/any part of your body in the water. Just don't fall in.) Saw that there were coins in the bottom of the basin.
People threw money in the fountain to make a wish. Well, I was just wishing that I had some money. The circle was complete. I stealthily dabbled my fingers in the water (look, everybody, just an innocent girl feeling the water, nothing to see here, move along) and then snagged a nickel and put it in my pocket.
Greed is the downfall of many a criminal. I spotted Mom and Dad at the far end of the Penney's wing, moving at their usual the-house-is-on-fire pace. So I reached behind me and attempted to trawl an entire handful of change.
Of course I fell in.
If you look closely, you can still see the imprint from my dad's death grip on my arm as I was unceremoniously dragged from the scene. (OK, that might be the "slightly fictionalized part of the story.)
That might have been my last foray into the seedy underbelly of criminal behavior, but wait! There's more!
Sometimes we babysat the boy next door. Eric was two years my junior, which put me in the position of being the slightly cool, somewhat knowledgable icon. When we played Tarzan, he had to be Cheetah the chimp, and when we played Speed Racer, I got to be the title character and he had to be Spitle. After we ran out of imaginary games and were banned from anything with wheels, we had time on our hands to conjure trouble.
"I wish we had some candy." (I was obsessed with sweets in my early years.)
"I still have a bunch of Easter candy left over," Eric volunteered.
That wasn't particularly helpful, since it was inside of his house and no one was home to beg. But then the creative part of my neural network sent the rational part of my brain out to lunch and telegraphed try the door.
"Let's try the door," my mouth dutifully repeated. It was locked.
Pick the lock.
"Remember how Agent 99 helped Maxwell Smart by using a bobby pin to open the door? I bet I can do that too."
I plucked the pin from my bangs and wiggled it around in the lock, figuring that there was no chance in hell that it would open. You may already know that hell giveth the young and the stupid many, many chances. There was a click. I turned the knob.
Unfortunately, the door led to the basement. All of that work, only to be thwarted!
Try the window.
If only my brain worked half as well during test time.
The window was unlocked; I quickly boosted myself through, tucked and rolled over the sink and onto the floor, grabbed the first thing I saw in the Easter Basket (it was blue Peeps) and, not being brilliant enough to simply exit through the door, made another knee-banging, elbow-scraping trip over the kitchen counter, through the window, and onto the concrete porch. Looking back, I was NOT Agent 99 but the twin sister of poor bumbling Max.
Eric didn't like blue Peeps (which is why they were left-over) and so I was forced to furtively eat them all, crouched at the end of the yard with my back toward my own house.
"I don't feel so good," I said to Eric, who was looking at me in a sort of horror.
I can't help you said my brain.
Mom was hollering out the window for us. As we approached, she was ready to hand us cups of lemonade. (Our kitchen window operated as a sort of drive-thru in the summer, since I was usually too filthy to be running in and out of the house.) I tried to give her an obsequious smile. Her own smile froze into a rictus of alarm and suspicion.
"WHAT have you been eating?"
Unaware that my mouth and teeth were stained neon blue, I resorted to the answer on the lowest end of the stupidality scale: "Nothing."
"Bulls*8t! Get in here NOW."
Mom was not a cursing woman; if she let one fly, it meant I had a good shot at either a whipping or the gallows. I was considering my options and wondering just how much information I needed to give when Eric poured forth the entire story.
I won't torment you, dear reader, with the details of my confession, my hearing before dear old Dad, my second humiliating confession at the neighbor's, or my punishment. I was not grounded for a year, but it seemed like it. It didn't take six months before I could sit down again, but it might have been at least a day. (See, parents fictionalize too!) It certainly put an abrupt end to my criminal career forever.
Thanks, Mom and Dad. I owe you.