Not The Worst Criminal
by Flynn Washburne, October 5, 2016
I don't know who first coined the phrase "crime does not pay." I'm guessing that some morality play from the early 20th century, coming on the heels of crime, conceptually and institutionally, gaining some traction and heft as a lifestyle and becoming glamorized, is responsible for that little gem — but they were definitely on to something.
Oh, there's no doubt that it can be made to pay, in the right hands. Even leaving aside the mega-thefts perpetrated by corporations, governments, politicians, potentates, and charities, if you put some thought into it, plan carefully, assemble the proper tools and surround yourself with competent professionals, I daresay you can make a buck or two.
The way I do it, though? Nuh-uh. I am so far in the red that I would have to pull off several dozen "Ocean's"-style capers to positivize my bottom line, and even Hollywood might finally find their shame at the prospect of green-lighting Ocean's 38.
Actually, probably not. If the Adam Sandler oeuvre didn't do it, it's not likely to happen, but I digress. Herein, a list of occupations that would be more financially rewarding than my blundersome attempts at getting something for nothing.
1. Any minimum wage job
2. Lemonade stand
3. Kissing booth at the county fair
4. Collecting and redeeming scrap aluminum
5. Dancing for nickels on the street corner
6. Digging for change under the couch cushions
7. Pitching pennies in the alley with street urchins
8. Growing two years worth of hair and selling it to a wigger (is that what you call someone who constructs wigs?)
9. Freelance washroom attendant
In short, anything even remotely remunerative. I may not be the worst criminal in the world, but whoever he or she is, we could probably discover enough common ground between us to establish a lasting friendship.
Crime is not, as overwhelming evidence clearly indicates, my métier. I suppose it could be viewed as an admirable, if misguided, demonstration of pluck and perseverance if I ever learned anything from my mistakes and my planning, process, form and follow-through gradually improved until I became a competent journeyman of crime, but no. Not only did my execution and technique steadily worsen, the degree of risk and danger, perversely, increased. It was as if Evel Knievel, following his epic failure to negotiate the Snake River chasm on a rocket, tried the same jump using a bicycle.
I haven't been the most attentive student of the other lesson, either, the one where the State says, "We frown on this sort of thing, and if it continues we're going to sequester you away from anything nice for progressively longer periods until you finally get the picture. Curtail the behavior and you may participate in society; continue and get used to wearing blue."
Simple enough, right? Lots of A/B choices to make: bad/good, right/wrong, pain/pleasure, freedom/confinement. Yet I persist in making the wrong decisions, perhaps believing that the judges and police were only kidding or might be persuaded to make an exception in my case.
One fine summer evening in Ukiah, I set my felonious sights on the offices of a local non-profit agency. Now, see? That right there shows a marked lack of both vision and ambition. For starters, a non-profit should be exempt from crime as well as taxes, being as they are generally engaged in the business of helping people and should be left alone to do just that. A case can be made, even if stealing is objectively wrong, for ripping off "evil" corporations, but robbing Habitat for Humanity or The United Way is just reprehensible.
The second problem is right there in the descriptor "non-profit". Not being in the business of making money, these places are not likely to have large amounts of cash or valuables on hand, the traditional targets of a burglary. Nevertheless, that's the crippled, infirm prey I chose, cleverly defeating their elaborate security system by asking to use the bathroom and unlatching the window.
I returned later that night, and I should point out here that I was operating at a severely diminished capacity due to a lack of sleep and a surfeit of the ol' clang-honk-tweet, my usual condition during these forays. Is that a clue? That sounds like a clue. Anyway, I returned and hoisted myself up to the head-high window, which was large enough to freely admit me but too small to turn around in. I slithered through and cracked my head soundly on the toilet on my way in, tumbling to the floor where I lay writhing and cursing, wondering if I'd have to be 911'ed away from my own crime scene. I gradually regained my senses, such as they were, and inspected my dome by mirrored moonlight. A goodish lump, but no blood. Back to business.
During my initial recon sweep I discovered a kitchen and decided to make myself a sandwich and open a bottle of champagne that was in the refrigerator. I put some roasted red-pepper hummus, alfalfa sprouts and Muenster cheese on rye bread which paired very well with the champers. I felt much restored after eating and finishing the bottle, but also a little tired, so I stretched out on a couch to rest and allow my meal to digest. I closed my eyes and would undoubtedly have been found in exactly that position when the staff arrived the next morning had my phone not vibrated a couple of hours later. It was my friend Lupus trying to score. "Dude, I have no idea where I am right now, I'm going to have to call you back," I said.
I looked around the unfamiliar surroundings and waited for recognition to kick in. Gradually my bearings clicked raggedly back into place and I pieced together the events leading me to this strange sofa. The odd thing was, the actual penetration and entry seemed part of a long-distant past, as if I'd fallen into a Van Winkle-ian slumber.
I went back into the kitchen and made some coffee which I enjoyed with some biscotti. It was 4am and I was going to have to get cracking, so to speak. I started poking around and when I opened one particular closet door, I doubt if a beam of golden light actually shone forth or heraldic trumpets sounded, but they may as well have.
Inside was my own personal golden fleece.
There is a particular subset of geek who derives intense pleasure from stationery goods. I don't know if it's a holdover from first-day-of-school excitement, but we enjoy pens and paper to a degree out of all proportion to their actual utility. It's a sickness, and I have to have every new pen that hits the shelves, and a crisp new notebook to test it out on.
Inside the closet, neatly arrayed on knee-to-head high shelves, was a panoply of supplies that any office manager would take pride in assembling. I gawked for a minute, taking in the magnificent display, and went to find something to put stuff in. In another closet I found several large totes of the sort a mother might use to convey her family's necessaries to the beach. Perfect. I began loading up — boxes of pens, Pilot, UniBall, Zebra, highlighters in a range of electric fluorescents, Sharpies of various sizes, tips and colors, rich, creamy, bond paper, folders, notepads, blocks of Post-Its in every color of the rainbow, paper clips, correction tape and fluid, a Brother P-Touch labelmaker with extra tape, mechanical pencils, erasers, Scotch tape and dispensers, and ink pads for stamping. I took it all, envisioning the impending totality and grandeur of my home office.
After denuding the supply closet I moved on and, somewhat anticlimactically, loaded up a few computers, the petty cash, a stereo system, a large unabridged dictionary, and a case of champagne. I ended up with 4 large bags stuffed with about 150 pounds of booty.
I'd arrived on foot; no way was I going to make it the 10 blocks to the house. I considered paring down my plunder but couldn't decide what to give up.
I remembered once seeing a monkey on television who'd stolen a biscuit from a passing terrier. His little monkey brain was unable to solve the problem of how to get the laterally-oriented dog biscuit through the bars of his cage, and he repeatedly banged it against the bars, getting more and more frustrated as the amused dog watched. I felt a real kinship with that monkey, needing to get out of there but unwilling to relinquish my biscuit.
But I'm no monkey. I had an idea. I'll call a cab, I thought. And why waste my own minutes when there's a perfectly good land line right here? It did not, obviously, immediately occur to me that the phone, a typical multi-line office model, would log all calls into its memory, nor that police detectives were perhaps not the bumbling incompetents I assumed they were. The case was solved pretty much immediately and I was taken into custody a couple of days later.
Good triumphed over evil — and idiocy in this instance. The victims got their stuff back and I was duly punished. But as I write about it now I am struck by the enormity of the consequences of my stupid, thoughtless action, beginning with the psychological impact on the victims as they entered and saw what I'd wrought, and ending with the cost of maintaining me throughout my terms of prison and parole. In between the police and court systems were mobilized, their expensive resources going to deal with a two-bit reprobate without the sense to not chronically poison himself with a toxic chemical, or, failing that, to find a way to acquire it that doesn't erode the fabric of society and incur a cost way out of all proportion to his jackleg shenanigans.
I'm wondering if maybe the relatively light sentences I've received are a result of judges taking pity on a hapless victim of his own incompetence. They have certainly been visibly amused by court testimony recounting my activities and may have knocked a year or two off here and there for the entertainment value alone. Court can be a dreary affair, and I'm sure providers of comedic respite must be eligible for some kind of consideration. I'm pretty sure Linda Thompson receives some extra compensation for her hilarious attempts at bargaining and litigation. I see no reason why I shouldn't get a slice of that pie.