I Fought the Law and the Law Gave Me a Purple Nurple
Allow me to end my literary hiatus with a few quick words. These last few months have been hard. One night in July changed my life forever, and a friend that had the uncanny ability to change so many lives is now gone. This is not a column for that, but in time it will come. Let me just say that I miss Mallo every day, and he is in my thoughts with everything I do. Steve is my personal Jesus Christ, bringing new meaning to my life and shepherding in the new day. Call that an abundance of cliches, but as I’ve constantly said, they always manage to ring true. As I’ve said before – when I need help with a decision, when there is a crossroads and I don’t know which path to take, I stop, think of Wyles and the Riddler, and ask: WWMD?
Now on to the business at hand. In this episode of the Wonderfully Mundane Adventures, I will be retelling a story from a good friend of mine, who we all know and love, in first person. At no time should you in any way assume that this person is me.
Clearly I do a lot of stupid things. I’m a 23 year-old guy living in New York City, and every day is just plain dumb. I walk around this town in a haze half the time – staring at women who are way out of my league – while cars, muggers, transvestite whores, and pretty much life in general, whiz by me in every direction. Chronicling every foolish thing I’ve done in life would take some time. In fact, it would take a book and I’m just not up for that. And, I assume, neither are you.
What I can describe in detail is the one thing I did recently that landed me in the slammer for the night – and at the time, it really didn’t seem that dumb. Allow me to set the scene.
I live in a walkup apartment uptown. Outside of our apartment is a large patio – which we have all to ourselves to pimp (yes, I just said “pimp”). My roommates and I had planned a little soiree, before the leaves turned, the weather got chilly, and we weren’t all inundated with having to plan shit for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Festivus, Christmas, and then New Year’s. The event was coming together, but on the day of we realized we needed a table for the shindig. Without batting an eye I figured that we could borrow a table from our next door neighbor. You see, our patio is separated diagonally from another patio with only a small railing. On that patio is a ton of old furniture – chairs, tables, stools, etc. I hopped over to their side, proceeded to take an old looking table, and pushed it back to our side.
The party went off without a hitch. Multiple 1 Tuff fans and groupies showed up and, besides the manager of the restaurant below coming up to tell me that the roof might cave in and the uniformed cops that came later to kick people out (as if I were still in college), everything went pretty damn well.
Fast forward to one week later, table still sitting on our deck. I arrive home from a shitty dinner to find a business card on my door from a detective Mike O’Herlihy. “Must be someone trying to play a cruel joke on me,” I said to myself as I looked at my phone, noticing I had a voicemail.
“Hello Adam, this is Officer Gonzalez from the 28th precinct,” said the voice. “If you could please call myself or detective Mike O’Herlihy at 212-555-8769, it would be appreciated.”
“What could this be about,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it’s the crack middlemen we’ve become, pushing product between Hunts Point and Canarsie? Maybe it’s the hooker I killed last week in a crime of passion? The choices are endless.” With sweatier palms than usual, I proceeded to call the precinct. After a few rings, Detective O’Herlihy answered.
“Yeah, Adam,” he said with the Outerborough accent that smacked of pizza and potatoes. “Do you have a table in your possession, on the back porch maybe?”
“Uh, I do actually, we borrowed it, I’ll put it back right now.” The first of many times that my foot would be lodged squarely in my mouth.
“Ok,” muttered the detective. “We’re coming over to arrest you.”
That sentence right there may rival “You’re fired,” “I’m pregnant,” and “No, it’s not curable, just controllable.” I was floored. I spent the next two minutes in shock, all the while explaining that I wasn’t at home, but in fact was at my office and I was about to leave, and I’d be home soon, and Jesus Christ was I really being arrested for taking a table?
I got off the phone and got to work. I had my roommate Mutt go outside with me and we put the table back. I then had him leave the apartment, so he wouldn’t take the rap with me (aren’t I an awesome roommate?), and proceeded to put my work clothes on so my story would appear somewhat believable.
As I completed tying my shoes, there’s a rap at the door. I’m not really sure what’s on the other end; SWAT, German Shepherds, police horses. It turned out to be two detectives straight out of central casting for NYPD blue. The lead man, O’Herlihy, was big, probably around 6’4”; pockmarked face, flat as a frying pan, with hair that looks like a rug, but somehow you know it isn’t. Gonzalez followed closely behind. A shorter, Hispanic gentleman, with the Luis Guzmán mustache and helmet hair to match, walks in with the requisite drab suit hanging from his shoulders, and stares me down.
I’m so rattled by their presence that I’m changing tense.
We chat for a moment, me telling them that the table is back in place, that I was out at work and just got home, and they proceed to take a look outside at the table now back on the other porch, and tell me that they still need to take me in. Shit.
“We won’t cuff you,” they say, as they tell me to put on my jacket and come with them. I walk outside of my apartment and down the street toward their blue unmarked sedan. I feel as if every single person in the neighborhood is staring at me. Is this what OJ felt like? If so, who and where is my AC?
We get to the car and they put me in the backseat. O’Herlihy goes upstairs to speak with the owners of the table, while I sit with Gonzalez as he plays good cop. “Listen man. I know you didn’t mean to steal that table, but it’s a pretty stupid thing. Hopefully we can get this all squared away and maybe won’t even need to take you in. Honestly, I don’t know why the owners didn’t just come over and ask for the table. Shit, that’s what I would have done, but what can you do?” He was doing his best to get me to like him, to not hate cops or the system. “Just remember, through this whole process, we are not the cause of your problem, only the facilitators of the legal system.” He would go on to say that 18 more times throughout the night. Who knew when you were arrested, you would also get a high school civics class lesson?
“By the way, do you know how much that table cost?” Gonzalez asks.
“Well, I thought it was a piece of shit, or I wouldn’t have taken it,” I say – voice trembling the whole time like Jim Grey after the Detroit NBA melee mind you. “Now that you’re bringing it up, I guess it’s worth something. Maybe a couple hundred dollars?”
“That’s an antique store, John,” Gonzalez says assertively (I’ve learned that when you say someone’s name declaratively at the end of a sentence, you mean business). “The owners claim that the table is worth $4,000 dollars.” The pit in my stomach deepens as the stain in my trousers widens.
“Holy shit, I had no idea. Uh, I’ll pay for the table. I’ll do anything. I really don’t wanna go to jail.” I say this knowing full well that I don’t even have four grand in my account.
“How much you pay for that place you’ve got anyway?” Small talk from Gonzalez.
“Not as much as that table,” I say. Gonzalez laughs out loud. Zing! My wit scores points. That right there could have saved me from an ass raping, or at least it’s why he let me keep my hands cuffed in front of my body later on in the night when I had to pee. That’s what I like to think.
O’Herlihy comes back down at this point, looking none too happy. “Adam, the owners of the store tell me they saw you and a friend put the table back on the porch tonight. Who was the friend? When we called before, you told me you didn’t know where your roommates were.” Mind is racing, mind is racing, mind is racing.
“That was my friend Mark sir, he was over and he helped me put the table back.” This was somewhat true – Mark was over at the time they called.
“But you said you were at work when you called, you were home?”
“Well, I had just left work, and I was at a restaurant in between. I left right after you called.” I thought this was good. I was wrong.
“This is ridiculous,” O’Herlihy says. “We’re taking you in.”
Oh God. I’m near tears. I’m having visions of being locked up in Attica. My cellmate D’Andre asks what I’m in for while he undresses me with his eyes. “Stealing a table,” I say, trying to look tough. It’s over. Naked. Cornfields. Backwards.
Fast-forward 20 years later to my run for the presidency. Two days before the election, reporters are swarming my upper class home in Connecticut.
Female Minority Reporter: Sir, is it true that you were arrested at 23 for stealing a table?
Senator Me: It is true Diane, and let me say that the experience taught me a lot. It taught me about the importance of the American legal system. It taught me about the hard work of our law enforcement officers and other civil servants. Most importantly, it taught me that you always, ALWAYS need to take responsibility for your actions, and for the actions of your country (all the while thinking: Jesus, all the stupid shit I’ve done in my life, and my ship goes down over a fucking table?).
Well, it does. Election over.
To this day I’ll never know if I was arrested for stealing a table, or lying to the cop about not being home when I was, but I guess either way, I was pretty much an idiot about the whole thing. I like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two about keeping my cool under pressure, but that’s doubtful. After a five block ride to the precinct, they let me out and bring me upstairs.
This place, like the detectives that showed up at my door, is right out of central casting. There are shitty wood desks and typewriters everywhere. Papers all over the floor and wanted posters on the wall. The stench of obesity hangs in the air. Detectives eating doughnuts and drinking coffee, their stained white shirts tightening around their guts and brown-hued ties half undone. Some have mustaches; all are bald. Sippowitz body doubles and Kojak stuntcocks. I sit down to go over some arrest paper work and then hand over all of my possessions (including my belt and shoelaces, in case I want to hang myself in embarrassment).
I’m then put in a 10 x 10 cell with heavy iron bars in the front, concrete walls, and a wood bench in the back with graffiti scratched into it. At this point, I’m tired and confused, and I start to hallucinate that I’m Waldo Geraldo Faldo, and patiently wait for Urkel and Carl Winslow to break me out of this Mexican hellhole. Seriously though, the rest of the night was pretty boring – I sat in there for four hours while they ran my prints. Apparently, any time you’re arrested they have to electronically send your prints to every state, including the unincorporated territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.
The night crawled along, highlighted by the interrogation of a gypsy outside my cell, and the aforementioned trip downstairs to get my fingerprints taken. That was interesting. As Detective Gonzalez opens the cell with a giant key, he mentions that he has to throw the cuffs on me. It is at this point that I really feel like a degenerate. I’ve never had cuffs on me before – not even for sexual purposes, or the token sitcom episode where adult and kid get stuck together and hilarity ensues – this was new ground. Luckily, since I wasn’t a threat to shiv anyone, he let me keep my hands in front, instead of behind the back COPS style.
He took me downstairs to a machine that looked like a giant grocery checker-outer, and for the next 20 minutes proceeded to scan in my fingers, thumbs, palms, side of hands, back of hands, ass, and mushroom tip. All the while, he explained to me what was going to happen to me.
Gonzalez: Basically John, there are five things that can happen to you: 1. You go to jail (I get queasy and give him the “I shot the clerk?” look from My Cousin Vinny). Don’t worry, don’t worry. You’re not going to jail. I’ve seen guys steal ninety grand worth of stuff, and they only get five years probation. 2. You pay restitution – I don’t see that happening, since you gave back the table. 3. You perform community service – that probably won’t happen either, since you have a steady job and you’re an upstanding member of the community (Then why is my girth and length being emailed to every precinct in the Union?) 4. You’ll probably get an ACD, that’s adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. Basically, it’s six-month’s probation, and if you don’t do anything stupid again, then your case is thrown out. 5. The judge throws out the case. I mean, I wouldn’t be too worried. You’re a young, first time offender. You’re a white male (Thank you stereotypes!). I don’t know why those two, wait, you’re not gay are you? (Why do I always get asked that question? I shake my head no) I don’t know why those two gay guys called us in the first place. I mean, it was pretty clear you weren’t trying to steal the table. When we were over there, I asked them why they thought you left the chairs behind; it would have completed the set!
I give him the pity laugh, finish up my retinal scan, and I’m on my way back up. Oh, I should mention that the whole time this was going on – we watched as they removed an H’ed up crack whore from the cell next to the scanner. She was sleeping, and they had to use some kind of prod to get her to wake up, pull her pants up from around her ankles and take her to rehab before jail. Good times.
Back in the cell it was back to doing hard time. A few pull-ups, wrapping a metal coffee mug against the bars, your basic jail stuff. At one point, I had to pee – so Gonzalez slapped the cuffs back on me and took me to the john. Let me tell you, peeing with cuffs on is a challenge. I didn’t even bother washing my hands. Later on in the night, right before I was released – they threw a guy in with me. Some 53 year old cat that smelled of booze and mothballs. He had whitewashed jeans on, a champion sweater, and a big puffy ski coat. A character right out of Mallo’s opus, “Mike Came Home with a Mullet.” He had the face of a smoker, hadn’t shaved in a few days, and it looked like they woke him up. I looked straight ahead, and luckily was let out soon after.
I’ll wrap this up shortly – but let me just set one last scene for you. The day after the arrest, my roommate and I decided to go over to the antique store and apologize for our stupidity. We walk up to Les Monuments Antiques, push open the gated door and press the buzzer. A tall man in Eurotrash garb, speaking French into his cellphone, greets us. “Well fuck,” I think out loud. “These guys are gonna hate us. That’s why they called the cops. They’re Frogs and they hate our president, and our culture, and my night in jail was just a plain old case of Bush bashing.” We explain that we’re the guys that took the table. The Frenchman gives us a look of recognition and waves us. We enter the antique store, and suddenly it becomes a scene out of Harry Potter. Suits of armor and medieval mirrors on the wall. Weapons, spittoons and pieces of heavy oak furniture. A Havelina. We walk towards the back, where a wizened old man with dark glasses is sitting at a mahogany desk. He has a mustache and wrinkles like a Sharpei. I’m suddenly not sure if I’m there to apologize or purchase a Mogwai. The younger Frenchman steps in, “Zees are ze two gentlemen who took our table.”
“Ah,” the older man smiles, and leans toward us. “Why didn’t you just ask for ze table? I would have let you borrow it.”
“He iz ze sweetest man,” says the man standing behind us.
Well, this lightens my mood. I tell him over and over again how sorry I am, and how I hope they don’t press charges.
“Zat was never our intention, we’ll make sure this is all dropped. No problem,” says French Yoda. I am elated at this point. I thank him profusely. I go to shake his hand, and there’s no movement on his part. The younger man behind us grabs my arm.
“Don’t bother,” he says. “The man is blind.” Of course.
The next month had a few bumps in the road. I was scheduled to go to court at the end of November. I figured since they were going to drop the charges, this was all over. I found out that the DA could still take the case, as I had performed an illegal act. I also found that contrary to Detective O’Herlihy’s advice – apologizing to the plaintiffs, contacting them in any way as a matter of fact, was illegal. So with all that in mind, I got myself a lawyer, and had the whole thing straightened out.
The case was dropped, and I’m once again roaming the streets in search of fine French antiques to pilfer. A few lessons learned here though. Don’t lie to cops. Don’t steal. And certainly don’t steal from the blind. You might think it’s a victimless crime, but karmically, it’ll always come back and bite you in the ass.