Crime Used to Be So Much Easier to Commit

Shame on me.

Without going into enough detail to incriminate myself, I must admit that I’m a criminal. (Don’t act so shocked. You’ve probably bent a rule or two yourself.)

Back before airport security was tight, I did something that would probably have me doing time these days. A college friend of mine took a flight and before it took off, the airline staff asked for volunteers to be bumped off the flight. They’d be put on the next flight and get a free, non-transferrable round-trip ticket anywhere in the continental US, to be redeemed within a year. My friend shot her hand up, even though she knew she wouldn’t be back to the US during that period. She’s from Europe.

They gave her a paper ticket. She gave it to me. And I used it. This was back before airlines had gotten into the pesky habit of asking to see your ID before you got on the plane. Pretty much anybody could go anywhere, and bring their foot-long Bowie knife with them in case they got the urge to trim their nails in flight. Those were the days. You actually had leg room and a decent in-flight meal, and the plane was half empty so you could usually stretch out and take a nap afterward. (You young people have no idea.)

All I had to do was forge my friend’s signature (I practiced for weeks) and pretend to be someone I didn’t even look like, and I was able to fly out to visit my niece and nephew at a time when I could have never afforded to do so on my own.

And lightning has yet to strike me dead.

I’ve also been known in my more poverty-stricken youth to reuse uncancelled postage stamps. One time I may have let a cashier ring my zucchini up as much cheaper cucumber, too. And I borrowed a friend’s asthma inhaler at a time when I was uninsured and couldn’t afford to refill my prescription. Shame on me.

Now that I’m more financially comfortable, I can afford to be much more law-abiding, and allow my morals and better nature to come to the forefront. What can I say? Poverty makes you do stuff.

Having said that, I must admit that I still pee in the shower occasionally, albeit right over the drain. My bladder is a corrupting influence. So sue me.

I guess I just blew my chance of ever running for public office…

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Trump’s Criminal Negligence

Jesus, take the wheel…

It’s 6:30 in the morning and I’m eating a big slice of Watergate Cake. I tend to eat my anger. I wish I had a second slice.

On the commute to work, I heard that Donald Trump is suggesting that injecting oneself with disinfectant might be a way to cure a case of COVID-19. The actual quote, from the video you can see in this Newsweek article is:

“Then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that? By injection inside or almost a cleaning. It will be interesting to check that, so you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me.”

First of all:

  NEVER inject yourself with disinfectant!!!!! 

I can’t believe I even have to say that, but the leader of the free world just suggested it, so it bears repeating.

  NEVER inject yourself with disinfectant!!!!! 

Even Lysol, the maker of such products, agrees with me. Doing that kind of thing could very well kill you. People have done exactly this to commit suicide. It would definitely be the most stupid thing you’ve ever done in your life, as well as, possibly, the last thing. Don’t do it.

The sad thing is, if Trump says it, there are a certain percentage of his followers, way out there on the lunatic fringe, who have no sense of critical thinking (and probably no health insurance), who will give this a try. I’m sure we’ll hear about this in coming days.

Trump’s words are irresponsible at best, and criminally negligent at worst. Don’t believe me? Here’s the definition of criminal negligence:

“Criminal negligence refers to conduct in which a person ignores a known or obvious risk, or disregards the life and safety of others. Federal and state courts describe this behavior as a form of recklessness, where the person acts significantly different than an ordinary person under similar circumstances. An example is a parent leaving a loaded firearm within reach of a small child.”

Having the world’s most prominent public leader suggesting that we should try injecting disinfectant into our bodies is tantamount to a parent leaving a loaded firearm within reach of a small child, don’t you think?

He’s supposed to be an authority. He’s supposed to be the hub of our pandemic information. And yet he spouts this idiocy. If someone in a major corporation said something like that, he’d be fired.

So, Mr. Trump, if you want to be our leader, and you truly find what you just said to be interesting, do us all a favor and try it out for yourself. Please. I’m begging you. Do it before you say anything else that endangers our lives.

Once again, for those who didn’t hear me the first two times:

  NEVER inject yourself with disinfectant!!!!! 

Jesus, take the wheel…

speechless

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On Being Politically Violated

The mansion had been locked up for so long that most of us had never glimpsed the interior. There was no need, we thought. It looked beautiful from the outside. Grand. Stately. Well-landscaped. We were proud that it was the blueprint for mansions around the world. We were proud that it was ours.

And then cracks began to appear, in the windows, walls and roof. The foundation started to crumble. We began to wonder if its residents were actually doing anything to maintain this landmark edifice. This problem seemed to be one of long-standing, but we hadn’t been paying attention.

Then, about a year ago, an ungodly stench started to emanate from the bowels of the building. A coppery smell, like blood. The odor of stinking, raw sewage. Something was not right. We all knew this, but seemed at a loss to do anything about it.

The newest residents of the mansion didn’t seem to care. They actually seemed to delight in the decay, or at least were indifferent to it. They made all sorts of bizarre excuses. They pointed a finger at everyone except themselves. There were even feeble attempts at fireworks displays to distract us from the real problem.

There was talk of putting up a great big wall around the mansion, to keep out the undesirables. Perhaps, too, that would keep us from peeking in the windows and seeing the criminal neglect that we have allowed, and in some cases even encouraged, and the illegal acts that are causing this decay and this acrid pong of corruption and defilement. All this, in our house. OUR HOUSE.

There has been quite a bit of talk about this, actually. So much talk. And yet, no action.

Now, here we sit, feeling helpless and frustrated and sick, watching as this beautiful symbol slowly sinks back into the earth, and leaves behind an empty space, and a bittersweet memory of what we once had.

white house

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Root Causes

Scene: Shoppers witness a security guard wrestling a man to the ground for attempting to steal some lunch meat. They are glad that this criminal got caught. Serves him right. Justice prevails.

One lone voice offers to buy the lunch meat for the man, and is the subject of ridicule.

Meanwhile, no one has asked the guy why he was stealing the lunch meat in the first place. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he was just laid off, and he has a hungry 6 year old at home. There’s generally a good reason behind desperation. It’s a rare adult who steals just for the pure hell of it.

It’s much easier to make snap judgments and rely on swift justice, isn’t it? It takes a lot more sophistication to look at actions, and try to root out the cause of those actions. Prevention takes more effort than revenge, but it’s a great deal more effective.

Good parents know that if their child is acting out, it’s worthwhile to find out what’s going on with him, rather than beating the bad behavior out of him. And if morale is low in the workplace, it may be that you need to increase communication to determine the source of the problem, rather than saying, “If you don’t like it, quit.”

So much easier to build a wall, or lock her up, or decrease the surplus population…

It’s time that we as a society become more sophisticated. We need to look further down the road. We need to see the forest, not just the trees. These short term solutions and swift reckonings may feel satisfying, but we are truly shackling ourselves. We’re all in this together.

handcuffs

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Crime Reenactments

This is just me allowing my mind to ramble again, but how desperate would you have to be, as an actor, to sign on to one of those true crime shows and reenact some sick, twisted and heinous crime for everyone’s viewing pleasure? I mean, let’s face it, a lot of viewers aren’t that smart. Even though it should be quite obvious that you aren’t the actual criminal, picture this: A few days after the show airs, you’re in the convenience store down the street from where you live and the cashier looks at you and shouts, “You’re the guy who abducted that little girl! Somebody call 911!” And the next thing you know, you’re tackled face first into the potato chip display. I mean, honestly, is fame worth that much to you?

I also wonder about people who stand in criminal lineups. Do those guys get paid, or are they forced to do it? How terrifying would it be to risk being falsely accused of murder, for example? That to me is cruel and unusual punishment. Before you do something that crazy, you better make sure you have an air tight alibi and a snow white criminal record. What if someone says, “No, he’s not the guy who killed my wife, but he looks a lot like the guy who stole my car a few months ago.”

I don’t care how hungry you are or how much attention you crave, there are just some things in life that aren’t worth doing.

Crime

[Image credit: abclocal.go.com]

Eyewitness Misidentification

According to the Innocence Project, “Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in 72% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.” I completely believe this, because I’ve lived it. I make a lousy witness.

When I was 17 years old I worked for a small travel agency. My desk was right by the front entrance. One morning I came in and the manager asked to speak to all of us. He said there was a guy going around to all the local travel agencies and buying plane tickets with a different fake ID each time, then going to the airports and cashing in these tickets, leaving the travel agencies to eat the cost. He’d managed to get thousands of dollars that way so far. Our manager suspected (I can’t remember why) that that man had bought a ticket from us, and that he was going to come in and pick it up some time this morning. When that happened, we were to proceed as normal, but very slowly, and I was to notify him and a coworker was to call the police immediately.

This was certainly not going to be a routine day at the office. Tensions were running high. At around noon the guy walked in. I referred him to one of the agents. I quietly got up and went to the manager’s office to inform him. Then I sat back down at my desk and pretended to work. The manager walked toward the front door. I think the guy picked up on our nervousness, so he leaped up and ran for the exit. The manager was blocking his way and they got into a scuffle. This was right in front of my desk. I was paralyzed with fear. I remember seeing the sweat on the guy’s forehead and his wild eyes as he struggled to get out the door.

Finally he made good his departure, with my manager right on his heels. This was no mean feat because my manager walked with a cane. He proceeded to use the metal tip of that cane to smash in the guy’s windshield as he drove away. The police were taking this guy seriously. They broke out the helicopter for this one, and he was finally apprehended, still in the car, plane ticket in hand, his lap covered with broken glass.

We were all asked to write police reports. My adrenaline was still pumping, but I wrote a detailed report. (I can never be accused of being lost for words.) I was the person who got closest to the man. I saw him sweat. The fight happened mere feet from me. I described him as having light brown, curly hair, blue eyes, and a sort of medium complexion. I said he was about 6 feet tall, and wearing jeans and a light colored t-shirt.

The next day the story was all over the news. It included the guy’s mug shot. He had straight, dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. He had a swarthy complexion and he was about 5’8”. In the news footage he had been wearing a dark shirt and khaki pants. I was wrong in every single detail. So much for my observation skills. Fortunately my coworkers descriptions were closer to the truth, and yet not 100 percent accurate either.

About a year later the case finally came to trial. The prosecutor asked me to testify. I called her and said I now lived in a different city, but I would gladly cooperate. However, I asked her if she had read my police report. I told her that based on my description I might not be the best witness for the case. She agreed. She told me she’d let me know if she changed her mind, but that she wouldn’t be needing me at this time after all. Good call.

The man was convicted of his crimes. even though he didn’t look anything like I thought, I am sure they got the right man. His finger prints were all over several of those fraudulent plane tickets.

Ever since then, I have never taken eyewitness testimony seriously. I think of myself as an observer of the world, and if I can screw something up that dramatically, anyone can. Food for thought.

silhouette-of-man-and-woman-face-to-face-sami-sarkis

Darkness Revealed

When I drive to work at night it’s a completely different experience than when I work a day shift. Even the nuclear power plant, normally a blight upon the landscape, looks beautiful. It is all lit up and floating in a sea of blackness like a nighttime cruise heading for the Bahamas.

The traffic flow is different as well. There’s less of it, and although it seems like a more lawless group of drivers, and definitely a more alcohol-soaked one, it feels safer. This is a dangerous illusion that requires one to be on the alert.

Criminals rule the night, or at least that is what Hollywood would have us believe. So there’s also this underlying sense of excitement and danger. Most people who are out at night are there either because they have no choice or they like the thrill and the atmosphere or they don’t have the sense to be vigilant. Or they are predators who are up to no good. And since these people can’t be told apart, you have to assume the worst.

What I like about the dark hours is the sense of isolation. Even though there are still the same number of humans on the planet, somehow at night you can often feel as if you have it all to yourself. What a luxury. I look up at the sky and revel in the quiet and imagine that all those stars are a part of me. We are star stuff, after all. I seem to breathe easier at night. I feel embraced by it. I’m where I’m supposed to be.

It takes a certain amount of faith to feel safe at night. You are, after all, being deprived of one of your senses. Anything could be in the darkness. Anything at all. You can’t really be sure. There’s so much out there that you can’t see. Everything is hidden from you, and there’s quite a lot of it.

Indeed, that feeling of abundance can overtake our senses. At night we become more. More romantic, more fearful, more uninhibited, more exuberant, or more lonely and depressed. People hate to be alone on a Friday night. You never hear them complain about being alone on a Friday afternoon.

The nighttime feels like an grand entity that the daytime can never even hope to become. It takes a special effort to overcome that prehistoric desire to hide, to hibernate, to wait out the darkness. But if you make the effort, you often reap rare and sensual rewards.

magritte4119Magritte

Security Guard Blues

Times being what they are, I was feeling the need to expand my career skills, and Security Guard work seemed the way to go. As the economy gets worse, crime goes up. As crime goes up, there’s more need for security. That was my thinking, anyway. Here in Florida, even unarmed guards must take a week of training to get licensed.

The first day of security guard class was surreal. The place was locked, so we were all waiting in the hallway. Then this guy comes in wearing a sleeveless vest over his polo shirt, and the vest was covered in patches. Auto patches, swiss army knife patches, things like that. And he said, “If you’re here for security guard school, follow me. March!” And I’m thinking, “Okay…” And it’s just me and three other students. The first guy I’m calling KGB. He’s this big Arnold Schwarzenegger- sized Russian guy who doesn’t say anything. Then there’s another guy I’m calling Bull Dog. He’s retired Marine. Then there’s the guy I’m calling “Twitch”. Now Twitch worries me. He’s fresh out of Afghanistan with such a bad case of PTSD that the poor guy practically jumps out of his skin if you even sneeze. And he keeps asking the instructor how much deadly force he can use in various scenarios. And then there’s little ol’ me. WHAT THE HECK HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO????

The class was predictably easy, but it was often an assault to my sensibilities. The instructor peppered every lesson with personal stories that often had nothing to do with the subject at hand, and were almost always offensive. For example, stories about how his wife, the “little woman” is such a bad driver that she can’t be trusted. How he thinks having to teach a sexual harassment module is ridiculous, but he has to make “those politically correct types” happy. But he just HAD to show us a hilarious foreign commercial in which a father was worried about his son because he played with Barbie dolls, but he grew up and was lying in bed with two blonds. Whew! What a relief. Oh and those damned Democrats! Don’t get him started on them!

Twitch and Bulldog were eating this stuff up with a spoon. KGB, I suspect, didn’t understand a word that was being said. During the first aid module the instructor was giving medical advice that is contrary to all current medical thinking, and he was drawing from his experience in war time. He suggested that you write what treatment you performed on the victim’s forehead, even if the patient was still conscious and was likely to remain so! As if a helicopter would drop out of the sky at any moment and whisk them away. Can you imagine how well that would go over? “Sit still, ma’am, while I write on your forehead.”

Once I figured out that the class was really all about celebrating what a hero, what a raconteur, what a guru, what an all-around great guy the instructor was, I was able to just disassociate myself from all of it, pay the hundred bucks, get through the week, and get my license. We all did. Even KGB.

License in hand, I quickly discovered that Security Guards in this state are paid for shit. It would cost me more to get to work than I’d earn while there. Never thought I’d say this, but I’m better off being a bridgetender! But before I discovered that, I did go on one disastrous interview. It was for a gate guard at a gated community. I pulled up at the gate and they told me to pull through, do a u-turn, park across the street and come in for the interview. I’m halfway through the u-turn when I see a Mercedes barreling toward me. So I try to speed up the turn to get out of the way, and my old land yacht takes out a plastic decorative light post with a big glass globe, which, of course, shatters into a million pieces. I pull into the parking space and I have one of those interior conversations. Maybe they didn’t notice. But if they did, and I don’t speak up, I definitely do not get the job. But if I do speak up, I probably won’t get the job. Oh, hell.

So I walk in and say, “In the interests of good first impressions, I just took out your lamp post.” Crickets. Okay, so no sense of humor at all. That’s good to know. We spent the next 10 minutes filling out an incident report. I considered making a quip about instant on the job training, but thought better of it.

Then he asked me if I had any military experience. “No? Oh, then you won’t make a good security guard. You probably wouldn’t know the difference between day patrols and night patrols.” “Does this job include patrol duties?” No. Then I told him my experience dealing with the public, and working traffic accidents and dealing with the criminal element on the bridge. And I told him the time an old lady got stuck on the rising bridge and I had to rescue her from the equivalent of an 80 foot cliff. (That’s a story for a later blog entry, come to think of it.) He scoffed at that, and said that was something any good Samaritan might do, but that wasn’t security guard material. Mind you, this is a man who had seen my resume and called ME to drive an hour for this interview in the first place.

At that point it was fairly obvious I wasn’t going to get the job (to my everlasting relief), but he asked if I had questions, so I asked about benefits. That sent him off on a rant about “obamacare” and how none of these people (indicating the staff who were across the room, listening to every word) deserve health care. His face turned beet red and spittle was flying from his mouth.

I left there feeling as if I was crawling out of the rabbit hole. I don’t think Security is the field for me. I could never be that humorless or self-obsessed.