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Teenage Lament '94

The Unholy Trinity of Teenage Outlaws

By Chris ZPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 5 min read
"You guys pull a job tonight?!"

Teenage Lament ‘94

The year was 1994. Most members of my clique, me included, were still months from turning 18. We were too young to imbibe spirits, and the pool hall we frequented disallowed minors after 9pm. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.

Matt and I bussed tables at the same sushi joint. An unseasonable cold snap kept business at bay. We clocked out an hour earlier than normal.

We knocked on Josh’s door. Cell phones had yet to achieve ubiquity, so dropping in on a friend wasn’t quite the faux pas it is today. On his mom’s orders, Josh had spent the evening cleaning out his closet, possibly for the first time ever. One relic he’d earmarked for disposal was a wrestling-themed board game.

Matt, Josh, and I took to the streets. Absent more favorable options, we defaulted to petty theft to pass the time. This wasn't the first time. However, we never stole things of value, monetary or otherwise. To us, kitsch dictated worth. We stole flashing lights from construction barricades. We once claimed a gas pump rent from its mooring by an absent-minded motorist.

We cased South Florida’s Sawgrass Mills Mall which, back then, was an inkling of the monolith it's since become. We set our sights on a vinyl banner heralding Wendy’s incipient debut. I led the charge. The scrawny rope tethering it to two palms weathered my assault unfazed. Matt, Josh, and I then tugged on it in tandem until our hands screamed from rope burn. When that gambit failed, Matt, our trio’s sturdiest specimen, rushed it at full speed. It repelled his effort effortlessly. His agitation waxing, Matt hung from it for a full minute. The narrow nylon rope bore his burden with aplomb. Each new failure shed additional light on the pointlessness of our pursuit. Alas, we piled back into Matt’s Buick and started off, homeward bound.

The cop car came from nowhere, its headlights off, its sirens silent. However, numerous concrete curbs stood between it and us. I alerted my compeers to its approach. Matt and Josh nearly soiled themselves. Hardened by a boyhood arrest for swimming in a neighbor’s pool sans permission, I took point. I hipped Matt to the nearest egress, hoping we’d reach it before the law’s long arm reached us. We didn’t.

Cherries and berries bloomed. Officer Overzealous, as we would come to know him, ordered us out of the car, fingers interlaced. He beckoned us to walk backward, one at a time, toward his black and white. We were made to sit Indian style on asphalt, our backs to his car’s bumper. He ran Matt’s plate. He ran our names. Both checks yielded bupkis. The ordeal should have ended there.

Matt and I routinely wore dew rags on our heads while working. These wraps kept sweat out of our eyes and hair out of guests' cuisine. Matt hadn’t removed his, mine hung from my pocket. Despite our kerchiefs’ differing distinctly in color, the COP dogmatically declared them “gang garb.” I set him straight. He wanted to call me a liar, but was hard pressed to do so, as Matt and I were wearing matching work shirts bearing our employer’s name and address. I assured him that we were not, in fact, members of a suburban white boy gang named “Sushi Central.”

He frisked us nose to toes. Matt’s pockets bore no fruit, neither did mine. Josh’s pockets, in contrast, proved a treasure trove of evidentiary articles. Unfortunately for Deputy Fife, none of them evinced crime. Before punch fisting Josh’s pockets, he asked if Josh had anything to declare. Josh confessed to packing a knife his father had gifted him in adolescence. The sight of it deflated Officer O to the same degree that learning parole dates don’t apply to psych patients deflates McMurphy in “Cuckoo’s Nest.” The blade was on par with that of a wine key. Nevertheless, he persisted, soon finding a second suspicious something: A 2-inch-tall figurine of a buff black man in tights, aggressively postured. Unable to make sense of what he was seeing, he queried Josh, “What is this?” Sober and sincere, Josh replied, “That’s the Junk Yard Dog, Sir.” I hope there’s a Heaven, as maintaining my composure in that moment surely earned me my place.

The comedy of errors had clearly reached its crescendo. I rose to my feet in anticipation of our imminent release. Only then did I realize that Officer O was law enforcement’s answer to Monty Python’s Black Knight. He read me the riot act for my perceived flippancy, stating that he reserved the right to arrest us on any number of charges including but not limited to criminal mischief.

He sought permission to search Matt’s car. Matt waved his 4th Amendment protections over my mumbled objections. The lawman scrubbed Matt’s ride like a CSI tech, finding paydirt in the last place he looked. Weeks earlier, Matt had worn a clown mask while claiming his order from a drive-through. Said facade had since descended into the caliginous concavity beneath his seat. Galvanized, Top Cop hoisted his find like a literal smoking gun before trumpeting: “You guys pull a job tonight?!” You read that right, this rogue Keystone Cop concluded that, prior to loitering in an empty lot, we’d carried out a legitimate criminal caper. I literally laughed out loud at his spot-on impression of a mid-90s Jim Carrey portraying an overzealous lawman.

By that point, one hour had passed since this “Reno 911!” LARP began. The evening’s cold spell had hardened into what felt like a deep freeze. His purported right to arrest us on one or more trumped-up charges had diminished in its intimidatory capacity with each reiteration. I spoke up, “Quit fishing and call this in. Ask what crimes occurred in the last few hours, and if any of them involved three white males wearing one mask. If so, were two of the three suspects wearing matching blouses? Did the suspects abscond in a rusty rattletrap? If so, you’ve got us dead to rights. If not, you’ve got nothing.”

While he remained committed to his cause, Deputy Dawg’s passion for it was waning. None of us had warrants. Matt’s license, insurance and registration were all in order. Pat-downs had produced nothing. We’d not brought the banner any harm. We were pulling out when he pulled up so, at best, he’d caught us not stealing a sign!

His Hail Mary was Matt’s trunk. Matt promptly gave him the go-head to search it. The trunk lid on Matt’s twelve-year-old jalopy worked only when it wanted to. That night, it didn't want to. Top Cop tried force, finesse, and finagling, but the lock would not budge. Bordering on despair, he instructed Matt to take over. Matt made several manifestly sincere attempts to pop the lid, all to no avail. Alas, Officer Out-of-His-Depth cut the unholy trinity of teenage outlaws loose.


That cop came within a hair’s breadth of hitting paydirt. For months, we’d been filching street signs, garden gnomes, flowerpots, et al, and stowing them in Matt’s trunk. Had he unearthed our treasure, the time and effort he’d poured into his one-man witch hunt alone would have compelled him to collar us. Even if an 11th-hour change of heart struck him, the Louisville Slugger we often beat inanimate objects to a bloodless pulp with would have quashed it. Though I’ve long since lost my religion, I still tip an occasional nod to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of petty thieves, for watching out for us that night!

Teenage years

About the Creator

Chris Z

My opinion column garnered more reader responses than any other contributor in the paper's 40-year run. As a stand-up comic, I performed in 16 countries & 26 states. I've written 2 one-man shows, umpteen poems, songs, essays & chronologies.

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