And then there was the time a friend and I were arrested for being Peeping Toms.
Now, to be fair to my already diminished reputation among decent people, I should note that we were innocent of any crime. Yes, I know “I didn’t do it,” is what guilty people say, but it’s also what innocent people say. It’s Schrodinger’s Plea.
I should also clarify that we were arrested in the sense that we were stopped and taken to the police station without having any choice in the matter. It’s not exactly like the cop said, “Hey, you guys wanna come down to the station with me? Totally your call.” Nope, he did not say this or anything like it, unless you consider, “Get in the car,” to be a request.
Anyway, to the story… We were home on summer break and we planned to get together one evening with no particular plans in mind. I was at a cousin’s house, so we came up with the goofy idea—which, I swear, seemed really sensible at the time—to drop my car off at my parents’ house and walk back to where his car was parked. Then he would drive me back to my parents’ house, drop me off and go home.
No, looking back on it, I can’t come up with any reason why this seemed like an enjoyable experience, or why it appeared to make sense, except we were exceedingly lame, but not lame enough for miniature golf.
So we drove to my folks’ house, dropped my car, and started what was going to be a 5-mile walk back to his car. (As I type this, it sounds even stupider than it sounded when I typed it in the last paragraph, as if such supreme stupidhood is possible.) Anyway, at about the midway point in our amble, a suburban squad car rolls up and the cop asks us what we’re doing.
This is where the cop should have known we were innocent, because even the dumbest of the dumb among criminals could come up with a better story than, “We’re walking five miles from my car to his car, so we can drive back in his car to drop me off by my car.”
The cop says a woman called in a Peeping Tom complaint from a nearby motel and he wanted to know if we had been in the area. The reason he was curious, he said, was that the woman described the peepers as a Mutt & Jeff combo and we fit the bill. Being the Mutt part of this pairing, I was slightly offended, although it was hard to argue that I didn’t need to drop a few pounds.
He takes us in his car to the cop house (which is what we hardened criminal types call the police station) and puts us in a room where he asks questions. No, we’re not under arrest, he says, although we can’t leave, either, and there’s no need to call a lawyer, or dad, because we haven’t been charged with anything.
I’m taking all of this really, really seriously, since I presume this to be a crime of moral turpitude and it could blemish my reputation, if I ever got the chance to build a reputation. It’s one of those things that would absolutely go on my permanent record and follow me through life.
Ever since grade school, I had been warned about things going on my permanent record, which was chiseled in stone and locked up in the principal’s office, documenting everything you did wrong…ever. Like when it was the student assembly and you farted and Billy Kamden laughed and some of his spit landed on Sally Wunderlich and then everyone started laughing and now you can’t get good job, because they will look at your permanent record and see that you farted in the school assembly and ruined it for everyone.
And now we’re stuck in the police station and they’re going to add Peeping Tom to the whole farting thing and I would never get a good job or drive a cool car or even be allowed to order a pizza.
So, as I said, I’m taking this really seriously, but my friend had just a bit of disdain for everyone who was not at his level of brilliance, so he mouthed off more than a bit to the constabulary. It was like we were playing a game of good suspect, bad suspect, but at least I was the nice guy.
About a half hour goes by and they move us into another room, a room with a large mirror on the wall. Hmmmm. What could be behind that mirror? The cops have us sit there, someone has a conversation in the next room, and the senior cop comes in to tell us they are going to have to let us go because the woman was unable to identify us.
He didn’t say that we were innocent, of course. Clearly, we were guilty, since my friend was tall and I was fat and we were walking near the scene of the crime. The words he used were, “She couldn’t identify you,” which meant we were guilty but we were going to get off because of a technicality.
After a while, they agreed to take us back to where they picked us up, which was still about two miles from where had been going, and we were let out of the car with a warning not to do it again. Because it was clear to them that we had done it and we had gotten lucky, but we wouldn’t be so lucky next time. That also meant they weren’t going to look for the actual Peeping Toms. They found their perps, it didn’t work out, but this case was closed.
We really dodged a bullet that night. What if the woman had been drinking and we looked familiar enough for her to accuse us? What if she had simply assumed the police had done their jobs, so we must be the guys who looked through her window? We’d be running around today with arrest records, possibly convictions, and the minor consolation of knowing it all happened before Facebook.
I’ve thought about that night quite a few times over the years, recognizing how close we were to a very damaging journey. The memory is triggered, often enough, when someone is accused of a crime and claims to be innocent. Having been on the wrong side of the table, I find myself more skeptical of the criminal justice system. I give the cops the benefit of the doubt, most of the time, but they don’t get my blind faith.
I’ve also given some thought to the decisions we made that night. After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that miniature golf was not our lamest choice.
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.