In many ways, Jen and I are a great match. However, there is one particular set of attributes that she and I possess that are about as complimentary as glass shards and birthday cake. This becomes painfully apparent to us when our car is stolen, and just as suddenly recovered a few miles from our house.
Jen is a person whose greatest fear is being framed for a heinous crime. While walking through a retail store, she will carefully note the security cameras, and be sure that both her hands are visible from their vantage point as she passes by, lest store security confront her for shoplifting. She is certain that Moustachioed Security Agents lurk in hidden rooms watching her from behind mirrored glass. Surely they remark to one another in a knowing tone: “better keep an eye on that one.” Once, when we coincidentally ran into some friends in Tucson for the second time in two days, Jen greeted them with nervous laughter and an insistent, “we’re not stalking you or anything!” More than once, upon making a new acquaintance, she has seen fit to clarify that “we’re not killers or anything.” Now, there’s a fine how-do-you-do.
I, on the other hand, am a person whom all figures of authority assume is up to something nefarious. It is as if I have a mark only visible to the trained eye of Law Enforcement which identifies me as a first-order criminal of the worst sort. This is compounded by the fact that I cannot stop myself from making snide remarks to anyone who would seek to detain me, especially Moustachioed Security Agents. It’s a perverse defense mechanism. I immediately adopt a belligerent attitude and hurl sardonic, double-edged answers designed to point out both my own irreverence for their authority and the officer’s hypocrisy and stupidity for trifling with me.
This works so well, that I once got cited for DUI while I was neither drunk nor driving. I was standing outside of my car at a gas station with a friend (who really was drunk) when a motorcycle cop appeared and insisted that I had made an improper left turn. I probably had, but since my friend and I were both standing outside of the car, not having driven for several minutes, and since I am the son of an argumentative defense attorney, I challenged him: “How do you know it was me?”
“Step over here, son.”
Another time, an officer of the peace who pulled me over in Delaware for having a tail light out asked if I had any guns or drugs in the car. When I answered “no,” he said “well, there’s one in every car.” My mouth once again overrode my brain and delivered this gem: “Well who are you riding with, officer?”
“Step out of the car son.”
Once, I didn’t even get the chance to deliver a single bon mot. Obliviously, I got out of my
car and turned to see a policeman with his pistol trained directly at my head! I hadn’t even seen him or said a word. He had “forgotten” to turn his lights on, but he was damn sure I was up to something.
And so, when Jen is in the presence of me and a police officer, she wants nothing more than to run. I can see it in her eyes, hear it in her nervous laugh. She knows that they are seconds from hauling her off to jail simply for knowing me. I, in turn, know that they are looking for even the slightest reason to haul me off to jail, and I am poised to zing them with an incisive witticism as they perp-tuck me into the squad car. “Hey, is it illegal for me not to have a seat-belt on back here?” I might quip as they slam the door and speed me away to the hoosegow.
When we discover that Jen’s car is missing from our garage, we of course call the police. It has been many years since any of the above-mentioned episodes, and I no longer have blue hair or the belligerent swagger of my younger, stupider days. I assume that fatherhood and married domesticity have transformed me from a ne’er-do-well scofflaw into someone who exudes upstanding citizenry.
The initial report goes well enough, or so I think. It is obvious that the car-napper has entered our garage through an open window, and absconded with Jen’s little blue ride some time in the night. We give the facts of our whereabouts on the previous evening which, innocently enough, include a 7-year old’s birthday party. Later that day, the officer who visited our house calls to say that the car has been located alongside the road a few miles from our house. She and the second attending officer ask if I can come out to the scene. Since both our car seats are in the stolen car, Jen stays behind with Max while I go to reclaim our vehicle.
As I examine the scene, it becomes apparent that we’re dealing with an amateur. First, not only has Jen’s car come unstolen, but the Einstein behind the wheel has gotten it stuck in the dirt. Second, even though the tires are dug well into the dirt, our criminal mastermind has pulled the emergency brake, undoubtedly leaving some easy-to-lift fingerprints. Third, they have left behind a set of keys to another car: oops! Lastly, they stole nothing. Not the stereo, not the CDs, nothing. Then, as if to protect the unstolen goods, our Evil Genius locks the car and flees on foot. As car thefts go, this ranks among the worst of all time. It might, more charitably, be interpreted as a performance art piece. If only it had occurred in a dorm room full of collegiate hipsters, there could have been raucous applause.
The weirdness of it all, and my solo presence unmitigated by Jen’s aura of innocence seems to trigger the usual response in the officers. Their gazes become hardened as they begin to question me. They definitely think that I have something to do with this.
“Are you sure there’s nothing you’re not telling us?”
I feel like a volcano about to erupt hot magma of derisive opprobrium. There are so many possibilities!
Don’t say it.
“I mean it does look pretty weird. Maybe you ran the car off the road…”
Keep. Your. Mouth. Shut….
“You know, grand theft auto is a felony. I mean, if it comes out that you’re not telling the truth, you could go to jail. Someone’s definitely going to jail.”
Miraculously, for the first time in my entire life, I keep my cool. At one point, they even suggest that perhaps I was sleepwalking. Sleep driving! Though a razor sharp stream of snarky invective fills the reservoir just behind my tongue, somehow I just stick to the facts.
I remain cooperative, helpful, and humble. Not a single skein of sarcasm bursts forth. Truly, I am the man of steel.
Still, these keen seers of hidden malfeasance are unconvinced. They impound the car and refer the case to the force detectives who surely will find that somehow, I am at fault. I can imagine the headline in the Prescott Daily Courier: Man Steals Own Car – Motive Unclear. They even return to our house to take pictures and threaten us with the dreaded polygraph test! At this juncture, her worst fears rapidly materializing right before her eyes, Jen nearly faints.
All night, into the next day, Jen frets. At the worst end of the spectrum loom large questions: What will become of our family? How can this happen to us? Who will raise Max while we’re in prison? On the slightly more rational end of the spectrum: What if I fail the polygraph test? What if the Evil Criminal Mastermind comes back to kill us in our sleep? What if we have to endure more of his obtuse performance art?
Finally, mercifully, the responding officer calls to let us know that we can pick up our car from the impound lot. Apparently, they have collected all the evidence they need. So for now, we are free and we have our car back. That is, at least until they file charges. I wonder what the sentencing minimum is for criminal sleep-driving.