If Oregon code 131.125 is taken into account, the statute of limitations on this particular crime has long since passed. This allows me to speak openly and in detail–without concern of incriminating myself or my accomplice–in a way that would stir up the Oregon DA to open its drawer of unsolved crimes, give the media reason to drag my name through the ringer and cause shame-by-association to my wife or friends.
The truth is that, at one point, I was a burglar. Not the cool, acceptable kind of burglar with a black hat, black mask and striped prison garb whose only joy stems from stealing Quarter Pounders, Big Macs and other food stamp-priced burgers devoid of nutrients. No, I was just a no-good, soulless, morally bankrupt house burglar whose life had been on its way to one of ruin and prison brawls—the kind of fate that would be a lot to handle for anyone.
But, it was even harder for me. I was only 4!
Most of my days back then were spent with my loving, funny and nurturing babysitter, TV. Since the majority of the kids on the block were of school age, my default, weekday best-friend was a girl named Carrie (the only other child around my age). With a mussed-up bowl cut, grungy clothes handed down from her brother and what seemed like a perpetual smudge of something or other on her face, Carrie was a cross between a butchy Huck Finn and a less-charming Scout Finch.
On this particular day, I was sitting on the curb in front of our house using my finger to mix one of the many pools of Rainbow Water that would periodically and mysteriously appear all along our street. As I wondered what magical properties Rainbow Water held when tasted, Carrie came by on Pretty Beauty, her invisible horse. “You wanna to go for a ride with us?” she asked.
“No, my mom said I’m not a’spost to.” This was lie. The truth was, I had tried to ride on Pretty Beauty once before, but Carrie kept yelling at me (‘You’re goin’ too fast! You’re gonna hurted her feet!’ ‘You’re pulling-ed too hard on the strings and making her cry!’ ‘Don’t ride on the sidewalk! The sidewalk is the ocean and she’ll drown by sharks!’) “I can wide my owned horse,” I offered.
“Your horse is mean and’ll stab Pretty Beauty!”
Although I’d never actually had an invisible horse, Carrie knew the truth all too well: my horse was a real dick. Had an invisible veterinarian walked by, at that moment, I would have made the choice to put my unimagined imaginary horse down, then and there. That may sound cruel, but it would have been selfish of me to put other invisible horses at risk because my horse had a tendency to stab.
“Wanna go see Brian?” she asked. Brian was an older boy, 6, who lived a few houses over and whose mother let us neighborhood kids eat whatever snacks she had available: ice cream, soda, chocolate and what always seemed like a bottomless box of Saltines. We could go through a sleeve of crackers and a jar of peanut butter in the same time it took my sister to see me and say, “Go away.”
I reminded Carrie that Brian was at school, so we had to wait for him to come home. “He’s not at school,” she said. “He gots a cold from being sick and has to blow his nose. We should visit because he’s by his-self.”
“Where’s his mom?”
Carrie shrugged and that was enough to convince me that Brian was desperately in need of our company. We hurried over, both of us running.
NOTE: For those readers emotionally attached to Pretty Beauty (and, let’s be honest, who isn’t?), I apologize for her ambiguous disappearance, but just assume that she was placed into an invisible stable with all the oats and Rainbow Water she wanted.
I reached for the doorbell, but Carrie told me not to. “He said don’t ringed the doorbell ‘cuz he’s asleep.”
The sliding glass door in the back yard was locked. Carrie, much more resourceful and determined than me when it came to visiting sick friends, got down on her hands and knees and entered through the pet door. Despite the door being used strictly by the family cat, Carrie requested (‘requested’ in much the same way drill sergeants request recruits to do 200 push-ups over a pile of soiled jockstraps) that I pant and whine like a puppy while I used the pet door. I was a really good at being a puppy.
I went to Brian’s room, but he was not there. “He must’ve went to the doctor,” Carrie said. “But I ‘member he said to eat stuff before we leave.”
While I was uncomfortable being in an empty home, I could not resist free snacks. After all, Brian practically begged us to help ourselves, right?
After the umpteenth (I couldn’t count, yet) Saltine with peanut butter, I began to realize that what we were doing was wrong. Moments later, a very sad me-puppy, unable to give anything but an insincere bark, went back out through the pet door.
I didn’t wait for Carrie. I ran home as fast I could, trying to outrun the feelings of guilt and remorse that were biting at my heels. I slowly opened the front door to our house and tiptoed inside. My mom waved to me from the kitchen where she stood talking on our yellow wall phone.
Oh my god. My mom…was on…the phone. It was obvious to me that the police had called. “Mrs. Calahan, we have some bad news about your son. – No, ma’am. It’s worse. He’s going to jail for stealing. – Saltines, ma’am. And peanut butter. – Yes, that big, scary jail in that movie you watched yesterday.”
It wasn’t long (or maybe it was. I couldn’t tell time, yet, either) before my mom hung up the phone with Detective Somename, the man in charge of really bad kids who should’ve done the right thing and ridden an invisible horse. She took a step toward me with a sweet smile, and then froze in confusion as I broke into a banshee-like wail. Kneeling down to check me for open wounds, she asked, “What’s wrong? Are you okay? Tell me what happened.”
Through the tears streaming down my face and other fluids running from my nose, I explained in great detail what had happened. “Carrie and *sniff * Brian *drool* school *cough* puppy *long sniff* ate crackers an’ *choke* I’m sorry *struggle for breath* my horse *gasp* don’ wanna *spit away tears* jail *freak the &$@% out*.
Fortunately, my mom was fluent in the language of Tearsandsnot and actually understood what I was trying to say. She calmed me down and reassured me I would not serve any prison time (something quite rare amongst those with the last name of Calahan, actually) and soothed me with a glass of milk. From the kitchen window, she saw someone passing by and waved for them to come in. She stood at the front door and talked quietly (conspiratorially?) with the mystery person. Then, “Michael, can you come over here for a moment?”
Hesitantly, I went to the front door and there stood Brian’s mom. I knew there was no reason to attempt a lie because I’d already admitted everything to my mom. I also knew there was no chance of my taking to a fugitive’s life on the lam because I was not allowed to go off our block without supervision. Defeated and destined for a life as a beefed-up and tattooed member of a prison yard gang, I collapsed onto the linoleum of our entryway in an unholy mixture of tears and guilt.
Brian’s mom gently picked up the moist and sticky mess that was me from the floor. She told me that everything was going to be fine, that I wasn’t in trouble and that she wasn’t mad. “Next time, just wait until we’re home.” That was the closest thing to a reprimand I ever got.
So, there it is. My confession.
Do I regret the infamous Saltine Caper? Of course! I mean, I was this close (by ‘this close’, I imagine a rope being stretched between Hong Kong and, say, the moon) to life in prison. And who’s to say how many cartons of cigarettes it would cost a thug to procure just one Saltine with peanut butter.
If by chance I am ever invited to your home and you happen to serve Saltines with peanut butter and we find ourselves reaching for the same cracker, just remember this: I have already risked prison for Saltines. So, do yourself a favor, look into my cold, dead eyes and ask yourself, “Is this really someone I wanna mess with?”
Well, is it, punk?