My Night of Crime
This post is probably rated R, for language and for allusions to erotic art (NOT).
The item that attracted the most attention from my last "10 Things About Me" post, was the fact that I almost didn't get my high school diploma, on account of my criminal behavior. So I thought I'd tell the story . . .
It was nearing the end of senior year, at Central High (I'm not kidding), and there was a party. You must remember, my senior year is a lot more likely to show up on the History Channel than most of your senior years, so it's a bit hard for me to remember details, but I will try. It was at someone's parents' cabin in the woods, as I recall. And it was my first and probably last "wet T-shirt" contest. I remember claiming, with some conviction, that I was the winner. This was based on the very reasonable criteria that my T-shirt was the wettest. I remember something like hide-and-seek-and-sneakuponpeople-and-throwapotofwateronthem! That was fun, I don’t care who you are.
A couple of interesting things about this party. There were maybe 20 people there; I later learned that the group of us under police investigation was called the "Central 17" (it's a wonder folk songs haven't been written). There was, to my recollection, no alcohol or drugs at this party. And almost to a one, we were the good kids. The kids who had never given parents or teachers a moment's trouble. We were about to try to make up for lost time.
One of the boys, Jon, with the bright red hair, freckles and braces, was the mastermind. Even as I write that, I know I should have seen trouble coming. Jon obtained what he called "water-based paint," with which we were to go around the county painting insults and the like on the schools of Central's archrivals. Did I mention that we mostly were athlete, cheerleader, pep club, Student Council types? Yea. Did I mention that I drove my brother's van throughout much of high school? Yea. The gold one with the tinted windows, the padded floor and shag carpeting in the back, that would soon become known as the getaway car with the incriminating paint on the shag carpeting on the padded floor in the back.
Jon told us that "water-based" meant that the paint would be removed from any surface with a little soap and water. So that in the unlikely event we were to get caught, the worst that could happen was that we'd have to hose down the buildings we painted on.
After the wet and wild party, we loaded into our various vehicles and set out to the school near Horse Creek. They had recently built a huge, tremendously expensive enclosed pool. That enclosure looked to us like a blank canvas, baby. But there were people, adult-type people, hanging around. That was a stroke of luck for us. Had we ruined that new pool, we would have been up worse than Horse Creek. We proceeded to our next target, Beaver Creek. I'm not kidding. Our athletic rivals were the fighting Beavers of Beaver Creek High School. Could you BLAME us for wanting to vandalize their buck-toothed, wapping-tailed butts? (No offense, Bucky.)
We get there, and we divide up paint, brushes, etc., and set about painting things and stuff on the brick exterior of the school. What did we paint? Well, we painted words. Big words. No, not "impressive vocabulary" type big words, I mean big as in large size from top to bottom and side to side. No, the words themselves often consisted of only four letters. Bad words. That's what good Hillbillian kids paint on the walls the night they finally go ape-shit wild.
When we finished, we ran like wild, crazy savages through the field, laughing and yelling. I remember my best buddy running along side me, and we caught each other's eye just after we both noticed another classmate, Johnny, who wanted to be a mercenary when he grew up, thrashing wildly through the weeds with a machete as he whooped war whoops. In my mind, the look that my friend and I exchanged said these things: 1) Can you believe how exciting this is? 2 )Can you believe how stupid this is? And 3) Johnny is even crazier than we suspected. (If you went to Central with me, and you're reading this, did Johnny N. become a paid assassin?)
After we finished the painting, some kids went home. Some of us went back to the cabin first, to enjoy being scared to death together. I think all of us were smart enough to know how incredibly stupid we were. Adrenalin and adolescent group-think are a powerful combination.
The next morning, I surveyed my van. Van-Go, it was called. If anyone went looking for evidence, I was so busted. There was paint everywhere. I got some soapy water and went to work. OH. SHIT. That paint wasn't going anywhere. I went to the home of one of my good friends (hey, KT!) who had not been in on the, um, project. She was, and is, a woman of good sense. But still cool; very cool. I was too embarrassed, in the cold light of a May day, to confess to her. But I did tell her something like, "I heard some kids painted stuff all over Beaver Creek High School last night" . . . and I went on to describe some of the things that I had "heard" were painted there, including a crude euphemism for the female genitalia. Here, the conversation took a turn for the weird:
K: What color did they use?
S: I think white . . .
K: How big was it?
S: Oh, 'bout 2, maybe 3 feet high.
KT ponders this, then . . .
K: What was the angle . . .
K: I mean, did they show the legs, or . . .
S: What are you talking about?
K: The %u&&y.
S: NO! Not an actual %u&&y!!!! Just the WORD, %u&&y!
K: Oh. I thought you meant they drew one.
I don't even know if this conversation was funny to me then, but it certainly is, now. The truth is, for better or worse, neither the males nor the females in that troupe had enough up close and personal knowledge of anyone's %u&&y to render it three feet tall on brick!
The days that followed were tense. Seventeen teenagers cannot keep a secret. Especially when one of them is driving around in a paint-splattered van. And I just remembered, we had even gone to the trouble of painting something on the road in front of our own school, to throw The Man off our trail. That graffiti was a bit milder; as I recall, it said "[Assistant Prinicipal] is a fine feller; but [Principal] is a fart-smeller!" What can I say, we were new to being criminals.
The Sheriff and deputies made several visits to the school. I think it was the new girl in the group who cracked first, but I don't know for sure. I know at some point we were all hauled in, individually, then in small groups, and shown photographs of the carnage. A giant brick %u&&y in a photograph proffered by an officer of the law in the daytime looks SO MUCH more sinister than it does in person in the nighttime. Over a period of several days, we were all busted.
The principal said that we could not attend the graduation ceremony. A number of the best students and athletes in our class were among this "branded" group. Some teachers and some students were openly hostile toward us. We had "shamed" the school. I felt then pretty much the same way I feel now: I could have made a list of students AND teachers who had, indeed, shamed the school; and none of us %u&&y-painters would have been on it. I felt that there was tremendous over-reaction. Many threats were made, to our freedom, our finances, our scholarships, our acceptances to the colleges we were preparing to attend. In the end, no formal charges were filed, and at the very last minute, after we'd already arranged a separate diploma-dispensing at a local church, by a forgiving minister, they said we could graduate. Not everyone was happy. I was relieved. Our punishment was that we had to pay restitution. We had to pay to have Beaver Creek sandblasted, repaired, etc. This was, of course, fair. It came to a few hundred dollars for each of us. For some kids present, or rather, for their parents, that was pocket change. For some, it was a fortune. Mine was paid by me, not my parents, and it was, indeed, a fortune.
Oh, and we had to go to Beaver Creek and make a sincere, public apology. To the entire student body, faculty and staff. At an assembly. On the stage. We decided to have one spokesperson to deliver our heartfelt apology, while the rest of us sat in a row behind her and looked appropriately remorseful. Now, on this memory, I have not compared notes with anyone, but here is what I recall. The spokesperson was Tammy, A-student, future surgeon, cheerleader, always dressed-to-kill Tammy. And she wore an extremely low-cut dress, displaying cleavage that none of us, to my knowledge, had ever seen before. This was in the day before Miracles and Wonders (I'm talking bras here), and I don't know how she came up with that (literally), but I was most impressed. There was cleavage; there was red lipstick; and maybe I have embellished this moment in memory, but I swear I think she wore a big ol' hat, too. Now, the accessory that I am certain I recall accurately, and the one that I thought completed the "F-you" tone of the ensemble, was the pair of hickies on her neck. Many people had those things, back in the day; but you covered them up, for heaven's sake, you wore a turtleneck, or some makeup or something. That is, unless you were Tammy, spokesperson for the Central 17, making a formal apology to the Beaver Creek Beavers. THAT was some STYLE.
The Beavers did not appreciate our efforts. I believe we were booed. Booed by the Beavers, as we sat on their stage. Later that day, as I sold char-broiled burgers in Hardee's, two Beaver Creek athletes appeared in my line. I either found this funny, or I was nervous about it, because by the time they got to me I was giggling. Then they started laughing, too. One of them said, "You’re not a bit sorry." I told them it was nothing personal, that we meant them no harm, it was a joke that ended up much worse and more expensive than we'd intended. They said it was funny, and they would have done the same thing to our school if they'd thought of it. Free fries for you, Beavers!
The 25th class reunion was a couple of years ago, and although I did not attend, I understand that this incident was a topic of lively discussion. I was told that some were very happy to have been in on it; some thought it among the worst experiences of their lives. For me, it was certainly memorable. It was not among the worst experiences of my life.