Every now and then, someone perusing this space with access to my ear will ask: Did that really happen? I expect that same question occasionally crosses the mind of those without the luxury of addressing me directly, so I’ll tell you what I tell them: most of it is mostly true, with some embellishment; same is straight-up gospel, and some is utterly fanciful. Even that latter whole-cloth stuff has a kernel of truth to it, though. So yes, it is possible that a complete and utter fucktard can blunder through life ignoring laws, social conventions, basic health and safety guidelines, well-meaning advice, street signs, dire warnings, punishments, and his own conscience, and still emerge relatively unscathed. That’s relative to the degree of detriment and insalubrity inflicted on me.
My blue-book value probably equates to a 15-year-old Camry about to roll over for the second time, but as many of my peers — and by peers I mean people thickheaded enough to try living like this far beyond the boundaries of good sense — are either gibbering idiots or actively decomposing, I’ll call that a win.
The following account is of the cross-my-heart variety, and one I’ve considered telling for a while but was unsure about relating because of my ignorance of the shelf-life of federal law. I know most of the paltry offenses I commit are forgiven, or at least unpunishable, after two to four years by dint of the statute of limitations of the State o’ California, but who knows about the Feds? They have a lot more resources, staff, and time on their hands, and are likely to be just vindictive enough to come after me for a six and a half year old lark, if I know the United States of America, and I think I do. However, a trip to the law library assured me that I am in fact home free, about which I have mixed feelings. The citizen in me thinks such exclusions are unfair and people should be held accountable regardless of time elapsed, while the criminal in me says, “Woo-hoo!”
But anyway. I had entered into a songwriting venture with a retired sheriff’s deputy who was trying to drink himself to death, which turned out to be not near as much fun as it sounds. His gloomy and morbid mien was starting to get to me, musical skill notwithstanding, so one morning I kicked the sole of his boot as he lay sleeping on the living room floor with his head in the fireplace.
“Leland, I’m outta here,” I said. “You’re depressing the hell out of me, and I suggest you call your sponsor and get your ass to a meeting. I forgo all claim to the work we’ve done, unless we have a hit, in which case… Aw, screw it. Are you even understanding me?”
“Graaaahk,” said Leland, really putting some sinus into it.
“I thought as much. Adios, Mr. Morose?” I said, picking up my guitar. Leland lived way out to southern hell-and gone by the Humane Society and I was afoot, so I had a long trek down the length of State Street before me on a grim slate-gray Sunday morning. Nothin’ to it but to do it, I thought, and set off with a spring in my step and a song on my lips for my next adventure.
By the time I reached the skating rink the pep in my step had diminished considerably and ol’ Betsy was dragging my shoulder down. I shifted her to the other side and continued manfully on, trudging now in the manner of death-march participant and actively praying for some divine intercession to alleviate my suffering. I still had miles to go before reaching what I considered civilization, basically anything north of Washington, and I was leaking stamina like water from a rusted-out bucket when my prayers were answered, albeit more in the Greek careful-what-you-wish-for, gotcha! Manner than the benevolent Christian deliverance of the deserving. My fault, really, for casting out my prayers scattershot with no specific deity in mind. My thinking is that it’s easier to hit a target with a handful of gravel than a single rock. If my entreaties should happen to reach the ears of one of the more mischievous or whimsical gods, it only adds to the piquancy of existence. Besides, Jesus has enough on his plate. Let Zoroaster or Loki shoulder some of the burden for a change.
I was on the west side of State, outside of an auto repair establishment, when something told me to go over to the building and investigate. On the side of the garage was a US Mail truck hooked up to a rolling battery charger. Further inspection revealed the key to be in the ignition. Interesting.
To all outward appearance the garage was closed. I climbed in the jeep, turned the key and was rewarded with a healthy, regular purr. I revved the engine a couple of times. Clearly, I wouldn’t be winning any drag races, but presuming the health of the rest of the drive train, it’d get me down the road. Not before the requisite debate between philosophically opposed shoulder-hopping homunculi, though.
“Look, it’d be a crime not to take this thing,” said the representative from the dark side. “This is a gift. The style points alone would be astronomical. You owe it to yourself and your legacy to confiscate this mail truck. Besides, you’re only borrowing it to get downtown. At most, the Postal Service will be out a buck or two in gas. Go for it, dawg.” He accentuated his point with a playful pitchfork poke to my neck.
“We will now hear from the gentleman in white,” I said.
“Your logic is flawless, as usual, and I respectfully concede,” he said, bowing toward his opposition. Cripes. No wonder I can’t stay out of jail.
I unhooked the charger, threw my guitar in back, and did a circuit of the parking lot to get a feel for the vehicle. The handling was a little spongy and the shocks rocky, but she seemed more or less healthy and ready for a shakedown cruise. I spun her out onto State and commenced my Sunday drive.
I briefly considered some options in the way of excuses should I get pulled over (“I found it,” “It’s a decommissioned unit,” “Where am I?”) but ultimately decided not to insult anyone’s intelligence, and simply enjoy being the #1 topic of conversation down at the station.
Down the nearly deserted street I putted, waving cheerily to the few southbound cars and trying to present as a mailman in mufti. A couple of blocks past Laws I spied a pedestrian on my right and as I got closer I recognized one of the local layabouts. I pulled over. “Need a lift, partner?” I said.
He looked at me, then for a longer beat at the vehicle, shrugged, and got in.
“Where you headed,” I said.
“Oh, you know, downtownish,” he said.
“That’s exactly where I’m going,” I said.
“Well, alright. Say, I could use a drink, how about you?”
“I had kinda set my cap for something a little more illuminating, but sure, that’ll do for a start.”
We went to the Safeway, got a couple of 40s of Mickey’s and cracked them there in the parking lot.
“Quite a ride you got here,” said my passenger.
“Yup. You wanna buy it?”
“I don’t know, fifteen bucks?”
“Is it hot?”
“Sir, I’m not going to insult your intelligence by responding to that question, though it seems you have no qualms about insulting mine. I was only kidding about selling it. There’s a little thing called the Postman’s Creed, ever heard of it? Rain, snow, gloom and doom — all that shit? The mail must go through, my man.”
He looked at me critically, chuckled softly and said, “You ain’t no mailman.”
“Bite your tongue, fool. The USPS wears many hats. You ever think about what a big job it is, getting all that mail delivered? Maybe a drunk guy out of uniform on a Sunday is a part of that.”
In borrowing the jeep it appeared I had also adopted the mailman’s mantle and with it the pride of the Postal Service.
“Yeah, alright,” said my passenger. “See ya, bro.” He walked off toward Gobbi, shaking his head.
I finished my stinger and wheeled back out onto State, feeling rather fine. I knew, in the way that takers of stupid, unnecessary risks sometimes do, that my luck would hold for a little while if I didn’t push it. I drove down to the School Street post office, parked on the side of the building, picked up my guitar and walked off down the street, feeling a little glow at having done the US government a solid favor by returning their vehicle to the maintenance yard. Hell, this may work out as a plus for them, I thought. That garage was certainly negligent in their custodial duties and would probably forgive the repair bill, at the very least.
The State o’ California, for a person of my criminal history, demands, a payment of three years for the crime of auto theft, plus of course the parolee factor and any prison prior enhancements. I don’t know about the federal government, but I assume they take a similarly dim view of the practice. The time I saved on my trek by appropriating the vehicle was roughly one hour. This sort of insane arithmetic – a net gain of 60 minutes, which I would undoubtedly subsequently waste in the normal aimless course of my day, weighed against several years jugged – may make some kind of twisted sense at the age of 20, when you’re definitely going to live forever, but at 50 is inexcusable. In retrospect, of course. Somehow I’m always able to convince myself at the time that not only am I thinking clearly, but doing the best possible thing for all parties involved. The mind is indeed a terrible thing.
On the plus side, I have the rare distinction to be one of the few people without a GS rating to pilot an actively commissioned postal jeep. Under the influence yet. Another qualifying entry on my criminal-nutjob CV!