I was on my way to visit the bustling metropolis of Leggett for the very first time, riding shotgun in an early-90s vintage Buick having the unfortunate color scheme so prevalent on GM cars of the period: that dark turquoise-y ext- and sand int-erior representing one of the many troughs on the graph of American automotive design. Not only was this beast as ugly as homemade sin, but some residual front-end trauma from an earlier collision had left it with an implacable yearning to travel due left of whatever direction it was heading, necessitating on the part of the driver a more active and physical role in maintaining forward progress. In fact, Lyle, the driver, had been wrestling this car down the road for so long that his right-side upper-body musculature was decidedly more pronounced than the left.
Another of Lyle's defining features was not so much that he had braces on his teeth in his late 20s, that being fairly common these days, but that he'd had them since he was a teenager and, having precipitously exited his family's bosom while still in the grip of orthodontia, had simply never bothered to get them off.
"Lyle," I said to him once, "I don't know much about orthodontia" — clearly, my own choppers being oriented rather haphazardly — "but just from a common-sense perspective, I would guess that the procedure has a finite timeline and incorporates a process of gradual tightening and adjustment to straighten your teeth. I don't think they're doing you much good unless you're trying to pass as a teenager, and all that crank you do has kinda put paid to that idea. Why'nt you let me take a crack at 'em? I got some needlenose right here."
"Shit, bro, I been tweaking so long I think they're the only thing holding my teeth on," he said. "I think I'll just leave 'em be."
That didn't make a ton of sense to me, and I thought probably the reverse seemed more likely, that the braces were slowly wrenching his teeth out, but decided to also leave it be.
We were going to Leggett on what even I, the reigning Crown Prince of bad decisions, considered a dubious mission. It seems a notorious child molester had been apprehended at his compound, where he would provide employment and apparently some added unconventional “benefits” for local youths, seized by the authorities, creating what Lyle termed an “ownership vacuum.”
"See, once they've hauled him off to jail, executed the search warrant, and taped off the perimeter, all that shit exists in a kind of limbo where we can just go and take it."
"Are you trying to tell me that this is legal?" I asked, reasonably.
"I don't know if l'd go that far, but there's legal and then there's legal, if you catch my drift," Lyle said.
"Not really. I mean, I get that there are questions of perspective and situation and justification that can determine shifting definitions of right and wrong, but I don't think the cops really operate that way. They have a pretty black-and-white view of what is and isn't permissible. It's even written down, in black and white. The Criminal Code. Besides, what about that crime scene tape you mentioned? It says right there, Police Line, Do Not Cross."
Lyle made a dismissive noise and said, "That's just for citizens who don't grasp the finer points."
"Look, I'm not saying I'm not down for whatever, because I am, I'd just like to be clear on the risk involved and the potential consequences. Also, I mean, are we saying that because this guy's a chomo, we're justified in taking his shit?" I said.
"Basically. Does that not seem reasonable to you?"
"Well, sorta. It's reprehensible, definitely, and he probably deserves whatever's coming to him, and if any of his victims were related or even known to me, I'd want to kill him myself. I just kind of have a problem with me as a disinterested party being the guy that makes the determination. Judging him. You know?"
"Jesus, you think this much about everything you steal?"
"Yeah, actually, I do. I tie myself in knots in all kinds of weird ways trying to justify what I do. If I weren't high or needing to be there's no way I'd be able to hoodwink myself the way I do, but that shit has a way of lowering my defenses. It's why I can't sleep at night when I get clean and always go back to it, your classic vicious cycle type of thing."
"Good luck with that. You may be in the wrong line of work, my friend.”
He continued. "I am untroubled by these concerns and put it to you that this sonofabitch brought it on himself, I am an Agent of Justice, and we can probably make a pretty good score. Are you with me?"
"Yeah, but with a 'but.' I don't go in other people's houses. It's a line I have and I don't cross it. No residential burglary. It just feels rapey to me, and altogether too personal. Not to mention being a strikeable offense, and a real good justification for killing someone. I honestly can't imagine a worse way to go than my bullet-ridden corpse defining someone's heroism, you know? That's like the very definition of ignominy. Not that anyone's going to be erecting any monuments to me for my self control, but at least I never went rooting through anyone's underwear drawer."
"Alright, alright, I can respect that. What about garages, sheds, outbuildings, shit like that?"
"Fair game. I do have principles, but it's not like I'm trying to get into heaven or anything."
* * *
The Greater Legget Metropolitan Area proved to be rather unimpressive, not that I was expecting much. We did see a chicken in the act of crossing the road — had to slow down for it, in fact — and Lyle and I discussed at some length her possible reasons for doing so, appearing to be a chicken on a mission and not just taking the air in a random amble. I speculated that the chicken had been sold, had escaped and was even now making its way back to the home coop.
"A homing chicken? Are you serious?" Lyle sputtered.
"If a pigeon can do it, a chicken can do it," I maintained. "In fact, I'd say a chicken can do anything a pigeon can, besides fly."
"Disagree,"Lyle said. "I say that bird got word of a plan to make it tonight's entree and flew the coop. So to speak."
"You're suggesting a chicken is more likely to be able to anticipate its own demise than to find its way home? … Please."
"Well, whatever the reason… Safe travels!"he shouted out the window to the bird.
This is the part where I gloss over any possible commission of felonies, having been fairly specific about location, destination, and intent and invoking a good-sense policy against self-incrimination, regardless of statutes of limitation or chemotic justification. In fact, let's just say that we had a change of heart, decided to devote our lives to doing good works and were, in a blaze of instant karma, quite liberally financially rewarded so that by that evening we were both flush, high as kites, and sharing our fortune with the good folks at Coyote Valley via their slot machines.
Lyle met a girl who thought his braces were sexy and left with her, leaving me to grapple the renegade Buick back to Ukiah.
I hit on an interesting idea on the way, went to the Wal-Mart parking lot, found a clear place, removed my hands from the wheel, and allowed the car to describe the circles it so desperately wanted to make. As we spun, I rolled a bowl, cleaned out the rear passenger area, and clipped my nails. Feeling slightly nauseous, I stopped, parked, got out, wobbled, and fell. Luckily no cops were there to witness what they'd be sure to perceive as drunkenness — I was only on meth, and marijuana, and I think maybe a couple of pills. Drunk driving is dangerous, and wrong, and it's crucial that we as a community maintain awareness and actively prevent it.
As you know, pot slows you down and amphetamines sharpen your focus, so if anything I should have been given some kind of “attaboy” citation and maybe a free gas card for being a patient and careful driver.
By the same (sort of) token, molestering children is very, very, wrong, and so an extralegal acquisitive foray onto the chomo's property is right, right? Whereas normally it'd be wrong. But what if I didn't know about his chomonian nature, would I still get a pass? Then there's that whole two wrongs thing, that they don't make a right. People say that all the time, there must be something to it. Is it firm, though, or are there exceptions and subclauses?
Maybe I should just simplify the whole thing and say it's okay if I do it, but not okay if you do, because only I possess the wisdom and judgment necessary to cut through all that "right" and "wrong" business and arrive at a solution beneficial to myself. I don't know, that sounds like something Nietzsche might say, or Trump, and I'm not sure I trust either of those guys.
If only there were some kind of manual to guide one through these moral dilemmas. Someone should get on that.