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Not sure why I wrote this, Blue Skunk Readers, but it was a long weekend here in “lockdown.” Feel free to share your criminal activities in in the comments section. But make sure the statue of limitations from what you plead guilty to has passed.

My criminal past

The criminal masterminds about which one reads are not really masterminds at all. If they were, they would remain unknown, freely practicing their illegal trades – like me. It’s only the poor crooks who get caught and get the associated publicity. I have had a long criminal career, encompassing many illegal behaviors. So it may sound rather self-aggrandizing, I do consider myself a mastermind.

Although, my first crime was an inauspicious beginning.

Beginning around the age of six or seven, my granny would let me walk the block and a half to the local grocery store – Gantz IGA in Lake View, Iowa. One day I quickly stuffed a small package of M&M’s in my pants pocket and started to leave the store. Mr. Gantz, whose office was right next to the candy rack (I wonder why), stopped me on the way out and asked me what I had in my pockets. “Nuthin,” I muttered as I looked at the floor. “Be sure if you come into the store, it’s because you need to buy something,” he scolded me without making me empty my pockets.. Thankfully, my deed was not reported to my grandmother and the next time I was in the store, I left an extra nickel because I felt guilty about stealing the candy. I’ve never stolen anything since.

Like most people, I’ve gotten a few speeding tickets – I am a firm believer in driving exactly at 112% of the legal limit, but sometimes I miss a speed trap coming into a town. My most serious ticket was when I was 17 and driving my “Unsafe At Any Speed” Corvair that had a broken speedometer cable. On curves on the road into Sac City. I was clocked and ticketed for doing 60mph in a 35mph zone. Not only did I have to pay a fine, I had my license suspended for 90 days. It was tough getting auto insurance after that, so I did not drive for probably four months. While my license was suspended, I let my buddy Craig drive my car. He wrecked it when another car turned right in front of him.

My other serious moving violation happened when I was driving on the campus at the University of Northern Colorado. My coffee thermos slipped to the floor, and while I was picking it up, I managed to ass-end the car ahead of me. The victim turned out to be the son of a highway patrol officer so I wound up getting a ticket for reckless driving instead of careless driving. I had a choice: pay a fine equivalent to half my month’s salary or take a four-week defensive driving class. Of the dozen or so other thugs in the class, I think I was the only one who paid much attention. I still use some of the tips the class offered.

I celebrated my 18th birthday with my coworkers from the Trojan Seed Corn plant where I had a summer job. One fellow, Jim, was in his early 20s and bought a case of beer which the four of us drank as he drove us around town. When the beer was gone, Jim parked in an alley behind a bar and, obviously drunk, tried to get the bar to sell him more beer. Instead, they called the cops who arrived shortly after, blocking the alley entrance. The problem with drinking on my 18th birthday was that Iowa law required one to be 21 before you could drink booze of any kind so I was ticketed for underage drinking, fined $35 by the Justice of the Peace, and released. I walked back to my truck, still parked at work, and drove home to the farm. Probably still under the influence.

A week later, my dad said that he read about me in the Sac Sun , the weekly town newspaper. Seems my arrest made the police log. Dad said from now on, I needed to be home by 10. I said I was 18 and didn’t have to follow his rules anymore. He said as long as I was living in his house, I had to follow his rules. I moved out the next day, spending the rest of the summer sleeping in an old house some buddies rented to practice as a rock and roll band. While there was an outhouse, there was no running water, so I took a long dip in a gravel pit after work everyday.

It may come as a surprise, but I am an international criminal as well. While working in Saudi Arabia as a teacher, I became a world-class smuggler. It wasn’t drugs or diamonds but wine yeast and R-rated video tapes that I snuck through customs. While the sale of liquor was (and still is, I think) illegal in Saudi, officials looked the other way when expats made their own. Some ambitious folks made “sadiqy” (Arabic for friend) a clear grain alcohol in homemade stills, but most of us just made wine. Bottled grape juice, sugar, water and yeast were mixed together and let to ferment for 19 ½ days and then siphoned off into the same bottles the grape juice came in. The biggest problem was that bread yeast made for worse tasting wine than that made from wine yeast. But wine yeast was also illegal in Saudi. So on return from my vacations to the States, I would take apart my infant son’s toys (the Busy Board worked well), pack them with wine yeast, and screw them back together. As we were going through customs, which always seemed to be at about 3am, I would pinch Brady so he would cry and the customs guy would expedite our clearance. It also helped when the baby had dirty diapers.

Any movie rated R or worse was also invariably confiscated by Saudi customs. So I would remove the tapes from the VHS cassettes of movies I wanted to watch, wrap them in plastic bags, and drop them into the bottom of canisters of WetWipes, replacing some wipes on top of them. I would reload the tapes into cases when back in my Saudi home. The only time I was questioned was when the officer found a bunch of empty VHS tape cases (that Brady’s mother packed) and asked why I was bringing them in. Luckily, Brady started to cry about then. The story was that if anything illegal was found by customs, one could spend an indefinite amount of time in an unpleasant Saudi jail – where there was no obligation to feed the prisoners – and be automatically deported on release. Smuggling was probably not among the top ten smartest things I’ve ever done.

Finally, my last foray into the dark side of the law was being a plagiarist. Sort of. I had started writing a new column for a national organization’s journal. About three months into the work, I got a very unkind email from the editorial staff saying that an Internet search had determined parts of my column had been stolen from writing already published. I asked them to check the source of this “plagiarized” material. After a couple days, I got another email saying that the investigation showed the material came from an article written by a “Doug Johnson.” They kept me on as a writer, but admonished me that they only wanted new material. From then on I was more careful about “repurposing” my writing – a technique I had found useful ever since high school.

Although as I have demonstrated, I have been a life-long criminal, it may have been due to my cleverness that I have yet to spend a night in jail, appear before a jury of my peers or ask for a pardon from President Trump. Or more likely, it was early lessons from my family that I just wasn’t smart enough to get away with a damn thing. I’m glad my dad did not work for Saudi customs.

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