Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm torn about the BlaHoyaVich thing

Yawn. Yet another Illinois politician has been caught with his hand, arm and shoulder deep in the honey pot. But he's a long time pal of Barry's, and Barry dumbly claimed he never talked to the guy about the price of his former senate seat, so the new "change" administration is going to start with a nice juicy never ending scandal about who said what to whom and when. The more things change. . .

But I'm ambivalent about the whole thing, because who among us has perfectly clean hands? Certainly not me, for I carry the memory of an interaction with the Chicago political machine. It goes back a ways so I'm not going to consult a lawyer about the statute of limitations in Illinois.

It all started when Dave B and I were selected for "kidnapping" by the fraternity house pledges when they planned their weekend escape from the house and visit to a sister chapter house in downstate Illinois. We were pretty proud to be selected from among the actives. It was quite an honor to be dragged along on the annual pledge skip, signifying as it did recognition by the pledges that one was reliably flexible enough to buy the booze (with their money of course), and also mature enough to aid in controlling and protecting the weaker and more immature members of the pledge herd.

But these pledges had gone one better than most classes in their planning. They planned their skip on a weekend when a house party was scheduled, and they were clever enough to volunteer the car of one of their members as the pickup car for the two kegs of beer and the case of loganberry wine for the punch for that party. You haven't asked but I'll tell you anyway that a mixture of one part loganberry wine to one part beer makes a pretty excellent punch. It has unfortunate later effects on those who imbibe too freely, but it goes down pretty easy.

Anyway, Dave and I were each picked up by a couple of beefy pledges neatly as could be and taken to the gathering point where a bunch of pledge class cars met to form a caravan for the ride south. Good planning, worthy of a Solozzo; but when we arrived we found that the foolish pledges had picked an unfortunate rendezvous location. A group of local citizens was not pleased with the gathering of so many honkies in their neighborhood - so displeased that some words were already being exchanged. Fortunately though, two cars bearing a total of four of Chicago's finest arrived before the situation could get out of hand.

Copper One immediately took charge and asked me what was up, perhaps because I appeared to be the oldest in the group and perhaps because the pledges hid behind me like abject cowards. I was in fact the best spokesman. Dave, who is actually a year older than me, looked quite a bit younger. He still looks younger - life is fundamentally unfair.

I explained the situation to the police sargeant. All was fine. The pledges were skipping out for the weekend. The location had been foolishly picked by youngsters who should indeed have known better - "You're certainly right about that Officer," this in my best respectful tone. Always treat people wearing badges and guns with respect, even exaggerated respect.

I went on that we had no desire more pressing than to be out of Chicago and out of his hair. And we certainly had no desire for interaction with the crowd of local people that had continued to grow.

I had everything in control and we were set to go on our way when a bottle flew and neatly knocked the driver's side mirror off of the car of the president of the pledge class. That intelligent fellow who later acquired a degree in engineering - I won't mention his name, for he knows his name - picked up the mirror and decided to put it in his trunk.

Now, there is one overriding rule governing relations with the law which you should learn if you never have. When you have a body in the trunk of a car you never, never, never voluntarily open that trunk in the presence of a police officer. Mr. pledge class president, Mr. now big shot corporate executive, had not yet learned that rule. So he helpfully opened the trunk of his car and let a police sargeant see enough booze to keep a group of twenty or so eighteen year olds well oiled for a very long weekend, or, alternatively, enough to fuel quite a nice happy hour at a police stationhouse.

"What are you young fellows doing with all this beer?" the copper alertly asked, "none of you look over twenty-one to me." At this point Dave B should have taken over because he actually was over twenty one years old at the time. But he was bred German to the bone and thus overly respectful of authority, so he hung back. Thus it was left to me to handle the most delicate legal conversation I've ever had.

Not that I was completely lacking in resources. I was a few months shy of twenty one; but I had observed Pop quite a bit in my youth, and I was confident that the IDs in my wallet would pass reasonable inspection. I was pretty proud of the contents of that wallet. This was the era before Xerox machines; but I can be pretty inventive when motivated, and I had created some pretty good paper considering the crude tools available.

I had an extra Navy ID created from a page of an ROTC textbook that contained a perfect sized Navy Seal. And before I sealed it in plastic it had even become embossed with the embosser that was usually in a locked drawer of the desk of the ROTC office manager. Quite a nice touch, if I may say so myself. In addition I had a Colorado State driver's license that looked quite a bit more legitimate that the real Colorado license that one of my fraternity brothers carried. Finally, I had a Shriners ID card that I worked up from some Shriners card stock that Dave brought back to the house. He worked part time helping out the Shriners with their then state of the art computer system. The room containing that computer also contained enough materials to make IDs for most of the population of Mexico.

Computer hacking is not a new thing, it's just that back then you had to do it at the control console of the computer, or else by slipping actual punched cards into a scheduled run. Dave had enrolled many of us in the fraternity house as Shriners, some at quite high levels of rank; and he had made us nice certificates every bit as fancy as those on the walls of the fat old fellows who ride those little cars around in Chicago parades to this day. But I was the only one smart enough to realize that the various items available in the Shriner's print room could be combined to make up a very good ID card. And who was going to know that a real Shriner's card didn't have a picture and a birth date on it?

All three ID's lined up as to birth date, and the three had different pictures, important details of which I was pretty proud. It's true that by the time of this incident those cards made me twenty three years old. They had occasionally drawn wry looks from particularly alert bartenders; but they had never failed me. I was well into the habit of thinking that I was over twenty one, and inner confidence is nine-tenths of selling a line. You have to believe it with at least a good part of your mind if you're going to sell it to someone else.

So it was easy to tell the cop, "I'm over twenty-one, officer." He immediately shot back, "What are you doing with all this beer? And a case of wine?" Then he looked more closely at the case of wine and made a bit of a face. Just my luck; of all the Chicago police sargeants I had to get an oenophile. I think that particular vintage of loganberry sweet red went for about eighty cents a bottle, cheaper in case lots. I shrugged to communicate that he couldn't hold me responsible for the wine selection. I would no more than he imbibe such swill. Ah, the second lie is always easier than the first. Sister Mary Francis was very right in some things.

But the copper's interest in the nature of the wine had triggered something deep down in my mind. Also, there was something about the way he was looking at the beer. Being alert to nonverbal clues is very important. So I explained that it was the fraternity house's beer and wine, and the pledges had taken it as a joke on the actives. The reason they had taken me and Dave was precisely because adults had to be responsible for the alchohol.

Then I added perhaps the most brilliant line I've ever uttered. "Actually, officer," I said, "this beer is going to get warm anyway, and it's sure to be ruined by all the driving we're going to be doing; so it would be just as well with me if we were to leave it here, or at least leave one of the kegs here, to lighten the load on this car."

I was a lot smarter than Governor Blagovesich even when I was twenty years old. The crime of bribery is all about offering a quid for a self interest quo. So the briber must never, never, never name both the quid and the real quo. The idea is to name the quid and then associate it with a quo that's clearly in the public interest. The bribee can then accept the quid in the name of the public interest quo with arguably clean hands. The real quo remains unmentioned.

The copper, Irish and one of Chicago's finest in every sense of the word, immediately moved off a bit to confer privately with his partner. I busied myself with herding the stupid pledges into the cars before one of them could say something. A couple of the more alert among them had begun to understand what was happening. I very much wanted them to share their insight with their fellows, for of what use is brilliance if not appreciated; but this was not the time for high fives or other untoward displays like the sorts of stupidity Governor Blagovesich was caught exhibiting on tape. I didn't want anyone pullng a blahoyavich and queering the deal - there, I've coined a new word, taking some liberty with the fool's name because no one not from Chicago can pronounce his real name.

The cop returned smiling. Then, just to bust my. . . uh. . . just to exhibit his dominance and test my resolve in a friendly way, he said, "Maybe you boys should leave both of these kegs. we'll get rid of them for you."

A test, but I've always done well on tests; and respect for officers of the law only goes so far. One must not descend to obsequiousness unless absolutely cornered. Bargainers are far better respected than toadies. I responded that I'd personally like nothing better than to leave both kegs; but it would leave us with nothing to balance the weight of the case of wine in the trunk, and we couldn't leave the case of wine because we had to return that to the fraternity house after we came back from the weekend. So simple prudence dictated that we would have to keep one keg of the beer and dispose of it properly downstate.

The cop laughed. We were brothers in that moment; so we didn't need to shake hands or anything sappy like that. He and I just needed to lift the one keg out of the trunk of the pledge's car and move it into the trunk of the squad car, which was helpfully opened by his partner. The partner, an Italian by his nametag, at first said nothing; but it was clear he considered me a credit to our shared ethnicity. Then, just to prove he was wide awake, he mentioned that perhaps they should also take the tapper off our hands. But I was on firm ground now, so I pointed out that we were bound to return the tapper to the beer distributor or else they would keep our deposit. I didn't mention that the distributor would also keep our deposit on the one missing keg, but I did mention the name of the distributor and the hope that the keg would find its way back there.

Like I said, these were truly among Chicago's finest. Once bought they stayed bought, and they were discreet, unlike a certain blahoyavich I could mention - there's a second meaning of my new addition to the lexicon. When we returned from the weekend I had a nice conversation with the wide awake Polish fellow at the distributor who asked how it happened that I was returning one keg but its mate had been returned the other day by a squad car. He returned the deposits, laughed, and assured me that my business was always welcome after acting like he believed my ridiculous explanation.

Some other time I'll relate the events that brought me into contact with an Illinois State cop who responded to the report of a disturbance on the lawn of a fraternity house in Springfield during that same weekend. That encounter also ended happily; and I'm sure the state trooper remembers it as vividly as I do, for it played out as well as any Saturday Night Live skit.

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