School of Soft Knocks

     In the last issue of an alumni magazine I receive four times a year are two articles I found particularly interesting because they told stories of redemption. The cover story described how a young man born into a crime family in Illinois fled that life, received college degrees, and is now not just a professor but a Distinguished Professor of Italian-American Studies at a New York university. The other article, entitled “Prison Breaks,” details the travails of an ex-convict who, after committing burglaries and serving time in prison for drug possession, mended his ways, got a degree, and worked his way up to being national coordinator for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

     Because they almost appeared back-to-back in the magazine, they might be viewed as A Tale of Two Toughies who turned their lives around. The implicit lesson is, of course, that the education received at the university publishing the magazine helped with the regeneration. But another message crept into my mind: This is why I get no pub. I have no cred on the street. My family was straight. I have no criminal record. I have no baggage to drag before the public.

     But maybe it is not too late. Perhaps I can unredeem myself. Instead of having a soiled past, then getting my life on track in the classroom, I will try the opposite approach. Now that I have earned the degrees and lived a life of no consequence, I will seek a bad reputation by engaging in unseemly pursuits that might get some writer to describe my decline and fall in an alumni publication. However, the roguish actions I engage in must be consistent with the bland lifestyle to which I have become accustomed. Otiose rather than offensive is my watchword as I engage in the following acts:

     Wearing squeaky shoes in libraries

     Standing in the 10 items or less lane with a full cart of groceries

     Wetting self-adhesive stamps

     Telling a clerk at a computer store that I want to downgrade to an older model

     Playing Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” in public while walking the other way

     Bending, stamping, and mutilating envelopes that forbid such activities

     Looking neither way before crossing the street

     Enticing children into consuming pineapple sundaes just before suppertime

     Not toeing the line with impunity

     Draggin’ the line without Tommy James

     Condemning the no huddle offense as antisocial

     Uncivilly obeying traffic lights

     Sitting down at ballparks in areas plainly marked “Standing Room Only”

     Not keeping the home fires burning

     Disregarding the “Go Directly to Jail” card and passing Go and collecting $200

     Accusing farmers of keeping barn swallows guilty of forfication

     Sneaking a brush and can of paint into a conservatory to gild the lilies


     Bagging carpets out of season 

     Loitering with intent to stultify

     Practicing origami while operating a lawn tractor

     Ward heeling in a non-election year

     Wart healing at a frog farm

     Rebeling without a cause

     Not standing on ceremony

     Standing on Sarah Moany

     Grousing after hours

     Injecting vegemite into sandwiches at grade school cafeterias

     Locking myself in a bell tower at dusk and shouting to passersby, “Curfew must not ring tonight!”

     Inculcating a truant disposition in juveniles

     Cadging any body

     Forging a head

     Planting evidence between rows of carrots and tomatoes  


     Gagging Lolly

     Signing below the forbidden line on the backs of checks

     Vacationing on a traffic island

     Weaving back and forth in a crafts class instead of up and down

     Breaking and entering a piggy bank without permission of Porky or Petunia

     Aiding and abetting a compulsive coupon hoarder    

     As I reexamine this list, I think my chances of getting anyone to write about my foray into a life of lily-white crime for an alumni magazine are slim. Maybe I should try Ripley’s Believe It or Not.   


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