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Criminal Behavior


Dirk Bauman

The sky was so beautiful it was almost television perfect. You know the sky I’m talking about, the turquoise-blue one with the occasional cotton-ball cloud moving almost sensuously slow across the horizon. The temperature couldn’t have been any higher than seventy-two or seventy-three degrees with just a baby’s breath hint of a breeze wafting across the landscape in a southerly direction. The greenery was thick and lush. The air was filled with the scent of new clover. It was the kind of an afternoon that simply cried out for lying naked on the grass and making lawn angels. The first opportunity that presented itself I planned on pulling the car off to the side of the road, and doing that very thing.

* * * *

By the time I was ten yards into the idyllic field I was buck naked and howling like a gleeful ten-year-old boy. Having located the perfect patch of green grass I threw myself to the ground, rolled over onto my backside and started flapping my arms and legs. It felt good. I was smiling up into the sunny face of God with nothing more to separate the two of us but a thin layer of skin and a network of tickly tingling nerve endings. I must have looked comfortable because about that time a ladybug landed right on my belly, folded up her wings and settled down to catch a few rays of the early afternoon sunshine herself.
I must have dozed off for a spell because until I heard his voice say,”Just what the hell is going on here, boy?” I never even knew he was standing there. Caught by surprise as well, the lady bug launched herself into the sky and flew for safety. When I opened my eyes I found myself staring up into a reflection of myself looking down at me in the mirrored sunglasses worn by what had to be the largest county sheriff I had ever before witnessed in my entire life.

“Are you hurt?” He asked.

“No sir, as a matter of fact I’m feeling just fine.” I stretched out my arms and legs and shook my head back and forth to clear away the cobwebs from sleep. Although I couldn’t see his eyes, I could tell he was confused by the way he tilted his head slightly to the left and slowly shifted the toothpick hanging from the right corner of his mouth to the left side.

“Are you on drugs?”

“Oh no, sir,” I replied. “Drugs are illegal and quite frankly I’ve never really felt the need for ‘em.”

He looked down at me and confidently smiled as if he’d just discovered the final clue that solved the bizarre mystery spread out before him. “You’ve been drinking, ain’t you, boy?”

“No sir, well at least nothing stronger than half a Mountain Dew that’s still waiting for me back at my car. I never have been able to handle the liquor and I tend to keep my distance from it.” Again he gave me that slight tilting of the head, and I watched as the toothpick made its way slowly back to its original place in the right corner of his mouth.

At last he seemed to arrive at a thought and it obviously bothered him because he took a slight step backwards and asked in a solemnly wary tone, “You ain’t mental, are you, boy?”

“No more than any other working stiff tired at end of a long day.” I smiled and by the way he shifted back and forth on his feet I could tell the effort hadn’t put him at ease.

The sheriff consulted his wristwatch. “It’s not even noon yet, kind of early for the end of a work day ain’t it?”

“I work third shift over at the automobile plant in Moraine. I assemble and install the rearview mirror assembly on the driver’s side of Saturn cars. I was just out for a morning drive in the countryside before heading home when I decided to stop.”

The sheriff reached up with his right hand and snatched the toothpick from the corner of his mouth and pointed it straight down at me. “I’ll be damned if I know just what’s going on here, boy, but we’re gonna walk nice and easy back up to my patrol car while I try and figure things out.” He paused for a moment and looked off in the direction where our vehicles were parked one behind the other. “I want you to gather up your clothes along the way and get dressed for me. I hope you don’t have any problems with that.”

“No sir, no problem at all.” I stood up and began brushing off the loose blades of grass and clover remnants still stuck to my hips and backside. When at last I felt relatively free of any remaining bits and pieces of clinging debris, I headed back towards the road, picking up the articles of my work uniform along the way, and began getting dressed once again.

* * * *

Sitting with my hands cuffed behind me in the backseat of the sheriff’s vehicle I watched as he began the process of running my driver’s license through warrants and tickets.

He thumbed the switch on the handheld radio microphone as he held it up to his mouth. “This is unit fifty-two calling base, come in base.” After a moment or two of static from the dashboard radio speaker the pretty alto tones of a young woman’s voice responded.

“This is base, Earl, what can I do for ya?”

“I need you to run an outstanding warrants and tickets for me on an Ohio Drivers’ License belonging to one middle aged white male, name of Jim Waggoner.”

My eye was caught by movement outside of the car window. I turned and watched as four or five small white butterflies appeared to be engaged in a game of tag over a patch of dandelions. I felt jealous of their freedom from time clocks, assembly lines and quotas to meet. As I looked on, a pair of bright red male Cardinals flew across the meadow in a series of complex aerial acrobatics as they screeched and challenged each other in a battle of mock combat. I envied these creatures their time for play.

* * * *

We each sat quietly as the sheriff waited for the records search to finish. Our silence was broken by a quick burst of static, and once again the radio speaker filled the car with the sweet tones of the woman’s voice.

“Unit fifty-two, this is base, come in unit fifty-two.”

The sheriff thumbed the switch on the handheld radio mike. “This is unit fifty-two, base, proceed.”

“Earl, I got nothing outstanding on your Jim Waggoner. He’s got no outstanding tickets, no outstanding warrants and there is no record of any priors. He’s clean as a whistle. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

He paused for a moment, observing me in the rearview mirror for a second or two and then one last time thumbed the microphone switch. “I think that’ll just about do it, base, nothing going on here but a routine... field investigation.”

* * * *

We stood together outside of the sheriff’s cruiser. I spent a moment or two rubbing away the grooves left behind on my wrists by the handcuffs he now returned to their proper place upon his utility belt. When he had completed his task he looked up at me and slowly shook his head.

“Public exposure is a crime and I could arrest you for it right now and haul your sorry butt off to jail. At the very least, I could give you a ticket.” He stopped talking long enough to allow the weight of his words to sink in and then continued. “Seeing as how you’re a working man with no criminal record, and seeing as how no one else was around to be offended by your foolishness, I’m gonna let you off this time with a warning.”

“That’s mighty kind of you, sheriff. I thank you very much.”

He reached up and took off the sunglasses he’d been wearing during our encounter. “I don’t understand, son. Why did you do it?”

It took a minute to gather my thoughts. Then the words tumbled softly out of my mouth. “On an average of fifty to sixty hours a week, I stand at an assembly line doing the exact same task over and over again surrounded by windows of frosted glass that I can’t see through. Sometimes it gets to where I wonder if there really is a world still out there. I can’t see it, and I can’t feel it. All that I can see is an endless array of machines. All that I can feel with my fingertips is the cold steel of countless automobiles.” I lifted up my hands and spread my arms out and gestured towards the countryside surrounding us. “There are times I get to feeling that all this isn’t real. It’s all just make-believe and that the only real world is the factory and that my only purpose in life is working there.”

I paused a moment to catch my breath. “I had to escape from the prison that my life had become. I had to get out of the work uniform that had become my very skin. I needed to get out into the air and feel the sun upon my face. I was desperate for the touch of a gentle breeze on my body. I wanted to feel human again. I’d forgotten just how real the natural world is and I just wanted to reconnect with its majesty. “

We stood there for awhile, neither one of us knowing what else to say. In the silence of the moment we were surrounded by a kaleidoscope of sights and a symphony of sounds that seemed so loud and wonderful. “And now I’ll return to the penitentiary of society,” I said. “Once again I will fasten the shackles of conformity around my ankles and walk only the line of social expectation. I’ll return to the cell of my job and to the windows through which I cannot see. I shall resign myself to the confinement of my life. Only now, I’ll carry with me the memory of this one brief escape. I will remember these few moments of freedom when I lay naked in the sun and knew my humanity as it truly can be, alive and unfettered by industry, mass production and commerce. I will know peace and joy in my memories, even if I am unable to feel them when I am standing at my place on the assembly line.”

Static came from the cruiser’s radio and was soon followed by the dispatcher’s voice. “Unit fifty-two, this is, base, come in please.”

The sheriff turned, looked inside the car and then turned his eyes back towards me. “Go on home, Jim. I’m gonna forget this incident ever happened.”

“Thanks again, sheriff. I think I’m going to go home and get some sleep.” I smiled and this time the effort had the desired effect. He slowly shook his head and smiled back at me.

He chuckled. “Sure thing, Jim, now try and stay out of trouble will you? No more criminal behavior, okay?”

He turned to open his car door and I started towards my own vehicle. I stopped, turned around and said, “One last thing, Earl, try and enjoy the day a little, will you?”

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