..only less wordy. I've begun to wonder just what exactly it might take for me to involve myself in “crime,” whatever form it might take. I wouldn't consider myself a greedy person, and, if asked, will tell you that I am wont for nothing. But, don't let that fool you into thinking that I'm not broke as fuck. Oh, because I am. Yes, sir, this economic global crisis has hit me too, buddy. Never mind the fact that my increasingly expensive cross-country move last summer just happened to coincide with the country's failing rocket jump over the yawning chasm of crippling depression. Nope, that was just good luck on my part. Like my friend said the other day, “Man, this recession hasn't affected me at all. If anything, the gas prices have just gone down.” I've considered that, as well. I know that if I hadn't moved, had kept my nice, steady, relatively well paying jobs back in Texas, none of this would have really affected me. I wouldn't be months behind on bills, wouldn't have applied for food stamps, wouldn't have to scotch tape my laptop screen to stay up instead of just buying new hinges for it (this last one, especially since the screen fell onto my hands just as I typed that, has introduced a whole new series of criminal thoughts into my head). I also wouldn't have had the chance to finally realize, once and for all, just what it would indeed take to push me towards actions that may, by all means, be considered...
It should be noted that the Brazil/Idiocracy-esque bureaucratic, stupidity fueled visions of the future we all love to laugh at and glance quickly over our shoulders for in those moments of impending doom do indeed exist, in real time, and the tale recounted below serves no purpose but to illuminate that fact. Take heart, however! This is not a tale of defeat or regret. My only hope is that you may find inspiration and hope in direct correlation to the overwhelming sense of fear and dread I felt in the intervening hours before the incidents recorded below were resolved. Holy shit.
I. 2:30 a.m.
“We can park here, right? This is weird- why is no one parked here?”
“Yeah, this looks okay- there's a meter,” Robyn says.
“Looks good, dude,” Vern agrees.
“Okay, sweet. Oh, wait- I forgot. We can't park here after 3 a.m. or they'll tow it. Or is that only in the winter? There's no snow anymore- does that sign still count?”
We all half-heartedly agree that this parking spot seems pretty much shruggingly okay.
“Well, whatever. I'll just come move it by three,” I say.
II. 4 a.m.
“Car's gone, dude.”
After a quick, informative telephone call to the friendly dispatchers at the non-emergency police hotline, I learned where my and so many other late night Milwaukee Ave. revelers' vehicles had been removed to: Auto Impound No. 6. I wasn't surprised. I wasn't even angry. I suppose it makes perfect sense that one shouldn't be allowed to park on a street that has nearly no traffic between the hours of 3 and 6 a.m. Why not?
I also learned that the ease of getting one's car out of the impound at 4 a.m. is made exponentially more convenient by the ultra-modern policy of only accepting cash. I breathed a sigh of relief when I fished through my pockets and realized I was only a mere $152 short of the necessary funds to exhume my van from the city's cash grabbing tomb. Fortunately, Robyn had a friend that worked at the bar, who, after hearing our tragic story, quickly pulled out his wallet and practically shoved $160 at us, and said, “Go get your van. I'm a traveling musician, too. I know what it's like.” I was amazed by his generosity, especially to someone he didn't know at all, and I did all I could to show my gratitude in the best way my drunken stupor would allow me. I gave him my number, assured him that I would return his money in the morning, and gave him, like, at least twelve daps.
It got kind of weird towards the end. Perhaps he had second thoughts, because his attitude seemed to quickly change from that of a benevolent brother-in-arms to that of a, I don't know, twice betrayed ghetto bookie? “Hey. Don't fuck me on this deal. I've got your number. I can find you. Don't fuck with me.” After numerous assurances that I had indeed given him my correct phone number and that I had no intention of “fucking” him, he even gave Robyn an extra $20 to get a cab to the impound! It was only the following morning that I realized I had cashed my check from work earlier that afternoon, and had all the cash I needed buried somewhere on my person. But hey, what's another debt saddled with thinly veiled threats between friends of friends? Buy the ticket, take the ride, I always say.
III. 4:45 a.m.
After arriving to the impound and standing in line for a few minutes, Robyn sees some more friends whose car shared the same fate as mine that night. Wow, she seems to know people everywhere she goes, I thought. When they don't offer to pay my impound fee outright, I begin to question just how cool these people are she calls “friends,” anyway. When we finally make our way to the front of the line to the teller's window, I could tell right away how the interchange would go. The lady behind the glass had seen it all before, and I'm sure to her I was just another privileged, drunk white kid that always got his way, and for this night to be anything but an exception to that rule would be a miracle of biblical, fuck-all proportion. I've always struggled with the concept of being able to simply say “Motherfucker” with one's eyes, but this lady had it down pat. If I could only mimic that gloriously hideous glare half as well, I am confident that my life would be infinitely easier.
After the tedious process of identifying just which 1998 red GMC Savana on their lot was mine, filling out all sorts of various forms in triplicate, mining my brain for various pieces of inane information that I never thought I would need (Who cares what my second grade teacher's name was?), and relinquishing my state issued ID, I was handed a yellow pass, which, when presented to the lot attendant, would grant me access to the impound lot, where I was to retrieve my registration information from the van.
IV. 5:15 a.m.
Though knowing all too well that I had none of the pieces of paper required of me when I finally climbed into the van, I nonetheless frantically rifled through layers upon layers of CD's, empty Taco Bell cups, and band t-shirts for a good fifteen minutes in hopes of finding something, anything, that would serve as a cure-all, magic one way ticket out of this comical-snafu-quickly-turned-Camusian-nightmare. There were no papers. What papers? The title of the vehicle was in some bank's coffers 900 miles away, the registration was out, and the current insurance card was nowhere to be found. And even though I did eventually find the current insurance, it would serve no purpose, anyhow. When a curious lot attendant finally shined his flashlight in my window to inquire as to why I had been in the van for so long, he saw the expired registration in the windshield and said, “Man, your registration's out. You might as well just go home, 'cause you ain't gettin' this thing out tonight.”
Refusing to believe the inevitable, I trudged back into the office with my current insurance card and a growing sense of urgency and financially inspired fear inching its way up the back of my neck.
“I couldn't find the current registration, but here's my insurance card.”
“I don't need your insurance card, Mr. Pool, I need your registration card,” said the lady behind the glass.
“But I don't have the registration card. You know the car's registered to me- it came back that way when you ran my plates. “
“That don't matter, Mr. Pool. I need the card.”
“I don't have it. They don't do paper registration cards in Texas [lie], it's all done through the plates and the windshield sticker. Besides, the registration's expired in Texas,” I said, moron that I am.
“OH. Well then, you can't get it out anyway,” she explained.
“Wait. Why? It's registered in Texas! It has nothing to do with Illinois. You won't see any of the revenue from its expiration here. Why does it matter?”
“You can't get your car out if the registration's out,” she further illuminated.
“That makes no sense! What do I have to do?,” I half-yelled, growing increasingly fucking furious.
“You'll have to go to the DMV, get a seven day pass, come back in the mor-”
By this time, I had ceased to listen, and was beginning to formulate all sorts of murderous or suicidal plans. My brain took over, and threw out one last-ditch-ninth-inning-hail-mary-shot-at-the-buzzer-sudden-death-shot-of-adrenaline-to-the-heart attempt:
“Aaactually, I think I may know where the registration is, now that I reeeeally think about it. I think the state mailed me a new one a few weeks ago,” I kindly smiled through clenched teeth.
Somehow, impossibly, I was handed one more yellow pass to return to the lot. The pass was check marked “Retrieve Personal Belongings.” I walked back towards the yard, and never again returned to that office.
V. 6:05 a.m.
Sitting in the van, alternately staring at the side panel of the navy blue van they had parked directly in front of me and the blinding glare of the numerous floodlights that cast an eerie, unnatural glow about the oversized gravel parking lot, my mind played over and over the events of the preceding two hours. I half joked with Robyn and Vern, telling them we were gonna “bust outta here,” and to get ready. I even had them wait outside the gated property for me. They waited and waited, but nothing ever happened. Robyn eventually called a cab and went home, offering to take us with her, but we declined. Vern continued to wait outside the office door, loyal. This loyalty likely arose from the fact that he had nowhere else to go, and also that he probably had no idea where he was, or why in the fuck he had moved to Chicago in the first place. I thought about my interactions with the lot attendants and how nice they were, considering the circumstances, and how unwavering they were in their adherence to the rules of the impound lot. Bribes were denied, unbelievably. “You think I'm gonna risk my job over 160 fuckin' dollars?”
“Fair enough,” I replied.
I thought about my final entrance back into the lot- how the lot attendant didn't believe me when I told him I was coming to get the piece of paper that I needed, how he had to radio back into the office to make sure my entrance was legitimate, how he returned my pass to me with a suspicious glance and yelled to me as I walked slowly away: “Don't START that van!”
“Right on,” I muttered.
I thought about the bulldozer that had previously been parked in front of the gate, blocking all cars from coming or going, its glaring absence at this moment, and how, as I walked to the van, the lot attendant squelched into his radio, “Hey man, bring that bulldozer back up here.”
I thought about my roommate's casual mention of needing the van to go to the unemployment office later that morning, and how his own vehicle was in a state of disrepair. I thought about how unbelievable it is that nearly every action, every move we make is motivated primarily by money or the lack thereof, and though it often has before, disgusted me to a point of shame. I stared at my pants and shoes, covered in the flour and sauce of a job that pays me $8.50 an hour in a business where skill and pay rate are completely disproportionate, and how this concept is nothing new. I saw the lights of the bulldozer in my rearview mirror, ambling slowly, robot-like, from the rear of the lot back to its unwavering parking space, as if in mocking, waiting for me to pay its gaping metal claws, laughing.
And I snapped.
VI. What is time to a criminal?
There are decisions in life that, once made, can never be reversed. I do my best to avoid these types of situations most of the time. But, I knew that, once I had turned the ignition over on the van, there was no turning back. I dropped the gear into drive and floored it. The van they had parked in front of mine, presumably as a deterrent, proved to be quite helpful in my escape, as it provided a few precious seconds of driving before the lot attendants saw me. They had parked it close, but not close enough that I couldn't squeeze through the gap and barrel towards the gate. The bulldozer, though closer now, was no match for my speed. I yanked the wheel hard and blew in front of it, leaving a cloud of grey dust for it to crawl pathetically through. Rocks and dirt sprayed everywhere as I raced toward the front of the lot. The lot attendants had seen me now, and screamed, waving their arms, angry, jumping in front of the van to stop me. I swerved around one, leaving the main one at the front of the lot as the final obstacle between my freedom and my financial imprisonment. He jumped directly in front of the van, spewing venom and horrible sailor's curses at me. I faked left, then swerved right, hard, and as I narrowly missed running him over, he pounded the van with his fists and hurled all sorts of unnecessary insults at me. I think I waved at him as I passed, for some reason. I yanked the wheel, and spun a hard left out of the parking lot. I passed Vern, who gaped at me confoundedly as I blazed past him, out of the yard, and off the impound lot's property altogether. I screeched a right out of the driveway, and onto an adjoining side street. Vern sprinted out of the parking lot and met me on the street, and I slowed just enough for him to take a running leap into the van's passenger door.
“Go! Go! Go!,” he screamed.
“Holy shit!,” I responded.
I took the first left I could, then the first right, then the first left again, instinctively, to lose the trail of any number of cops that were surely on my tail. Vern rolled me a cigarette, and though we were both strung out from fatigue and the overwhelming adrenaline of the movie-like escape we had just been the primary actors of, we were both surprisingly calm. Between “Oh my god's” and “What the fuck's,” I said, “Um.. I'm pretty sure I just committed Grand Theft Auto.”
VII. 7 a.m.
We made it back to the apartment, and I edged my way into the tightest parking spot I could find, in an attempt to block the front and rear license plates from any patrol car searching for the APB that was surely out on my car. We ran inside and sat in the living room, smoking one cigarette after another, trying to process what had just occurred, and trying to come up with solutions in typical male fashion. All the commotion must have woken Nick, because he stumbled out of his room and said, “Whoah, late night, huh guys?”
“You have no idea,” I said.
He would later tell me that we looked like we had been doing speed all night.
After recounting the terrible saga, I said, “We gotta change the plates on the van, man. We gotta do something!” I kept saying that I was pretty sure I might have to skip town over this deal. At some point, he wisely told us to get some sleep and figure out what to do in the morning. Over the course of a nearly hour long conversation between all of us, I went to sleep with a feeling that this wasn't that big of a deal, and that everything would be fine in the morning.
VIII. 12 p.m.
Upon waking, the feeling I had when I went to sleep had now been replaced by its most severe counterpart. At this point, I was sure I had committed a felony, and was likely hours away from being arrested and put in jail for a long, long time. I considered my options. Before I went to sleep, both Nick and Vern thought it would be a good idea to call the impound to find out the possible ramifications for my actions. It wouldn't hurt to find out, they said, and the folks from the impound had called three times since we left the lot, and had even sent me a text message that simply had a phone number to call. On top of that, they still had my ID, and seeing as I was supposed to be getting on a plane in two days to go to Texas for one of my best friend's wedding, it was sort of imperative that I get it back. So, I called the number that was texted to me.
“Hi. I, uh, I left the impound last night without, um, paying, and I just need to know what I need to do to get my ID back, and what I have to do, uh, or, whatever.”
“......Hold on,” the woman on the other end belatedly replied.
Seconds later, a man picks up the phone. Two words, with just the right amount of inflection, instantly popped beads of sweat onto my forehead.
“Frank Maroni,” said Frank Maroni.
If I'd never heard the perfect voice combined with the perfect name of a Chicago police officer before, I certainly had now. I repeated the same sentence I said to the lady that had answered the phone.
“Mr. Pool,” he liltingly responded, all too knowingly.
Swallowing, I replied, “Yeah.”
“Well, Jonathan, do you wanna save you and me both a lot of hassle, or do you wanna do this the hard way? 'Cause as it stands right now you have a felony warrant out for your arrest.”
“Easy way, please,” I replied.
IX. 12:20 p.m.
Frank Maroni laid it all out for me. He told me that all he wanted to do was to get this “little mishap” off his books. He said that the city just wanted their money. He told me I had a felony warrant for “theft of services” out for my arrest. He said it wasn't a big deal, but that he just wanted to clear his books before day's end. All I had to do was come in and pay the $160, collect my license and my paperwork, and be on my way. Easy as that. None of this seemed right. I asked him why it was so easy for them to take my money today, when just mere hours ago, I was practically throwing money at anyone I could at the impound, and not a single person would take it. He explained that he was the supervisor at the impound, and that the people working here the night before (there was an air of exasperation in his voice as he referenced them) did not have the ability to authorize such an arrangement. All I had to do was come in and pay the money.
“Are you a cop?,” I asked.
He assured me that he, Frank Maroni, was not a cop, and, perhaps to illustrate his non-police officer status, said, “No one's gonna fuck witcha- I just needa get this shit off da books. Man ta man, I give ya my word.”
Trepidacious, I hung up the phone. I told Vern and Nick about the conversation, and they were both as skeptical about the situation as well. Nick suggested that I call back to double check everything that he had said. I said, “But he gave me his word. If that doesn't mean something coming from Frank Maroni, then what can we trust these days?!”
When that line of thinking failed to work even on me, I called Frank Maroni back. But not before I called the police station to find out if there was a warrant out for my arrest.
“You'll have to go to the police station to find that out, sir.”
What the hell was this? Were they all, the whole goddamned city, in on this? Was this a massive sting? I shut the blinds.
“Well, I don't think I'll be doing that. Let me just ask you this. Is 'theft of services' considered a felony?,” I asked the beat cop on the other end.
“No, man, it's a- well, it depends on how much you stole, first of all.”
“Whoah, wait a second,” I said, “I'm not saying I stole anything. Say, hypothetically, it was for $160.”
“Pssh, naw man- that's a class c misdemeanor. Don't worry about it.”
“Thank you, officer.”
X. 12:45 p.m.
Armed with this newfound knowledge and some interesting internet research that Nick had done on this place (turns out this particular impound, which was not police run, but just sub-contracted out, has been under a series of investigations for all sorts of shady shit, from things like employee theft from some of the impounded cars, all the way to an insane story of forklifting some poor girl's car with her still in it, because she was hysterical and wouldn't move), I called Frank Maroni back to see what else he might have lied to me about. The ironic catch of it all was that if he was in fact a cop, he wouldn't have even been able to arrest me for the crime he said I had a warrant for.
“Can I speak to Frank Maroni, please?”
“Who is this?”
“It's Jonathan. I just spoke to him.”
Minutes later, a man picks up the phone.
“Um, is this Frank? We just spoke..?”
“It's Jonathan Pool.”
“Is this Frank Maroni?”
“Oh! You say Frank?”
“Yes. Frank. Maroni.”
“Aw man, 'dis Spank! Hode on..”
XI. 12:49 p.m.
When Frank finally gets on the phone, I ask him, again, if he is a cop. He explains once again, swears, even, that he is only the supervisor of this impound and just wants this off his books. He seems to get a little more animated, and, frankly, well, frank, and begins to lay out the true reality of the situation. He explains to me that it is the cardinal sin of auto impound to let a car get off the lot without paying. He tells me that it is a paperwork nightmare, and to make this incident just “go away” will be a lot easier on both of us. In fact, he says, this is such a big deal that one of the lot attendants got fired over this deal for not doing his job. I assumed this was the same man who I tried to bribe for $160 that wouldn't risk his job over so paltry a sum. I feel really bad that this man lost his livelihood over this ridiculous situation, and I wish he had taken the money when I offered it to him, because now he didn't have a job or $160. I wondered why Frank Maroni had lied to me a) about the severity of the charge levied against me, and b) the apparent severity of the situation. Earlier, he had said this was no big deal. Someone lost a city job over this shit, which, after seeing the sheer ineptitude of many city employees (and I don't just mean in Chicago), seems really hard to do. When I asked him about the supposed warrant, he merely stumbled over his words, never answered my questions, and mumbled some report number. I dropped it at that.
“Look, I want to get this taken care of. You've given me your word that you're not a cop and that no one is gonna 'fuck with me,' but I still don't trust you. Can I send in a friend to take care of this?”
“I don't give a fuck,” Frank responded, “I just wanna get this off my desk before 5 p.m. today.”
XII. 2:30 p.m.
I nominated Vern to go in my stead, and he accepted with great humility. We climbed into Nick's truck- he had fixed it that morning after learning there might be a felony warrant APB out on it- and drove towards the impound. We didn't want to take the van, anyway, for fear that they might try.. to.. re-impound it..? Whatever, fuck you! You have no idea what we were going through!
I hid in the tiny seat behind the main cab, and Vern sat in the passenger seat. I was really worried that the guy that had gotten fired would be hanging around the lot, right next to the lead pipe and gun store. I pulled my hoodie as far over my face as my eyes would allow. They demanded to see their impending slaughter. Nick devised the code word “Maddragon” for Vern to text to us if things started to go south while he was in the office. We dropped Vern off, and as he slowly walked the 300 yards to the office, we watched, and we waited.
“Wanna call him, dude?,” Nick says, handing his phone back to me.
“No,” I said, “Let's give him a few more minutes.”
Moments later, I said, “Give me the phone.”
When Vern picked up, he told me that everything was fine and that he just had a lot of paperwork to fill out. Relieved, I hung up. Then, Nick said, “What if they made him say that?”
I sent him a text saying, simply, “Maddragon?,” to which he replied, “Unfortunately, no.” Minutes later, he exits the office, walks back to the truck, license, receipt, and police report in hand, and says, “Done, dude.”
XIII. Maroni's Last Lie
It turns out that the supposed police report Frank referred to was anything but. And I mean that literally. Right there on the piece of paper were the words, “This is NOT a police report. It is for informational purposes ONLY.” Strike three, Maroni.
XIV. Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Although knowing now that busting out of the impound like a fucking murder suspect ended up costing me far less money than it would have if I had bowed to the City's absurdly strict standards and regulations, I hasten to add that in a better time, economically, I would not have allowed this situation to be pushed to its scary, awesome climax. But, my hand was forced, and I guess I know now how far I can be pushed before I really fight back. When logic and reason cease to be a factor, we must react in any way necessary to restore natural order.
We must all know by now that everything is nothing more than child's play- a silly game played with bigger toys and harsher consequences. If we fail to realize the absurdity of it at any time, we lose. Vern is not Vern's first name. It is his middle name. Vern does not have a state issued ID. He only has a passport. When he went in to retrieve my license and pay the fee, he used his passport as his identification. Since there is no address present on the passport, they merely used his first and last name in the address blank on one of the required forms. The pink piece of paper he handed to me as he climbed back into the truck clearly illustrates, to me, anyway, the perfect comical absurdity of this whole fiasco. It says, simply, “Street Address: Michael Jackson.”