A Touch of Criminal Ain't So Bad
I was seventeen and it was a heavy winter in my hometown Vienna, Virginia. School had been cancelled all week, and as usual, my house was where the party was. We wanted to pl-ay some drinking games.
“Damn!” said my tall-blonde friend Dan. I asked him what’s wrong. “It’s just past midnight, we can’t buy alcohol this late.” A few of us, including myself had fake I.Ds. We had been illegally buying alcohol since we were thirteen after printing out a template with my friends face on it, gluing it to the back of an Xbox game cartridge to give it some firmness, cutting it out, and stapling it into his wallet. We also couldn’t get away drinking my parents’ liquor anymore because most of the bottles were nearly empty at this point. “Fuck it lets just play guitar hero.”
As we were setting it up, I was struck with an idea to get us some booze. I asked Dan very passionately, “Your jeep can drive through the snow right?” He nodded yes. “Ok. So instead of humiliating you again at this game, how about we go on an adventure.”
“What’s the adventure?” he asked me.
“Lets drive to the Seven-Eleven in Tyson’s Corner. Drop me off and wait up the road about a quarter mile. I’m going to walk in, put exactly $15.67 – the price of a thirty-can case of Natty – on the counter by the register, walk to the fridge, pull out the Natty and make a run for it. It’s not stealing its just forgetting my receipt.” My friends are rolling in laughter and Dan says, “Swartz you’re insane. But I’m down to watch you get chased through the snow.”
We pulled up to the store and he dropped me off. I watched as he parked his car across the street. I walked in and realized the cashier was distracted organizing something in the back room. Game time. I softly placed the money on the table, moved to the fridge and pulled out a case very smoothly. Then I got cocky and pulled out a second. Now I was definitely stealing. As I moved through the isle towards the exit, I made eye contact with the cashier and booked it full sprint. I didn’t think he was actually going to chase me.
“Hey! Stop!” he yelled as I was hitting my stride coming out the door. I realized I should lose him before I got into Dan’s car. As I ran towards the street, I noticed a massive snowplow was stopped. The driver must have seen it all go down. He got out and started chasing me too!
So now there’s one guy from behind and another guy running at me from the front. I remember thinking to myself, “this is what I live for!” I had to change directions again. I pulled this little spin move and ran a horseshoe path back behind the store. Keep in mind, I was running through a foot of snow in a big burly jacket carrying two 30-can cases of alcohol. I must have looked like a fucking monkey. When I turned the corner I saw a small alleyway. I stashed the Natty there.
Forty pounds lighter, I ran up this long hill and completely dusted my pursuers. I remember looking back and waving goodbye as I vanished into the darkness. I watched them from a far. They didn’t notice the alcohol in the alley.
Now I had to sneak back and get it. I needed to recover and change cloths. I called Dan and he picked me up. We traded jackets in the car as I caught my breath. We also noticed something else while we waited. There were now five snowplows circling the streets surrounding the Seven-Eleven “They’re trying to find me! This is some mission impossible shit.” Dan was somewhere between laughing hysterically and concerned I would get caught. He knew he couldn’t stop me.
I got out of the jeep and headed in. I was weaving between snowplows, doing diving rolls behind cover. I was Tom Cruise and my Natty was the heist. I approached the store from the east side. I actually have no idea what side it was but it sounds epic. I saw the employee just outside the store talking with the snowplow driver. The driver kept grabbing his knees like he was still winded. I couldn’t stop giggling. He kept pointing at the street, doing a circle motion with his finger. I imagined him saying something like; “I’ve got my best men on this. We’ve got the place locked down. He can’t escape. When we find him we’ll make him talk. And then we’ll kill him.”
I almost wish they saw me again but they didn’t. I made my way to the back alley, grabbed the cases and escaped up the hill avoiding the snowplows. Dan picked me up and we headed back to my place to celebrate. Shitty beer never tasted so good.
This is only a taste of my teenage delinquency. I could have gotten in a lot of trouble. I stole, vandalized, destroyed property, indulged in underage drinking and marijuana, and lied to authorities and my parents among other crimes. I’m a criminal.
If I had gotten caught, my creativity would have been smothered. I would have been intimidated into behaving, forced into rehabilitation and labeled a criminal. It’s not that black and white. Criminals aren’t inherently bad people who need fixing, and innocence doesn’t make you a good person.
Even when I was a reckless teenager, I just wanted everyone to love each other. Nothing was wrong with me, in fact, the courage to get in trouble evolved into the courage that pushed me to be different, to follow my heart when others abandoned theirs out of fear. I learned how to be brave, and later in life took a chance on myself, dropping out of college to pursue my dreams as a musician.
The brotherhood I shared with my friends as we curiously adventured and experimented taught me the depth of friendship. I learned that true camaraderie is unbreakable, forgiving, reliable, honest and rebellious. We had a distaste for conformity and a distrust in authority.
I believe freedom only comes to those who have the courage to be authentic, and I believe this world will only get better if we have the audacity to resist authority and stand up for ourselves. Everyone could use a touch of criminal.
—Sep 6, 2016