Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dodged a Bullet

I was arrested a while back, like way back. Some of the charges were respectable -- trespassing, public intoxication, disorderly conduct -- but one of them was embarrassing. It was indecent exposure.

The charge was thrown out by the DA, but there it is on my permanent record.

Some people think I'm a perv, or worse.

Images of a guy in a trench coat flashing passers by on a dark street come to mind.

I am here to say that all I did was skinny-dip and that someone saw me dive into a pool. I did flash an unintentional moon. Sorry about that.

It happened on a road trip from Wisconsin to San Francisco, and we had stopped in Steamboat Springs to camp near the hot springs for a few days. It was September and an early snowstorm sent us to town seeking warmth and a fresh jug of wine.

We decided to take advantage of a sauna near the pool of one of the local hotels. I have never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed.

So there I was, lying on my back on the hot bench of the sauna, having just returned from a snowy dip in the pool when the door swung open and two burly Steamboat cops let the cold air in. I was shrunken, shriveled, and bum rushed to the waiting squad car, cowboy hat and handcuffs only.

My girlfriends got to get dressed and came in a second car with much more dignity. 

When I think back on it, things could have gone very bad.

While the cops were booking me, they were talking Colorado work farms. They saw my long hair, scruffy beard, beat-up blue jeans, my cocky attitude. They had me convicted and sent up the river before they finished the finger printing.

They even read my charges: "You, Erec Toso, did unlawfully and intentionally expose your GENtiles (yes, gentiles, not the other word) to so-and-so...."

That's a serious charge with big implications, implications that would have made life tough. Flashers are technically sex offenders, a label that does not earn many friends in prison. Getting charged is bad enough; getting convicted would have been bad, worse than bad, and would likely have altered the trajectory of my life.

I doubt that I would have ever been able to teach or have been eligible for scholarships or financial aid.

The coulda, mighta, maybes are frightening to behold.

So, what made the difference between going down and getting sprung?


That, and a dash of good-ole-white-boy cronyism. 

When the booking cops found out I had traveler's checks enough to post bond, I was suddenly a new person. Rather than a depraved criminal, I was a thrill-seeking college kid tourist capable of supporting the local economy.

The whole incident became a funny, frivolous, and forgivable episode of smirks and back-slapping. Stupid too. I was a guy sowing wild oats with some beautiful young women. An eccentric child of privilege traveling with females of even greater privilege.

Suffice it to say that the lesson was not lost on me. The justice system is rigged, and if you are poor, it's ready and waiting to bring you down. If you can't read or write, so much the worse. If you get angry you are given the maximum sentence. If you are brown or black you're already guilty.

Yes, privilege carries weight. It speaks to authority. It puts one on the protected side of things. You get the benefit of the doubt. You get charges dismissed.

Don't think I'm going to forget.

Neither are the potential employers doing a background check.

Oh well, camping under bridges isn't so bad....

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