They took our shoelaces. Our shoes fit like slippers. We had to shuffle around doing our best to keep them on. Touching the floor with your feet was like risking athletes foot in a public shower. Or worse, contracting anything else left over: those things that didn’t go down the drain of the holding cell. They’d pull a hose in every once in awhile to sterilize.
They took our belts. And anything else you could hang yourself with.
This was the era of xxxl skate culture. Of a size forty waistline. A size forty when you were actually a size thirty. Will and I both had to hook a finger on a single belt loop for hours. Having your pants down was bad news.
Greg had bought a giant slingshot from an Army/Navy store. Its pocket large enough to fit a small boulder. That was if you wanted to smash a hole in a building. Or kill something.
For us, it was the perfect diameter for a water balloon. One that could, in no way, inflict harm. Rather, a perfect projectile that would soak the hell out of someone. A perfectly round cell of water that, upon impact, would simply piss off the victim.
The five of us loaded up in his Tercel. With the slingshot dormant on the floor board we drove through town. High noon. Mid summer. The heat radiating off asphalt, its waving illusion obscuring everything spread throughout the city.
We found a driving range. Adjacent to a ditch. Shadowed by oaks. A perfect place to crouch in the shade. A perfect hiding spot to lob our rubber mortars over a fence. To connect to those unsuspecting golfers with their white, tucked in polos and red, plaid slacks.
Greg had spent some time in the army. He knew how to handle weapons. But most importantly, he offered finesse with timing. Sean loaded the round. Will pulled back on the sling and let go on Greg’s command.
Posted as lookout, I watched each balloon clear fence, clear netting, and explode in succession at the feet of two men.
It could have only been better had our mortar connected to its target.
White sand in Florida can burn. Radiated from the summer sun, it sticks to your skin and fills every pore with fire. We laid partially on the cement, our torsos bent over the edge of the driveway. From the waist up we cooked in the sand.
Between the army of police officers there was only two sets of handcuffs to go around. Will and I never had the honor of wearing those. That steel banging our wrists, wanting so badly to crush every single carpal.
Instead, we got industrial strength zip ties. Pulled taught. Each hand pinched by plastic. Within minutes our skin bled.
We laid face down in the sand waiting for a convoy of paddy wagons to haul us away. This was more serious than we thought. Our crime, essentially an act of terrorism.
We were the youngest of the group. Will and I. Both seventeen. Both our Mothers were single. Both working to support delinquent children.
In nervous anticipation, we waited for them to post our bail.
To save us.
To subdue boredom, we imitated scenes from movies. Told jokes. Plotted convoluted methods of escape until we fell out, collapsing onto the floor we so dreaded to make contact with.
We woke to shuffling outside our cell. The fumbling of keys. The sliding of metal locks. And the door opened. Three men, rough, much older than us, were escorted into our space. Each wearing a one-piece, bright orange, prison uniform. They filed in and stood elbow to elbow against the opposing wall. And as the officer exited, we were left to stare at each other: head on, vis-a-vis.
The lights beating down on the lot as if to crack silence.
For what seemed like an hour, there was no exchange of words. There was no movement. Just uncomfortable nothing.
I noticed one of the inmates had tattoos. The jailhouse stereotype fulfilled. As far as I knew, I was well on my way to becoming this.
‘What are you guys in for?’
Subliminally, Will and I shared the answer. We could lie? But we didn’t, hoping that the idea of our crime crushed any fore-thunk attempt at a good ol’ jailhouse beat in.
‘Assault with a deadly missile’ we answered in tandem.
‘Damn.’ One inmate responded.
‘That’s some serious shit.’
I didn’t break a smile in relief. That would have been a bad move.
Instead, I stood stolid. My posture as stiff as a board. My chest bloated in superficial pride.
We were now part of it all, the mechanism chewing up and churning out criminals.
In that tiny cell, jammed five deep, I revelled in our escape from harm.
But even more so, I revelled in our initiation to thug-dom.