The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

(Welcome to an ‘In Case You Missed It’! This will be one of those I re-post for a few days since it’s a tale I really wanna share as much as I can. If you’ve already seen it, think of the first time as a nifty pre-order bonus. I guess where the bonus is…a slight sense of superiority.)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

(Welcome to an ‘In Case You Missed It’! This will be one of those I re-post for a few days since it’s a tale I really wanna share as much as I can. If you’ve already seen it, think of the first time as a pre-order.)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

Confessions of a Criminal, pt. 1

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

The other week, I went to a local event in my area called “Coffee with a Cop” as part of an attempt at character research for a novel I’ve got cooking (I actually sort of chickened out then had to come back after being light-heartedly berated by a department clerk, but that’s a story for another time). Point is, it’s a really cool shin-dig wherein members of the local police department convene at a designated coffee shop and are available to the public for questions, conversation, and general hang-out.

Reflecting on it and my notes, it got me thinking about the, precisely, two times I’ve been at odds with The Law – both simple traffic violations.

The first was a simple speeding ticket, and not worth mentioning besides this note telling you it isn’t worth mentioning.

The second was a bit more fun.

For a bit of context, let’s rewind. You all remember Pierre, the roommate who ignited the apartment-wide Cold War? Well, maybe six years ago, he had a girlfriend who’s father had the following belief: “Eh, I just use the carpool lane year-round and whenever. Whenever I get caught, I just treat the ticket like my membership fee.”

As a 19-year-old, I thought this philosophy was goddamn brilliant.

So that’s what I did. For years, I was “that guy,” the one who blazed passed you losers caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour. I did this as a renegade road warrior for years; and you know what? I was always on time (sort of kind of not really not the point).

Well one day, I hopped on the freeway, scooted over to the fast lane like usual, and was on my way. Except this time was different. This time, I got a little funny feeling in the back of my brain. A little tingle like ESP that told me, for some inexplicable reason, today was the wrong day to do this. Some would call it paranoia, some would call it guilt, others might call it an impending sense of divine CHP justice (I’d probably side with the latter). But whatever you want to call it, in that moment I was certain I’d made a bad move. So I started trying to merge back in line. Thing was, my plan worked TOO WELL.

I was flying passed columns of barely-moving vehicles, making really good time to my next job (yeah, by the way, it was during a summer where I was working a second job to help teach an English class – well, tutor, but you get me), but all the while thinking that today it was a bad idea, and for the life of me I couldn’t find a spot to merge back into line.

Well, about five minutes into this master class of seeing the future, that’s when I saw him: Officer Powers.

And no shit, I’m not making his name up either to make him sound cool or ‘protect his identity’ or anything. His name was legitimately Officer Powers (like, I’m sure he had a first name, but you know what I’m saying).

Anyway, the freeway passes under an overpass and time…just…

Well, you ever have one of those experiences where you experience a single second of time, but it feels slowed down and stretched into fifteen? That happened here. As I drove under the overpass, I turned my head (slow-motion eyes blinking included) and saw a motorcycle cop that had been hidden on the other side of the barrier. I watch his eyes (behind his badass sunglasses) slowly rise from his radar gun and – y’all – I could feel the eye contact. With our eyes alone and all in an instant, we had the following conversation:

Me: “You see me, right?”
Him: “Oh, yeah.”
Me: “And you see me seeing you, right?”
Him: “Mmhm, most definitely.
Me: “And you can tell I’m seeing you seeing me, right?”
Him: “Totally.”
Me: “Shit.”
Him: “Yup.”

Then, just as quickly as it had slowed, time resumed its usual pace, and as it did, my heart started thumping. “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap!” it kept saying.

Then OF COURSE a spot opens up in a regular lane, I scoot into it and start hoping, “Well, maybe that whole thing was imagined. Maybe that badass hawk-eyed cop lost track of me.”

Nope.

A few seconds later I heard the ‘Whoop-Whoop’, saw the lights, and he pulled up behind lil’ old me.

Now, here’s the problem. Like I mentioned up top, I’ve been pulled over precisely once before on the freeway. That time, it had been a complete piece of cake. Freeway, nighttime with no other cars, just before an off-ramp that pulled directly into a gas station. Super safe, super easy, no mess, no fuss.

This time, it was on a hot, bright, busy day, with the Great Migration of Southern Traffic happening, and I didn’t know to/how to pull over onto the shoulder.

So…I…just kept driving.

Like, I was in the right-hand lane and trying to choose and exit to take, but couldn’t find a similar, utterly perfect one; so I panicked and stayed on the freeway.

I took so long to pull off that the car driving in front of me must have had a guilty conscience over something and pulled off to the shoulder themselves (or they were demonstrating for me, I don’t know). Point is, I take so long to pull over, the guy rides up to my window.

Him: “Hey, are you gonna pull over or what?”
Me: “Um, erm, I, uh, um…downtown exit?”

I can’t see his eyes roll behind his shiny-ass aviator glasses, but I felt it.

I finally pull off the freeway at the designated exit, but then I encounter another problem: where to park?

I come up to a stop light, and take a right because I know it goes into a neighborhood with, normally, plenty of street parking where I can proudly receive my traffic citation. Except today, the curbs are all super busy. So I come up to a 4-way stop intersection thinking this: “Well, I mean, there’s a little bit of space over there, but it looks like it’s a bit of red curb and, ho-ho, I don’t wanna double down. That spot looks open, but- oof, looks like a yellow curb…”

Meanwhile, Officer Powers has again approached my driver’s side window as three other cars have approached the intersection, but are all awkwardly sitting there since it’s my turn to go and nobody wants to go out of order while a cop is present. I roll my window down.

Me: “Hi again.”
Him: “Yeah, hi. You see that patch of curb over there?” -he points-
Me: “Yessir.”
Him: “There.”

He holds his hands up to hold the three other cars back as a way to direct traffic for me as he waves me forward to my parking spot.

The [French accent] piece de resistance?

I smirk and nod at one of the cars I pass. Y’all, I felt like such a pimp getting my very own police escort that I chest-pumped at a stranger.

Anyway, once I park, it was nothing but a (further) pleasant experience. He told me I come off like I’m new to this sort of thing, to which I confess I am, to which he responds that he guesses that’s probably a good thing.

In the end, I was late to work, got my ticket and a story, and I haven’t violated the rules of the carpool/HOV lane since. #thesystemworks

Also, I told my mom about the whole thing, and she laughed with me. I told my girlfriend and got my ass chewed plum off for it. Learned a lot that day.

Catch you guys Thursday!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

ALSO I HAVE MORE NEWS!!

My episode with the NIGHTLIGHT podcast dropped last Friday!! It features a horror story of mine: “The Scars of Eliza Gray“. Go, it’s free, give it a listen, and if you wanna, stick around after the 25-minute mark to listen to my interview with the podcast’s creator, Tonia Thompson. It was a TON of fun to do and I’m sure we’ll have more news like this in the future.

Let’s Get Real #1: I Was a Real-World Infiltrator (That One Time)

Happy Thursday everybody!

This whole thing was pitched as “fiction and comedic true tales”, right? So, let’s get to some real stories. And I figured I couldn’t think of a better way to start than with one that might still get me in trouble.

So let’s set the scene: Northern California, Fall of 2016, three early twenty-somethings in a two-bedroom apartment – my best friend (who, for the sake of the story, we’re calling Pierre), my girlfriend, and I. (Also, I’d like to note here just how heavily I was advised against a living situation like that by pessimistic-ass members of my family, but even now after that chapter’s closed, I look back on it fondly.) Anyway, we’d all recently moved out together and used our newfound freedom pretty predictably: drank too much, went on a lot of trips, and started an apartment-wide, Nerf Gun arms race.

The main driver or impetus behind that last one – and a lot of other innovative trends in that house – was my buddy, Pierre.

The story, as I remember it, was that that summer, I knocked on his door to ask him about something I’m sure was important and when I stepped in I saw he was working with a set of lockpicks. I asked him where in the hell he’d gotten those. He shrugged and dismissively said, “Amazon, dude.”

I was floored. To my mind, lockpicks were called “Thieves’ Tools” on account of my D&D experience and one did not simply acquire Thieves’ Tools out in the open. Or legally. But I’ve been wrong before.

As the story goes, Pierre’s sister had called him up with a problem, having misplaced the key to their family trunk. That trunk reportedly held a number of important family documents, papers, n’ things they kind of wanted back. Pierre’s solution? No key, no problem.

This was right on the heels of the Nerf Gun zeitgeist that had taken ahold of the house and that same energy carried us right into lockpicking soon after. Next week, Mandy and I both had our own sets of picks as well as a couple of locks to practice on and the new hobby was born.

A few months later, Christmas rolls around (as it does) and I straight up told Pierre: “I’m at a loss as for what to get you, dude. What do you want this year?” He sat at his desk for a quiet moment, holding his chin, then said, “You wanna just get me a fuck ton of locks?” “Deal!” right? It was a super easy list, just turns out that locks are pretty goddamn expensive when you buy in bulk.

However, not only do I NOT regret it, I treasure him making that request because of what came of it.

I wound up devising what has probably been the most intricate and thoughtful gift I’ve ever given anybody for Pierre that Christmas. For those that didn’t know, locks apparently come in varying degrees of security (or “difficulty” for our purposes). Pierre and I both were and are avid gamers and I thought of no better way to package his gift of locks than as a video game-themed challenge. I arranged the locks in ascending order of difficulty (1 to 10) and named them after bosses in Dark Souls. At the end of the ladder of locks, there was an envelope labeled “FINAL BOSS”.

Pretty ominous, right?

Inside the envelope was a handwritten note containing the address of a particular Peet’s Coffee, that week’s code to the men’s restroom (I’d visited the day before to make sure it was current), and specific instructions. The instructions stated to go to said restroom, pick the lock on the supply cabinet inside, retrieve a small item – piece of toilet paper, hand towel, anything – take a photo for proof, and return it to me. For the effort and fulfillment of the contract, there would be a sweet $50 and a crisp high-five waiting for him.

Is it technically burglary? Not a lawyer, but probably, yeah.

Pierre finished the locks, read my note, laughed, and politely preferred not to break the law (the coward!). We laughed, I said I understood, kept my fifty dollars, and quietly resolved to do it myself.

So a couple of days later, I donned my coat, smuggled my picks into the inside pocket, and went to that Peet’s Coffee for my real-world test, the test that would make me a real-life infiltrator. I parked in the public garage down the road and rolled into that cafe like I was Frank Ocean and it was the Bellagio. I ordered a coffee to secure my cover as a patron (and, let’s be honest, not be rude) while I cased the joint – as they say in The Business.

As soon as the lovely young woman behind the counter looked me in the eyes, a little voice in my head screamed, “SHE KNOWS!!” But I ignored the cold sweat running down my back and played it cool. While my drink was made, I stole on over to the bathrooms, entered the code I’d committed to memory, and slipped inside the men’s restroom. To my utter dismay, between the time I’d last seen the bathroom and this moment of glory, the cabinet had been vandalized. Some asshole had broken the doors off their hinges, emptied the shelves, and spray painted the rest.

I retrieved my coffee and left that place feeling an awful sense of loss. My dream of becoming the pettiest burglar of all petty burglars would die unrealized.

It would be about a year later I was in another coffee house somewhere else in town and when I went to the restroom there, I realized something that made my heart race, my eyes go wide, and my chest swell: this place, as well it seems, had a locked supply cabinet. I was back the next day, with my picks tucked in my coat pocket as they had been the year before, and I entered The Vault.

Problem was- Or rather, problems were that, for one, of the two bathrooms, one was down for maintenance, making potty-Demand suddenly outweigh potty-Supply. Secondly, I hadn’t hardly practiced since giving up on The Dream, and all that; and in my haste to make it back here, hadn’t thought to practice.

You ever had one of those moments where you’re in a public restroom and someone just tries the handle without knocking first? Of course, it’s probably locked, but the thought still suddenly strikes your mind, “OH GOD, did I remember to lock it?” This was like that, except instead of a psuedo-embarrassing, “You caught me on the pot” moment between adults, I still can’t rightly think of a good “This isn’t what it looks like” explanation for getting caught doing what I was doing.

So, after a number of heart-attacks at the jiggled handle and minutes listening to the whispers in the hallway, I flushed (as a cover) and left, The Dream still unrealized.

A couple days later, I asked Pierre if I could borrow that stash of locks I’d gotten him and that night spent probably four hours in a Rocky-style training montage, tearing my way through lock after lock until it became second nature.

I was The Key.

I wrote a new letter and was back the next day. Waltzed into that bathroom, had the lock popped and the cabinet opened quieter than a church mouse in maybe two minutes. One of the most undeservedly proud moments of my life, hands down.

The new note I’d written…well, I’ll be honest, I don’t fully remember what was in it. I know I put some “Play it Forward” cards in it but not specifically which ones, and the rest was basically just a list of compliments to whoever read it. And I’ll be real, ever since pulling that reverse-caper, I’ve wanted to go back and pick it again just to KNOW that my note’s been found, evidence that someone out there knows of my skills as an as-of-yet-not-quite-renowned infiltrator.

That, and I think part of me is just scared that they’ve installed a camera system or something, however unlikely or super illegal (I think?) that would be.

FIN

And that’s all for now, everybody. This one was fun. Catch y’all Tuesday!