Living here in the Washington, D.C. area, a phrase that pops up every once in a while is, “It’s not the crime that gets you in trouble, it’s the cover-up.”
This is my story.
During my sophomore year, I had been invited to the movies by two seniors in my drama class to see Ghostbusters. My parents, who were still leery over my signing up with the thespian crowd, were even less impressed with my hosts, who I shall dub Mr. P. and Mr. S. Rumors had reached my parents that this duo engaged in smoking, drinking, and even the occasional never-named, but always-alluded-to criminal activity. However, I was able to convince Mom and Dad that all would be well in the company of these rogues as we were planning to see an early (8:00pm) movie and that I would be home by 10:30.
At the theater, after we bought our tickets, Mr. P. saw that Gremlins was scheduled to start ten minutes after Ghostbusters ended. He proposed that we turn our night into a double feature (or to paraphrase famed Chicago Cubs ballplayer, Ernie Banks, “Let’s watch two!”). I objected saying that my parents expected me to be home ninety minutes before midnight. Mr. S. countered that I could phone my parental units and let them know that our first choice of time slot was sold out and that we had to buy tickets for a later showing.
Well, when put that way, it sounded like a winner of an idea.
I went to the nearest pay phone (ah, those innocent pre-cellular halcyon times), dropped my quarter into the slot, and mentally ran through the script that I would deliver. Luck fancied me that night, I thought, as I heard my own voice greet me as our answering machine picked up the line. On tape, recorded for posterity, I gave my soliloquy as to why I would be home later than originally planned.
Aglow with the satisfaction of being rebellious, the three of us enjoyed the antics of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, and Sigourney Weaver. We left the theater while the ending credits were rolling so that we could find decent seats for the next movie. However, this was the opening weekend for the film directed by Joe Dante so the three of us were forced to settle for the first row in the multiplex’s largest theater.
A fairly attractive woman kept walking in front of us looking up into the packed room presumably trying to find her friends or some open seats. After her third pass, Mr.S. leapt out of his chair and intercepted this damsel in distress. I wasn’t able to hear their conversation, but it was obvious through their body language for me and the entire standing room only audience to see that he had made some sort of proposal and that she shot him down like a clay pigeon. There were even pockets of laughter from those who witnessed Scott’s extremely public dismissal. I turned around to see hundreds of faces anticipating the start of the movie that would tell me to never get Gizmo and his fellow Mogwai wet.
I was back home thirty minutes after midnight (also a time to never feed Gizmo or his Mogwai brethren) congratulating myself on the perfect crime.
Three days later, my parents walked into my room while I was doing homework and my mother bluntly asked, “What did you do after you saw Ghostbusters?”
Much like a good attorney, my mother never asked a question that she did not already know the answer ahead of time. My perfect crime was not so perfect. I was caught and I knew it. I knew it and she knew I knew it and I knew that she knew that I knew it.
I admitted to seeing Gremlins and to lying to them on the answering machine. My parents were quietly angry with me for staying out later than we had agreed to, but they were vindicated in their belief that Mr. P. and Mr. S. (and by extension, the whole of the Theater Department) were horrible influences on my impressionable teen mind. They threatened to yank me out of the drama class right then and there but I managed to talk them down into only grounding me for a month.
Before they left, I had to know how they did it. I know it’s a myth (which parents are fond of perpetuating) that mothers and fathers have eyes in the back of their heads or some mystical extrasensory radar system, but this was the closest I had ever been to actually seeing it in action.
“How did you find out?” I quietly asked.
Like the parlor scene of an Agatha Christie mystery, my mother did not immediately answer my question. Instead she spun the tale of how she uncovered my deception.
“I ran into Mrs. Carey yesterday at the supermarket,” Miss Marple…I mean, my mother began. Mrs. Carey was the mother of a teammate on my high school soccer team. This fact confirmed for me my paranoia that parents of teenagers are plugged into a vast interconnected cabal. I’m not sure if membership cards are handed out or if secret handshakes are practiced, but it would certainly explain how moms and dads know what’s going on. Parents may feign ignorance, but teens should know better.
There may not be an actual underground bunker with parents on headsets leaning over a huge map moving plastic models around with sticks like the Allied Command in World War II, but I wouldn’t put it past them.
“She said that she had gone to the movies and saw you there. I asked her if she had enjoyed Ghostbusters. She said she had gone to Gremlins. Now I thought this was odd because you had called and said you were going to catch the late version of Ghostbusters so I said she must have been mistaken. She told me she saw you clearly after the boy next to you went up to talk to some girl in front of the screen. She saw your face when you turned around to look up at the crowd.”
It’s always the little things that bollocks up the perfect crime. Whether it’s the discarded cigarette butt you left at the scene at the crime, the Bruno Magli shoes you swore you never owned showing up on a video tape, the innocent comment said to the police about the mode of execution that only the killer would know, the duct tape you left on the door at the Watergate Hotel, or the shy glance you gave back to a packed movie house, no one can cover all the bases.
It’s never the crime that does you in, it’s the cover-up.
That’s my story.
Hmmm…perhaps my second example above isn’t that good an illustration as a killer can make that mistake and be judged not guilty.
P.S. As to the other nefarious activities I had with Mr. P. and Mr. S…well, that’s a story for another day (unless you’re my parents…then I deny everything).