If a door’s locked, there’s an open window

If a door’s locked, there’s an open window

When you’ve gotten away with something you knew was wrong but you’ve done it so well for so long, the temptation is always there to go one step farther, to take one more chance.

This, of course, is the definition of madness.

Nonetheless, when I slipped through the doorway in an otherwise locked-down school that Saturday night in January, I felt confident.

B&E, as the cops called it, tends to become one of those habits that, like smoking or enjoying Cowsills 45s, always catches up with you.

But when you’re 17 years old, the last thing on your mind is getting caught, especially, as I’ve said, when you never have been.

I can pinpoint the exact time and place that it started, my love affair with taking calculated nighttime risks, and it had nothing — yet everything — to do with playing basketball. In the winter of my 15th year, I jumped into an already crowded VW Beetle, and with Creedence Clearwater Revival blasting through the speakers, I began my career as a juvenile delinquent, willingly taking the ride.

I was a Pete Maravich fan back then, keeping track of the flashy LSU guard’s scoring exploits in the pages of The Sporting News, a subscription to which had been at the very top of my Christmas list. I grew my hair long like his, fashioned my driveway fall-away jumper after his and, when I had the chance, wore my socks floppy.

His poster held a place of prominence on my bedroom wall, right alongside one of a bikini-clad Raquel Welch, and they both bore witness to my slavish devotion to the AM clock radio, which was always on, mostly tuned to CKLW, known as “The Big Eight.”

But when I got cut from the ninth-grade basketball team — the last guy let go, according to our Neanderthal coach — something shifted.

I decided then and there not to worry about things so much, which is how I joined up with that band of renegades who made it their life’s mission to sneak into school gymnasiums after dark and shoot hoops for as long as they wanted. It felt good to be included.

When you’re young, you don’t really care about the consequences.

You just go with the flow, doing your best “Hogan’s Heroes” impression as you infiltrated the objective, but rather than blow up the Hammelburg train crossing, you perfected your behind-the-back pass, another Pistol Pete trademark. Life was pretty great.

In the winters that followed, the cast of characters changed as junior high faded into the rearview mirror and high school loomed. With age came wisdom, and I parlayed my knowledge of past forays into usable information as the scope of our nocturnal escapades widened to include pretty much the entire town.

I’m sure you’re wondering about now, “Why didn’t you just join the YMCA or something, you know, a little less illegal?”

The truth is there was an addictive element of danger involved, kind of like using a fake ID to get a keg on a Saturday night, the sort of risk-taking that fueled an adolescent’s thirst for adrenaline.

You’re probably also wondering, “Did you guys steal stuff, do any damage, engage in any sort of vandalism? Or did you just hoop?”

I’ll admit to — one time — taking a pint bottle of chocolate milk from a cooler, but other than that, my hands stayed clean. Of course, there was the matter of turning on the lights in the gym and occasionally bumping up the heat, but that was just about it.

Oh yeah, one time we all took hot showers, but it was cold outside.

How it all came crashing down was as stupid as it was predictable. There was a particularly easy mark on the nice side of town, a school we always made sure to leave a window unlocked because, after a few times, it was clear no one bothered to check.

So one guy slipped in, easy-peasy, and we all walked in out of the snow, leaving “American Pie” echoing in the car, which we had parked well away from prying eyes, safely off on a quiet side street.

I played pretty well that night, wearing my orange Chuck Taylors with my customary floppy sweatsocks, hitting jumpers and generally having a good time. When it was time to leave, I threw on my dad’s WWII army coat and headed back outside, unworried.

After Mass that Sunday morning, the phone rang, and my friend since grade school said, “We have to go back. I left my wallet.”

You know that moment in a movie when the anti-hero makes a tragic mistake — think Edward Fox in “The Day of the Jackal” when he sleeps with that countess or whatever she was. That’s what flashed through my brain as we retraced our steps and came up empty. In the full light of day too, our footprints were visible.

Long story short, the cops found the wallet, and all of us had to go to the police station to answer a bunch of questions. I was asked to show the bottom of my shoes and was assured forensics could match them to the impressions left by the window, so that was bad.

The worst thing they found was my friend’s doctored driver’s license, but when his father swore he only used it to get into dirty movies, the whole situation defused itself and life went on.

I’d like to say I was finished, scared straight and never engaged in that kind of behavior again, but I’ve never lied to you.

Mike Dewey can be reached at Carolinamiked@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28650. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where locked doors are only an illusion.

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