Sunday, October 26, 2014

My Three Arrests: Mike Monson CriMemoir

Mike Monson's plate is effing full. Dude is an associate editor at All Due Respect books and his own body of work is growing at an alarming rate. How does one man accumulate so much material for crime stories? He lives it. Sorta. This is Mike's second entry in the CriMemoir series (you can read his first here) and I'm beginning to think this guy is a golden egg laying goose for anecdotal short-ladder criminality. Mike's latest novel is Tussinland. Take comfort, Mike, confession is good for the soul...

My Three Arrests by Mike Monson

I’ve been jailed three times in my life. So far. Each time was back in the 1970s while I was in my early twenties. And, each time, my basic transgression was being a stupid fuck-up.

The first arrest happened very late one Saturday night. I was hitchhiking on Pacific Coast Highway in Corona del Mar. I needed to get to San Juan Capistrano, where I slept on my sister’s couch. That’s right, I had no car and no place of my own. I was unemployed. I’d also recently lost my glasses and one of my contact lenses, and I had no insurance or money to use to replace them.

Earlier in the evening I’d somehow managed to convince a young woman I was sexually obsessed with to use her car to take us to the drive-in movies. It was one of those deals where I was in lust and she was in love and when we each found out the truth in the front seat of her car, we lost interest in each other immediately. I guess she must’ve dropped me off on the highway, but I really have no memory of how I ended up there.

After about five minutes with my thumb out, a policeman stopped to write me a ticket. One of my feet was in the gutter, which is considered an illegal hitchhiking technique in Corona del Mar. Per routine, he ran my license and found out to my surprise that there was a warrant out for my arrest. He put me in cuffs and took me to the county jail. Turns out I hadn’t paid a speeding ticket several years before so the arrest was for ‘failure to appear.’

I called my sister to come bail me out. She refused. Some kind of tough love thing, I’m not sure. Since my parents were living in Louisiana, she was my only chance, so I spent the night in jail. I appeared before the judge the next day. He let me go and I was given a new deadline to pay the ticket. Luckily, my sister did come pick me up.

At that time I didn’t know enough to be frightened of the other prisoners. It was the jailers who scared me. I was in a cell with about ten other men. We ignored each other. There are three things I remember vividly about that night and half a day: not having the nerve to use the very public toilet in the middle of the cell; desperately needing a cigarette; and, being convinced that once I was behind bars the jailers would lose my paperwork and if I dared to ask them to check on my status (even after days or weeks) they’d just laugh in my face or beat me. Oh, and the breakfast tasted awful, of course.

The next arrest was about a year later. My parents had moved back to Southern California and I was now staying in their very nice house in Irvine. I even got my own room. I also had a baby blue 1963 Dodge Dart that my grandfather had given me to make up for the fact that he was an abusive drunken asshole when I was a kid.

I was pulled over by an Orange County Sheriff while I drove south on the Garden Grove Freeway. He said I’d made an illegal lane change. He ran my license and found that there was a warrant for my arrest. Failure to appear—I still hadn’t paid that speeding ticket from the last arrest.

It was a Friday night just before New Years and the jail was packed. There were about 50 men ahead of me in the line to be processed. I was wearing brand-new desert boots and a wonderful swede jacket my mother had recently bought me. I looked like what I was: a middle-class suburban white boy. Everyone else in the line looked like real criminals.

When I finally got to the front of the line, the jailer behind the desk gave me a big smile. He was even whiter than me, and he resembled Opie from The Andy Griffin Show. He looked like the guys I’d gone to high school with. He looked at me, he looked at my paperwork, and he looked at all the hard asses surrounding me.

“Mr. Monson,” he said. “How is it that a hardened criminal like you wound up with all these good citizens?” He thought that was pretty funny. I didn’t laugh.

Again, I spent the night without smoking, without taking a leak or a dump, and while totally convinced I’d be forgotten and rot in the cell. And, again, I was let out on my ‘own recognizance,’ after an awful breakfast of dehydrated scrambled eggs and rancid orange juice. I was given another chance to pay that original ticket.

The third time was after about another year. I had a good job finally and was trying to take care of all my debts and responsibilities. I was trying to grow up, I guess. I went down to the courthouse to pay that fine. They took my money for the old speeding ticket and then arrested me—failure to appear.

I’d never gotten around to paying the ticket for the illegal lane change on the Garden Grove Freeway. Oops.

Mike Monson is the author of The Scent of New Death, Criminal Love, and What Happens in Reno. His latest novel is Tussinland. Mike is also associate editor of the quarterly crime journal All Due Respect. Check in with him here.

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