Friday, March 11, 2005

I Was A Teenage Criminal Part II

Sometimes I think it's a miracle that boys make it to adulthood. When I think of all the stupid things I did as a teenager...

In Florida I used to walk back and forth to school, and one of the ways we took brought us through an orange grove. Have you ever seen that commercial where the people are reaching through the grocery store juice refridgerator? You know, the one where their hands suddenly appear reaching out of a bush in the midst of a group of orange farmers. The grove owners, who lovingly handpick the oranges and squeeze the orange juice themselves, put a quart of orange juice that they somehow packaged in the middle of the grove into the hands of the shopping mother. Their clothes and baseball caps mark them clearly as gentle, kindly men to whom orange juicing is a family tradition, passed down through the generations, and that somehow their love of their oranges sustains them against the evil corporate orange juice companies that use all kinds of chemicals like Synthetic Citrus Growth Hormone and Steroids (to bulk up the orange trees, don't you know). LIES. ALL LIES.

In my experience orange growers are angry old men who drive pickup trucks. They wear glasses that have lenses so thick they must weigh 3 pounds. They wear overalls and keep a shotgun in the truck they drive to chase off marauding bands of middle school students who would strip the grove like the Biblical swarm of citrus-eating locusts.

So, myself and a couple other locusts were walking through the grove, minding our own business, when we decided to do some crop-stripping. We grabbed a couple of oranges off the trees and proceeded to eat - the oranges were quite good.

We heard some yelling and turned to see, in the distance, the owner of the grove standing next to his pickup truck. He was yelling at us, but was so far from us that we had no idea what he was actually saying, but we got the general idea. We answered him nonverbally, each of us giving him the only salute teenage boys are capable of giving.

We watched him climb into his truck and start to drive towards us. I quickly turned to my buddies and explained that we were going to split up and run in different directions. As we were finishing our plans on where to meet back up the truck came roaring up, arriving far faster than we expected. He started to get out, yelling the entire time. We stood there like idiots until we saw him pull the shotgun out from behind the bench seat. It was then we decided that perhaps we were in over our heads.

We all turned to run, and to my surprise, instead of splitting up my friends started following me. I don't think we ran more than 10 steps when we heard the shotgun go off. I felt a sudden burning in the back of my calf and started running even faster, probably at a speed greater than that of Carl Lewis on his best day. However, because I'd been injured, my speed was a bit slower than it could have been. Somehow I was not falling behind - my friends were not only following me, they were slowing themselves down because they were counting on me to get them out of this. They obviously felt that my vast experience in black-market orange running bestowed the responsibility of escape upon me.

We came out of the grove and ended up hiding behind a hedge at somebody's house. I looked down at my leg to find that I was bleeding, and the hole in my leg was starting to burn. The truck stopped a little way down the road and the driver got out. He stood across the road from a different hedge than the one we were hiding behind. He was holding his shotgun and he yelled at the hedge that he "could see us" and that he knew we were hiding behind the hedge.

If I were not bleeding it would have been comical - he was yelling at the wrong hedge. I could see how thick his glasses were, so he probably believed he actually saw us there. He told the hedge that he was going to let us go this time, but that next time his shotgun would not be loaded with rock salt. I'm pretty sure I saw the hedge trembling. He climbed back into his truck and in turning around almost hit the hedge we were hiding behind.

My leg was hurting like you would not believe. I felt the wound and calmly decided as I nearly fainted that I would not be doing that again. With the limp I had suddenly acquired it took me quite a while to get home. My mother may not have even noticed my injury - it was much more minor looking than most of the injuries I came home with on a regular basis.

Knowing what I know now I should have called the police. Some of you may say we got what was coming to us - after all, Grand Theft Orange and Trespassing are serious crimes. Now that I have a son of my own, and someday will hopefully add to my family, I worry about him being shot at by militant orange growers. I've decided that when he's old enough I will sit him down and give him the talk that all parents dread: The Dangers of Citrus Rustling.

If I suddenly "disappear" or die as a result of Vitamin C poisoning, I think the first place the police should look is at the Citrus Mafia. Don't be a fool - stay on the Orange Grower's good side. And for God's sake, don't eat the grapes in the grocery store - I hear that more bodies are buried in the vineyards of California than in the desert around Las Vegas...