Friday, November 5, 2010

My Sordid Criminal Past

WARNING: The following post contains such words as "h*t p*le" and "t!t" and "chickensh!t" and "bad*ss." Read at your own peril.

(Oh, come on. This is me. How bad can it really be?)

Even before my walk on the wild side as an almost-gunrunner in Ireland, I had already dipped briefly into a life of crime. Difficult though it will be for you to believe it:

I am an international smuggler.

There. *bites knuckle* I've said it. Think of me what you will. But it's not my fault! I was young. I was impetuous.  

I was Double-Dog Dared.

And we've already seen what depths I will stoop to when dared, haven't we? So you can hardly be surprised to learn that this behavioral tendency has its roots in my murky past.

It was my junior year of college, and I was studying abroad in Stockholm. (TG says he studied a broad in college, too--several, in *waggles eyebrows*) Over spring break a group of us international students went Russia. We stayed five days in Moscow and four in St. Petersburg. Since we were tagging along with a high school study group, you'd think we couldn't manage to get into much trouble, wouldn't you?

Yeah, you'd think that. But you'd be wrong.

Listen, all I can say is, it's not that tough for five college girls to ditch one harried high school chaperone, who was naturally way more concerned with keeping tabs on his underage charges than on those of us who were supposed to be "mature." The poor man may even have been under the impression we would actually help him ride herd on the teenagers.

[Pause for interlude of hysterical laughter.]

Shortly after we arrived in Moscow (getting there was a harrowing experience in itself--I'm not sure how it is today, but back then there was a good reason Aeroflot was commonly known as "Aeroflop" *shudders*), one of our motley crew of college girls--let's call her TUNS (short for "Thinks Up Naughty Stuff")--decided it would be fun to take a cab to the nearest fancy restaurant and dine spectacularly on caviar and vodka.

Well, the only thing was, the exchange rate from Swedish crowns to Russian rubles was not so great. None of us poor college students could afford it.

"Ha!" says Tuns. "No problem. I know a guy..."

Know a guy she did. He was a Pole (as in from Poland, not a staff, and quite classically handsome, if physical considerations are important to you) from our International Swedish language class. He happened to be visiting his Russian cousin at the same time as our trip.

What a coincidence! I'm sure the timing of his trip had nothing to do with the fact that Tuns had been seeing him on the sly back in Sweden. He was married to a Swedish woman, purely, he assured us all, to gain residency. Didn't stop him from trying to date me, Tuns, and every other American girl in our language class. I think he had aspirations of U.S. citizenship. Tuns had no intention of marrying him, even if he did divorce his Swedish wife, but she couldn't see why that should stop her from letting him *cough* try to persuade her.

Long story short (or is it already too late for that?), Hot Pole's [Heh-heh. I said "Hot Pole."] Russian cousin was a taxi driver who dabbled in, um, unofficial currency exchange. Apparently, this sort of "moonlighting" was quite common then. Might still be, for all I know. He gave us an exchange rate approximately ten times better than the official one, assuring us that "nobody really minded" as long as we didn't try to take any Russian currency out of the country with us. We'd have to spend it all while we were there.

This did not strike us as an especially bad hardship. *blink*

Russian Cousin also said he could give us a very good rate on a cab ride to a nice restaurant. So five of us girls, plus Hot Pole (heh), squeezed into (heh-heh) a tee-niny cab, built to hold three passengers, tops.

Have I mentioned this was March, and that this particular March in Moscow was colder than the proverbial witch', bosom? (Bosom is better than tit, right? I'm working on my restraint.) With four-foot snowbanks along the sides of the roads? Also, apparently it's illegal for taxi drivers to over-stuff their cabs, drive without their meters on, and then not report the income to whoever the Russian equivalent to Uncle Sam is?

Yeah. Well, it is, it is, and it is. So we spent the whole cab ride caroming around icy streets, avoiding cop cars, and finally wound up slamming head-on into a snowbank. Fun stuff.

To give Russian Cousin his due, he did get us to the restaurant...after we all helped dig is car out of the snow. And the restaurant was spectacular. The food was amazing, the wait staff so attentive we felt like celebrities, and the vodka flowed freely enough that none of us felt our whiplash.

But back to the main point of this post. After lots more antics along those lines, one of them involving all of us getting kicked out of Lenin's tomb for inappropriate laughter (what? he looked like a reject from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum), we found we had some rubles left over as we packed to head back to Sweden.

Tuns told us the rubles would make wonderful mementos of our trip to Russia, and that she fully intended to take hers with her. Went so far as to say if we didn't do the same, we'd be chickenshits, and she would spend the rest of the semester clucking at us whenever she passed us in the hall.

Then she did it. She double-dog dared us.

What choice did we have? The other girls stuffed rubles in their bras, but I thought that seemed too obvious. So I pried open my dental floss case, folded up my 5-ruble bill really small, crammed it beneath the wound-up white thread, and closed the case back up, good as new. Squeezed a small blob of toothpaste on the outside case for authenticity's sake, and to discourage any official who happened to rifle through my bags from actually touching it. (I thought that was a rather clever touch.)

Then I proceeded to have heart palpitations until we were safely through airport security. No one checked any of our bags, but I didn't breathe easily until we were back on Swedish soil. Badass though I am, I don't think I'm cut out for a life of crime.

How about you guys? Have you ever broken an international law? Do share in the comments. I swear your secret is safe with me.


Bren said...

Hilarious! I love your stories, Linda. I'm definitely not as much of a badass as you are. I may have come across the border a few times without declaring EVERYTHING, but that's about as far as I've gone. I'm too honest and get freaked out at the thought of getting caught! I love the touch of putting toothpaste on the case. :) Good thinking.

John Ross Barnes said...

what delightfully naughty(ish) visuals. Very descriptive, very evocative. I liked it. a lot. I will attempt to not say it had a good beat & you could dance to it. Oh, I guess I did. D'oh!

In 1976 I spent three months in Hong Kong. For a seventeen year old from Coffeyville, Kansas it was quite eye opener. Minor enlightenment and some fairly major hilarity(I thought) ensued.

Thanks for reminding me of that.

Unknown said...

I was chickling right along until I got to "hot pole" and then I lost it. I have 10th graders staring at me through my office window. I'm still hiccupping. :-)

Thanks for the laugh on this very dreary Friday in NY. I have broken no laws that I know of, but I did feel a little dirty reading your post with the kids watching. Heh.

Unknown said...

hahah! GREAT story :)

ahem...I've never broken any international laws (that I know of), but then again, I'm not the one claiming to be a badass...AGAIN :)

Summer Frey said...

Unfortunately the last time I was out of the country, I was 1 year old. And for me, being "out of the country" was actually coming into America.

So now, never studied abroad in Stockholm...but I did have a guy from Stockholm study a broad (me). Heh. My husband calls him the dirty Swede still...

Unknown said...

Oh Linda- You had me at *naughty words*. ;D Yes, I've dodged the law too, quite literally. I was once the focus of an all-out manhunt. Me and my pals were trespassing in a graveyard one night and were mistaken for vandals who had apparently been causing thousands of $ in damages. When we saw the cops we ran (natch), and soon the area was teeming with squads all searching for us. I evaded capture by vaulting over a hedge, outrunning two cops through some woods, and finally laying flat on my belly and covering myself with dead leaves while cops stalked about, nearly walking right on top of me in their efforts to apprehend me. ~youthful misadventures!~

Teri Anne Stanley said...

This story makes me kind of glad that I missed the trip to Europe with my college friends. God only knows what we would have tried to smuggle across various borders. Or where we might have tried to hide it. Shudder.

abby mumford said...

"and the vodka flowed freely enough that none of us felt our whiplash." a mere line in the whole grand story, but it tickled my funny bone quite heartily.

have i broken any international laws? not that i'm aware of, but i have been double dog dared while overseas. there was this one time in the countryside of england where my friend becky dared me to race her down a hill* (*said hill was the equivalent of a double black diamond ski slope) to see who could get to the pub faster.

naturally, i won, but only because i managed to stay on my feet the entire time while she tripped and rolled the entire way down. it took her about 20 minutes to regain her equilibrium enough that she could start drinking a pint of cider.... ah, memories.

Susan Adrian said...

I too am a fugitive from justice!!


When I lived in England...I refused to pay my poll tax.

I know, I know. SUCH A REBEL. Though I still have nightmares that they wouldn't let me back in because of it...

Trisha Leigh said...

This is maybe one of the best stories ever. I smuggled fruit and a dead insect (a bee in fresh honey) back from Mexico. What? The mangos fresh of the tree are worth lying to a federal customs officer.

Also, I do not approve of this "practicing restraint". What is this about?

Linda G. said...

Brenda -- Glad you like my wacky stories. I'm really pretty much of a wuss, too...except, apparently, when I'm double-dog dared. ;)

John -- Thanks! And, yeah, mostly "ish," I'm afraid. Still, I think it counts as at least mildly badass. Hong Kong must have been quite the surprise to a wide-eyed 17-year-ol--I'll bet you have great memories of that trip. :)

Jeannie -- LOL! I taught 10th graders, so I know how that is. Hope I didn't put a crimp in your teacher cred. ;)

Karla -- You're young yet. Maybe your international lawbreaking days are still ahead of you. ;)

Summer -- Ha! Too funny. Met my fair share of "dirty Swedes" when I was studying there, most of them very nice. :)

pseudosu -- Whoa! Under the leaves? Now, that's what I call a great dodging-the-law story! :)

Teri Anne -- LOL! I'm sure you would've been very creative with it. ;)

Abby -- Hee. Remind me never to race with you. ;)

Suze -- I thought you had that shifty, poll-tax-avoider look about you, you rebel, you. ;)

Trisha -- Aw, shucks. Glad you enjoyed it. And I totally understand the mango smuggling--yum! Oh, and don't worry too much about the restraint. It's just an experiment, and I'm sure it won't last long.


I'm pretty sure "double dog dare" is a legitimate defense in any courtroom.


demery said...

Such a well told story! I only wish I had a questionable international legal incident to share back. When I finally get out of the country again I'll be sure to plan something good. Thanks for the inspiration :)

Linda G. said...

Tawna -- Yes, aka the "Triple D" defense. It rarely fails, unless the judge is a wuss who can't conceive of the honor involved in accepting a dare.

Demery -- Thanks! Also, I dare you to follow through with that plan. In fact, I double-dog dare you... ;)

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Wow - I had no IDEA of the KGB-like power I accessed when I Double Dog Dared you! Had I known, I would have insisted upon Russian caviar.

Lenny Lee said...

hi miss linda! yikes! you sure did some really exciting stuff. i didnt ever do anything like that ever. i dont know if i could be scared or not. when i get older maybe i could try it. that could be a good spy story to write. i got the stuff you sent in the mail. i loooove the hotwheels blimp! i didnt water bomb anyone yet but i got a big plan on it. ha ha. i was gonna email a thanks but i cant find a email for you on your blog so im saying it here. big thanks!
...smiles and hugs from lenny

Linda G. said...

Hi, Lenny! So glad your prizes got there, and that you like them. :)

About all the zany "antics" I got up to overseas--remember, I was already technically a grownup. I never would have done any of that stuff when I was a kid (because I would have gotten into Soooo much trouble)...and neither should you. :)

Linda G. said...

Jeffe -- Gotta stay on your toes around me! ;)