I married a bad ass.
He was born on New Year’s Eve.
The year was 1948.
His father was ecstatic with another tax write off, while his mother was distraught with the discomfort of labor, knowing between all the water boiling and sharp pains, that she was about to miss out on cashing in on that pile of gifts from the Chamber of Commerce for the first child born in the new year, in the little town of Dane.
He was adorable.
But unfortunately by the age of five, he and his blue jeans with the five inch rolled up cuffs were headed down the wrong path.
They came to a split in the road, stood there in that striped t-shirt, scratched their crew cut and then went the wrong way.
That was why his mother marched him right over to Mrs. Lambert’s house. So that he could apologize between sobs for picking the tops off each and every one of her tulips, which had previously lined her sidewalk beautifully.
“Well, I just really liked flowers,” he claims to this day. “I only did it so that I could go into the shed and smell them.”
Like most crooks his crimes increased with severity.
That is why I was not astonished to learn that he was an accomplice to the overturning of that outhouse.
Or that he was a regular fresh pea-picking thief, jumping on the backs of the slow moving trucks headed to the cannery.
By the time Sven went off to college he had embezzled cases upon cases of Kool-Aid packs and cartons upon cartons of cigarettes.
“Millie, that is called survival.”
I try to console myself with the fact that he never wasted any of the stolen goods, taken from his father’s store.
By his last semester at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the same year he was writing in his famous blue book, I quote from it, Spring is the fall in reverse except the Kool-Aid is green.
That was code for, me and my just as high roommates washed down our thirty-three cent tuna pot pies with the only flavor we had left.
By that time he’d also destroyed five of his father’s cars and one sailboat.
“Well, it was only the mast,” he always says. “And it wasn’t my fault. The boat capsized and it got stuck in the sand.”
He was not to be blamed for any of the car wrecks either. Not even the one where he slammed into a telephone pole in broad daylight, converting his dad’s Rambler station wagon into two convertibles and had completely removed both retractable tops.
“I was on my way to pick up Aunt Helen and I fell asleep,” he maintains.
I am constantly reminded of his sordid past.
It is difficult to miss the tarp covered ginseng fields when we travel north.
Especially after the first twenty or so years of Sven telling and retelling his old ginseng heist story.
“You see that?” he would point. “That is ginseng under there.”
“Yeah. I know,” I would answer.
“You tell me that every time we go by,” I would say.
“Well I was the getaway driver,” he says.
“What? You don’t even go over fifty,” I said, choking on a potato chip the first time I heard it.
“Millie, you don’t have to drive fast to be a getaway driver.”
I put the bag of chips down and learned that he and Freddy and a guy named Steve, who are now both dead, one died in prison and the other while jogging, stole a bunch of ginseng from some poor farmer who was just trying to make a living.
“Why?” I demanded.
“We were going to sell it on the black market.”
It turned out that nobody gave a shit about tea.
And there is not a black market for ginseng.
The three went all British that summer and have not had a drop of tea since.
The more I learned about the man who’d stolen my heart, the deeper in love I fell.
I understand exactly how Bonnie ended up a total bad ass, hanging out of cars and shooting the shit out of people with machine guns.
Because the same thing almost happened to me.
You see being married to a bad ass is a lot like sitting on a toboggan that is teetering on the edge of a very slippery slope.
It was only a matter of time and I too was flying down the hill.
My debut as a crook was as Sven’s getaway driver.
I however was planning to push the petal to the metal.
Because this was much bigger than that old, failed, ginseng heist.
This was not about a bunch of tea that nobody wanted and even if they did they could just stop at the store.
The blue print was to borrow a little soil and transplant a dozen or so plants that Sven had raised from the time they had just been tiny special seeds that came all the way from Mexico. His cute little seedlings in that grocery bag he was carrying were a lot more valuable than ginseng. You wouldn’t be bobbing this herb in little bags on strings inside your mug of hot water to sip alongside your crumpets.
You would be more likely to stick this inside a Zig Zag, roll it up and light it with the same lighter you like to wave in the air at all your Grateful Dead concerts.
I dropped him off on the side of the road, in the rain.
“Now what am I supposed to do?” I said.
“Just drive around for ten minutes and pick me up right here,” he says with a shovel at his side.
“But how will I know when ten minutes are up?”
“Here,” he says and hands me his watch.
“But how will you know when ten minutes are up?”
I burned rubber and peeled out of there.
My heart was pounding as I glanced in the rear view mirror in time to see him disappear.
Country roads are very pretty. Even through windshield wipers. It is because they have all those hills and curves and trees.
The radio was cranked.
The Band was singing about Frannie putting the load right on me. I cracked my window and lit a cigarette, keeping a watchful eye in front and in back, just in case a copper or an angry farmer on a tractor appeared out of nowhere.
And that is exactly where I happened to be.
In the rain.
I found life as a crook to be enticing.
It was exhilarating.
It was lonely.
I tried checking the time on Sven’s watch. It was difficult as it kept twirling around on my wrist.
“Three minutes to go,” I said to nobody.
“Coming into Los Angeleeez,” sang Arlo. “Bringing in a couple a keys…..”
You know what?
Country roads, beautiful as they are, even through windshield wipers, with their hills and curves and trees, all look alike.
It was through the grace of God that I ever found Sven again.
And yeah, I was looking on the other side of the road when he tapped the window of the car that was cruising along at about five miles an hour, while I was scouring the wet landscape for anything that looked anything remotely like my sweet, crooked husband.
In my defense I would just like to say that it was not my fault I got lost.
I always get lost.
I liked being a bad ass.
I loved it.
I am not sure however whatever happened to the crop that Sven planted out there.
It could have been eaten by a deer. Or maybe the farmer’s daughter smoked it. Or perhaps Sven sold it on the black market.
But I don’t recall ever going back there again.
You don’t suppose Sven found himself a different getaway driver, do you?
That’s the problem when you try to write about your old crime filled drug dealing days. You can’t remember that much about it.
Other than it always starts out as a really good story.
“Millie, you are going to change my name before you post this story, right?”
“Of course I will, Sven.”
My God, how many fake names does this guy need?