Not armed robbery, but still a night in jail

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When you’re raised Roman Catholic, you never fully shake the Confession habit.

For years, from the age of seven until I left home for college, I would enter that dreaded box in the back of St. Augustine’s Church and cleanse my soul of the rash of sins I’d piled up over the previous two weeks. If I had done something particularly shameful, I’d hit my patellas within days of the offense for fear of being run over by a bus in the meantime and being sentenced to licking flames for eternity.

I’m pretty sure the Catholic Church has lessened the emphasis on fire and brimstone in recent years, if for no other reason than to go easier on the number of priests who have fallen to temptations worse than those that ever plagued me.

With this start of a new year, therefore, I thought it time to do an annual cleansing and confess what law enforcement informed my parents was an offense I’d committed that was punishable by jail.

My crime? Mooning.

If you’re smiling, I understand. But the relatively innocent teenage prank I pulled – and only because I happened to be riding shotgun in a car with five other potential miscreants, all of whom had mooned several times themselves but were positioned in a non-mooning seat on this particular night in Spokane, Washington  – was described to my parents by the arresting detective as “indecent exposure.”

“Your son exposed his private parts to a moving car with a woman and her teenage daughter in it,” the cop said, standing in our living room with a police report in his hand. “He’s a pervert!”

At which point my mother gasped and slumped back against the wall. She nearly fainted, started sobbing uncontrollably, and announced to my father and sister, “This is the most horrible thing that’s ever happened in the history of the Sheehan family.”

My stammering defense that it was my backside, not my front side, that was exposed, and that by assuming that position with my head down by the door handle I couldn’t see who was in the car we were offending. Unfortunately, that didn’t pass muster with the cop.

“Many of the sex criminals we encounter in adult life started off just the way your son has,” he continued. “Your boy has to answer for his crime, and we can only hope he might be reformed, but that is far from a sure thing.”

After the cop left our house, having agreed to let me take my two remaining final exams the next day before incarceration, my father drove me over to Gonzaga Prep, where I could confess my sin to one of the Jesuits who obviously had failed in their mission to teach me proper morals.

Thankfully, Father Meany, whose name belied his moderate temperament, was willing to explain to my father that “mooning” was a popular pastime among other Prepsters, and that the cop had grossly exaggerated the offense by calling it indecent exposure. He even made a joke.

“Considering how skinny your son is, Dr. Sheehan, I think you could put up a defense of ‘Insufficient Evidence,’” the kindly priest said. My father forced a smile at this, but the net effect of the conversation is that Dad was able to talk my mom off the ledge when we returned home. He tried to explain that what I had done was really nothing more than a foolish childhood prank.

The next evening, as I was checked into juvenile detention, the stoic clerk had me hand over my belt and the rosary my mother had given me, with stern instructions to “work those beads the entire time you’re in there.”

I asked why they needed those items, and the clerk just rolled her eyes. “So you won’t hang yourself,” she replied.

“That hadn’t occurred to me,” I said.

As another beleaguered worker led me to my cell, he said, “Make yourself comfortable. You’re going to be here a while.”

After a sleepless night, I was called to go to the shower room early the next morning. Another juvenile offender, lathering up, asked me my crime. I deferred, and asked what he’d done. “I stabbed my (bleeping) grandfather with a scissors,” he said, without a hint of emotion or regret.

“How about you?” he replied.

“Armed robbery,” I said, too embarrassed to admit the truth.

Before he asked for more details, I toweled off and returned to my cell. An hour later, I was called to a supervisor’s office.

“We’re confused about your case,” the Dragnet wannabe said. “What you did was horrible, but when we called your high school they said you were an honor student, with a long list of activities. How could you have done such a thing?”

I humbly replied: “I’m sure you’ll never understand, but we thought it was a funny thing to do. I’m really sorry that I corrupted a young girl.”

He flipped my arrest report to the side of his desk, and said, “What the hell. Your father is waiting for you in the next room.”

I would have done the Macarena right there, but the dance hadn’t been invented. Thus ended the longest day of my life, and my final confession of this new year.

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About the Author

Jack Sheehan

Vegas Vibe columnist Jack Sheehan has lived in Las Vegas since 1976 and writes about the city for Gaming Today. He is the author of 28 books, over 1,000 magazine articles, and has sold four screenplays.

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