Bouncing Bernie

Written in response to: Write about someone whose luck is running out.... view prompt


Crime Friendship Drama

You might say Bernie was the luckiest guy I know. I disagree. I thought of him as the unluckiest person in my life. He was a magnet for bad luck—he just had an incredible knack for landing on his feet. No matter what happened, he always bounced back.

For example:

My college roommate, Bernie, was the assistant tennis coach and was studying for a master's degree in sports management. He loved to play pick-up tennis with the neighbors at the apartment's court.

Bernie was a parttime kleptomaniac. His particular "specialty" was highway signs, which he mounted on our apartment walls. Because I love trains, he brought home a large railroad crossing sign – highly reflective yellow with a big black "X" – and mounted it in the living room.

The problem was that the police drove around the apartment's perimeter road at least three times every day and night, and their headlights clearly reflected the sign's visibility. Naturally, it wasn't long before they paid us a visit.

They were polite but it was clear Bernie had invoked their wrath. It was all I could do to avoid saying "uh, oh" out loud. They had handcuffs on their belts, and it was clear that they were trained to use the cuffs.

During their tour of our living quarters, they confiscated all of Bernie's prized signs. He stood there sheepishly as they read him his rights. They warned him there is a $250 fine for each and every sign.

But they didn't arrest him. They tipped their hats, smiled, and departed with all the signs. Bernie let out a deep sigh of relief.

Because they now knew him, they recognized Bernie playing pick-up games on the tennis court. One day, they stopped and joined the game.

After that, on every trip around the complex, they stopped and showed off their prowess. Bernie said they won about half the games they played.

How many of you are told by the apartment complex manager that you're going to get a month of free rent? I don't mean the "give-away" they use to suck you into signing a lease. I mean an honest-to-God free month.

One day, we went down to the office to pay the next month's rent. The manager gave us a great big smile as she refused our check. She said, "since the police started playing tennis with you, crime in this apartment complex has dropped to zero. Zero!"

Who knew a little kleptomania, coupled to extracurricular sport, would pay off financially? Bernie had a special place under the stars of mercy.

Yet another example:

Before he lived with us, Bernie rented rooms in a different, more rundown apartment across from the college's underclass dorm. It had a swimming pool, unlike the other apartment complexes in the area.

While he was there, Bernie and his roommate were the source of a major dust-up. They lived in a ground-floor flat with a patio abutting the swimming pool. Their parties were legendary.

Dormies flooded across the street and there were always several kegs, plus a good amount of hard liquor handed out. The sound of the stereo was deafening, and couples danced their way out of the parking lot into the street.

I admit that, when I was a dorm resident, Bernie's parties were a natural attraction and when I loaned him my record collection, none of my albums made it back without deep scratches. I should have known better.

At a point in one particular party, someone had the brilliant idea of using one of the sliding glass doors as a raft. It didn't exactly float but it didn't sink either. It stabilized about one and a half feet under the surface of the swimming pool.

Everyone immediately started taking turns standing on it. Eventually the crystalline structure of the glass fractured. Fortunately, the shards of glass along with the empty metal frame sank and there were very few cuts or injuries.

All the dormies immediately scattered for the safety of their rooms, leaving Bernie and his roommate standing in their trashed apartment.

The incident made its way to the highest levels of college administration, who launched an investigation.

After the college made a mint from infractions and fines handed out to dorm residents, they bought the property and bulldozed the apartment building. For the duration of my undergrad years, all that remained was a dirt lot with a fenced-off debris-filled swimming pool.

I still wonder what guardian angel spread its wings over Bernie. His only punishment was a visit to the dean of students. Whatever their conversation was, details never leaked out. He was allowed to keep his job as assistant tennis coach and they let him finish his M.Ed. in sports management.

Bernie's luck finally ran out:

The call came at 2:00 am on Tuesday morning. "Can you bail us out," pleaded my roommate Dave.

Me: "Umm … why?"

Dave: "We got arrested."

Me: "For what?"

Dave: "Stealing a street sign for Bernie."

There's a back story to this. My other roommate Bernie, a truly likable a guy most of the time, had a little fetish—he collected road signs—illegally.

He took them down from their posts on freeways. He grabbed them from railroad crossings, He liberated them from overpasses. He was quite adept at unbolting them without being seen. He filled our college apartment with them.

I determined early in our friendship it never occurred to Bernie that signs have one purpose—to alert, inform, caution, and protect motorists. If a sign disappears, there is no warning about what's coming up ahead. To him, they were low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking.

I warned him that one day, his luck would run out. Sure enough, Bernie (with Dave as his accomplice) got caught with his hand on the prize. He picked the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reason.

You see, Bernie often told us that he absolutely had to add a "Bernard" street sign to his collection. Bernard is the main thoroughfare climbing through the South Hill bluff in Spokane. Spokane's street signs are green, Bernie's favorite color.

They borrowed a ladder from one of the nearby homes and leaned it against the signpost at West 19th and South Bernard. As Dave held the ladder, Bernie unbolted his dream sign.

Sadly, they picked THE ONE corner in all of Spokane that guaranteed they would be caught. Nineteenth runs through Manito Park, which sits right on the edge of the bluff looking into downtown Spokane.

The street has parking for city dwellers to take in a view of the Spokane waterfalls, watch the annual fireworks, and have lovely picnics. It is also heavily used at night by teenagers exploring the first budding of romantic yearnings.

For that reason, 19th is extremely well patrolled by the Spokane Police. In fact, it's the single most highly patrolled place in the entire city.

And where did Bernie and Dave decided to conduct their nefarious business?

Right under the noses of the police. Later on, I asked, "why didn't you just go few miles south and take one of the county's white Bernard Street signs? They're as good as the city's green ones and the sheriff only patrols once or twice a night."

Of course, the Spokane police did stop, and my roommates panicked. Right next to the sign is the Nishinomiya Tsutakawa Japanese Garden and to compound their goofy behavior, Bernie and Dave jumped over the fence. At night, the Japanese garden is locked from the outside, effectively trapping them.

And that's why, at 2:00 am on a school night, I was called to bail them out of the Spokane jail. I assured Dave I would take care of all the arrangements to free them.

Then I rolled over and went back to sleep. It wouldn't hurt them to spend the night contemplating their transgression.

Bernie, for what it's worth, was charged with trespassing in the Japanese garden. Nothing was said in court about his having a street sign in his hands at the time of arrest. The fine was $750. He had to borrow the money and couldn't pay that month's share of the rent.

Khama, for once, laughed in his face.

January 06, 2023 18:20

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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