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"Step away! We gotta berify it!"

Somehow, I was the expert on crime and clearly, we had a crime on our hands. We formed a half circle around the paper sack, three pairs of six-year-old eyes intent on uncovering the contents. I stepped closer, a silent declaration of assumed leadership, and scanned the scene looking for other clues related to the abandoned sack. The fence ledge, sidewalk, and street were clear as usual--not even a speck of dirt. "Cleaner than Disneyland," the adults always remarked about our sanitized neighborhood. Orange County in the 1970s was just that -- freshly planned and meticulous. We did not know dirt. We had to work hard for a little filth.

I quickly extended a finger, poking the exterior of the sack first before Colleen and Troy's bravery could take command of this fragile scene. "There's something in there." I whispered, my courage holding on by a thread. My other fingers joined my pokey one, fumbling around to gain entrance. "Oh no. This is very bad." Colleen and Troy's eyes widened waiting for the official assessment. My nose went in for the smell test and quickly came up for air. "It's a... BOTTLE...I think it's ALCOHOL."

We had heard of alcohol. Our dads would often drink beer--tallboys of Coors--at the end of however they spent their days. Our moms would sometimes sip white wine at special occasions or in the privacy of their closets when we were "too much." But this was something different. This was stanky and brown with a label in a GLASS BOTTLE. Glass. A nefarious material designed to cut us. Who would leave such a thing behind? Troy suggested that we check for prints. "We need to berify if it belongs to someone or if a STRANGER was here." Colleen and I nodded at this truism, chilled that a stranger might have been so close to our houses.

We gently tore the sack exposing the bottle to the light. Colleen, always ingenious, grabbed a handful of dirt from my mom's flowerbed, grinding a fine powder in her hand. Troy and I scooped the powder from her fleshy vessel ready for our forensic duties. Deep breath and we went in, slowly sprinkling the dust over the bottle, blowing off the excess, and waiting for prints to appear. "This is going to take a lot of time," Troy asserted, all of a sudden assuming the wiser stance of someone six months older than us. "We should open it and berify the brown stuff."

Colleen and I locked eyes with one another and then turned to him with our fused indignation. "NO! We'll get CANCER!"

This, of course, was the transition to war as our small clan was apt to do. Colleen and I grabbed the sack away from Troy and spent the day waiting for prints to appear so that we could go door-to-door looking for a match. Troy marched off with a handful of berries plucked from a tree so that he could scrawl hateful graffiti about us in the hallway that stretched between our block and the neighboring one.

Fueled by our righteousness, I mean he did try to kill us with cancer, we iced him out for the rest of the week until boredom got the best of us, and we needed help working on our fence hopping skills. Although our hood was likely the safest in all of California, we liked to remain sharp with our "street" skills. After all, the glass bottle perpetrator was still on the loose and we were about to receive the first wave of boat people that our dads warned us about---not to mention our discovery of cable tv, boobs, lustful older brothers, parents who divorced, and that other set of parents who bought junkyards.

These were treacherous times. It's been berified.


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