October 13, 2006

Yes, Down My Pants. Oh, Like You Haven't?

[Note: In honor of the brand new investigation into Sandy Berger's pants stuffing episode at the National Archives, I am bringing back this little memoir of my pants-stuffing youth from last July 20]

AS A TEENAGER MY ADDICTION TO SCIENCE FICTION PAPERBACKS often came into conflict with my ongoing cash-flow problem. To wit, I hadn't any. But, for a few brief, shining weeks I did discover a resource better than cash for acquiring science-fiction paperbacks -- my pants.

Yes, at some point it dawned on my tiny teenage brain that, if I could just get these piles of paper down the front of my pants and walk without a waddle out the door of the store, the latest Asimov or Heinlein would be free. What was even better was my discovery that I could, after reading these stolen gems, take them back to the bookstore from which I boosted them and sell them back to that dull owner for a credit to buy other paperbacks. Cost of stock: $0, Price received: $0.25, Profit -- infinite. What a business! I was a confirmed capitalist. I even thought of a name for my company, World Wide Pants, and was quite upset years later when David Letterman stole it from me.

Of course I knew on some level that stuffing things down my pants, waddling out of a store and then coming back later to sell the purloined items back was .... a teeny bit wrong. But the bookstore owner had so many science fiction books and I had so few. "From bookstores according to their stock, to me according to my need to read," seemed to be my moral code at the time. Besides, I wasn't "really" stealing them because I "returned" them for a fee. It was a way of letting the bookstore owner sort of reverse-rent them to me.

I started small -- maybe a slim collection of short stories like "The Green Hills of Earth," or a novella such as "Children of the Atom," would find their way to their temporary home between my belt and my underwear. But then I decided to expand. After all, it seemed to me that my pants had room to spare especially if I let my shirt tails hang out. Once that was in my mind, I started to up the ante and began to go for multiple copies of Ace Doubles. My pants became, in effect, a small bookshelf.

The owner of the bookstore down in the slums of Sacramento was, I was certain, clueless as to what was going on. He was a wispy simulacra of William Burroughs with the gray haze of alcohol hovering about him and a tendency to give me a smile that was a little too warm whenever I came into the shop. He'd often disappear into a curtained nook with the sign "Special Titles -- Ask for admittance" thumbtacked to the bookshelf next to it.

My undoing came one day when I think I had probably added a full two inches to my waistline in the science fiction section. I waddled to the cash register with one tattered copy of some space opera and slid my quarter across the counter. He looked at it, looked at me, took the quarter and slid the book into a flimsy paper bag and handed it back. "See you soon," he said with a wink. I turned and had gotten out the door and a couple of steps down the sidewalk when the bony hand of retribution clutched my shoulder. " I see you're gaining a little weight," he said in a voice that betrayed an unhealthy interest in Lucky Strikes. "I think we need to talk to your parents about this. Come on back in."

There's no way to describe the churning, burning hunk of fear that forms in your stomach the first time you're busted. If, at that moment, you could chose between death and juju, death would win every time -- but only because you don't know that you'll get death only after juju.

He frogmarched me back in. He called my mother. She came down, and, with her on the scene, I was forced to disgorge the contents of my pants -- about six paperbacks from around the waist and down the back of the butt, not counting the one that had slid down into my right cuff. It was a terrible moment, a humiliating moment, as I drew one after the other pack of paper out of my pants. But humiliation was to turn to terror.

It got worse because, after my mother had stood there to witness my degradation, she looked into my eyes and spoke the words any child hates most to hear in this world: "Well, we will have to have a very serious talk about this. We'll start right after your father gets home."

"...Right after your father gets home." In that era any sane kid's first thought after hearing those words was to wonder if he still has time to kill himself before that moment rolled around. You see, in those distant days, the fathers were at work and the mothers were at home, and when the fathers came home from work they were likely to be just a wee bit cranky from "the job." Hence, their mood was always going to hover somewhere between mildly irritated and homicidal, depending on what had happened at the office and in the bar car after work.

During the hours I waited in my room for my father's arrival and judgment, I went over all the possible defenses I could muster for stealing the precious science-fiction documents and stuffing them down my pants. But I was drilling a dry hole. I didn't have any. But that was only because I was a filcher ahead of my time. That was only because my government at that time had not supplied me with role models like Clintonista-Kerryite Sandy Berger who has, it would seem, purloined my filching technique and spent some days stuffing classified documents down his pants at the National Archives.

Yes, "down his pants." My old pioneering technique upgraded to today with the only improvement being that Berger probably wears suspenders and much, much bigger pants. If I could get seven Ace-Double paperbacks out of a bookstore, Berger could probably get entire filing cabinets out in his pants.

But what I really could have used was the slick explanation provided by Berger and his lawyer:

"In the course of reviewing over several days thousands of pages of documents on behalf of the Clinton administration in connection with requests by the Sept. 11 commission, I inadvertently took a few documents from the Archives," Berger told the AP. "When I was informed by the Archives that there were documents missing, I immediately returned everything I had except for a few documents that I apparently had accidentally discarded," he said.
Now I have to say that for a man caught with a small library down his pants, that explanation is pure genius. If only I had read it at 14 I could have explained the whole thing to my father like this:
"In the course of reviewing some ripping science fiction yarns at the bookstore, pater, over several weeks I had to assimilate the stories in hundreds of books comprising thousands of pages of science fiction on behalf of the Encina High School administration in connection with requests by my teachers to read more for the good of America. While doing so, honored Father -- most diligently and with a great attention to detail --I inadvertently took a few, and just a few compared to everything there, books from the booststore, er, bookstore, by inadvertently allowing them to jump into my pants," Van der Leun told his stern paternal parental unit.

"When I was informed by the book store owner that there were seven books in my pants, I immediately returned everything I had in my pants, except for a few dozen books that I apparently had accidentally discarded over several weeks on the bookshelves of my room," he said.

"Inadvertently." "Apparently." "Accidentally." If only I had known these phrases that pay, I could have saved myself, as no doubt Sandy Berger will now attempt to save himself, from the label of "thief."

Would it have worked with my father? Nope. Not for a nanosecond. Will it work with the Washington Post and the New York Times? Well, the Post left the pants bit out of its report this morning, so it is plain to see they're working on it. Perhaps that the new ethic of journalism is that when you get a story that doesn't map to your internal major media myth, you just take the facts that don't fit and, well, stuff them down your pants and head for the door.

It didn't work for me. I spent the rest of the summer working Saturdays in that book store for free. But hey, I wasn't a National Security Advisor for the Clinton White House and the John Kerry campaign, nor a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper. Those guys probably have some sort of Trousergate immunity deal going.

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Posted by Vanderleun at October 13, 2006 6:32 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

In case you don't know, Sandy Berger is a Harvard law School graduate who spent 15 years practicing law at Hogan & Hartson, one of Washington's top law firms. He subsequently served as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs during the Clinton years.

By virtue of his background, Berger is an expert at the discovery, retention and production of sensitive and/or highly classified documents. Anyone who believes that he "inadvertently" walked out with secret documents stuffed in his pants and then "misplaced" them is a fool.

So Berger knew what he was doing. But why did he do it? Was he trying to bury evidence that he and his boss mishandled the growing terrorist threat during the 1990's? Or did he want to deprive Bush supporters of facts they could use against Kerry? Maybe both. Whatever the case, the authorities should nail him to the wall, preferably before the election.


Posted by: Jonathan at July 20, 2004 1:24 PM

Pres. Bush is a grad of Yale and Harvard Business. Pat Robertson has a JD from Yale Law. Degrees don't seem to prevent people from being or doing...

Regarding nailing him, alert Mel it will be a great docudrama.

Posted by: Charles Croninger at July 20, 2004 1:39 PM

Charles -

Did you just try to conect the Pres and a "man of the cloth" (who both may have their share of "crimes" in theirr closets...) to a man who admits to removing CLASSIFIED documents from the storage vault (I assume the room is vault-like)?

That is absurd. When you are caught doing something stupendously stupid you only make it worse by saying something equally dumb, like for example "That depends on the definition of 'is'."

Time to grow up..... Bush has his faults, but this crime isn't one of them.

Posted by: Tom_with_a_dream at July 20, 2004 2:34 PM

They're certainly working on making it Bush's fault. :P
But Kerry's spokesman Phil Singer released a statement to FOX News, questioning the timing of the report.

"This appears to be a partisan attempt to divert attention away from the 9/11 commission report. Instead of using the report's recommendations to learn how we can improve our homeland security, Republicans are playing politics with a criminal investigation. That's wrong, and in November voters will have a choice on the ballot between a candidate they can trust and a president that continues to mislead the nation," he said.

Posted by: Michael at July 20, 2004 4:02 PM

Michael -

Right On! (Apologies and deleted text are in order to Michael... I had missed the quotes and thought Michael was telling us it was Bush's fault. Sorry, glad I re-read your post.)

I will concede to the Kerry spokesman the timing of the release. I believe the Berger incident happened 6-9-ish months ago, is this right? If so, why do we find out now? I hav not researched this although my wife did ask... Any help?

Too bad the Kerry spokesman didn't assign names to his phantom candidates, then we wouldn't have to assume. I am certain the candidate I can trust is Bush, not Kerry (We can all find the letter he wrote to a Vet saying 'We should not have gone to war' and the other letter he wrote to the same Vet saying 'I will go to war'. They call Kerry a flip-flopper for a reason....

I notice this - "Republicans are playing politics with a criminal investigation."
I thought the commission was to be a fact-finding panel to attempt ot uncover where the lapses were and, most importantly, how we can seal them so they don't happen again (musicians of an un-named foriegn band notwithstanding).

As for whether Bush has "mis-led the nation" I am getting the feeling that this is being settled pretty conclusively, especially when I see the "News Networks" covering the Martha and Kobe parties so consistently.

Again, sorry to Michael!

Posted by: Tom_with_a_dream at July 20, 2004 5:39 PM


You are right. No comparison, Sandy has admitted his mistake.

Posted by: Charles Croninger at July 20, 2004 6:23 PM

I guess he shouldn't serve his 10 years in prison then. He has, afterall, admitted to theft of national security documents. I guess all is right in the world again....

Posted by: Tom_with_a_dream at July 21, 2004 7:57 AM

How is this 'a misdemeanor'? The classified stuff I used to handle was plainly stamped with warnings that failure to treat it properly was a felony. Humor-challenged young men with firearms were in the vicinity at all times, leading me to suspect that the actual consequences of strolling out with loose documents might go farther than a long prison sentence.

Posted by: F451 at March 31, 2005 6:32 PM

Misdemeanor? Yeah, right. If I had done anything near what Berger did, they would have fired my arse right out the door and I would be facing majorly prison time. When it comes to document security, there must be a two-tier system: those politically connected and the rest of us.

Posted by: Howard Larson at March 31, 2005 6:40 PM

Well, it's not like he put them in his socks or anything.

So, let's see. He did you one better--he took the documents out in his
jacket and pants and a leather portfolio. I wonder how he decided which papers would go where?

And yet it's all an "honest mistake." The mind reels.

Posted by: neo-neocon at March 31, 2005 8:16 PM

Mr. Berger will be doing endorsements for the Jockey underwear company. He will be using the proceeds to explain the nuances of his document handeling. There will also be a discussion of his Constitutional rights vis a vis emanations of penumbra.

Posted by: Dennis at March 31, 2005 8:54 PM

I say he should have a whole line of undies for the serious reader/klepto. Fruit of the Reading Room: Bookie briefs! Book Bag Boxers! Athletic supporters for all that heavy reading!
An honest mistake...must ...stop...laughing...

Great post.

Posted by: Quid at April 1, 2005 8:25 AM

It never fails, there's always someone willing to excuse a crime like theft and wilfull destruction of classified documents with a dumb joke at the expense of the opposition.

Croninger, you are a complete and utter jackass.

Posted by: Stevely at April 1, 2005 3:22 PM

I believe things like this will continue as long as the word "allegedly" precedes every conviction. 2 witness actually saw the robber pull the gun and shoot . . . but it's reported the robber "allegedly" shot the store owner. I can get away with murder as long as I sort of didn't do it.


Posted by: james at April 8, 2005 9:23 AM

"...Right after your father gets home."

I am 53 years old, and I managed to heal myself of the years of living in fear of my father. The above quoted words ruined my day, thank you.

Posted by: Mr Jones at October 14, 2006 6:25 AM

He was a wispy simulacra of William Burroughs with the gray haze of alcohol hovering about him and a tendency to give me a smile that was a little too warm whenever I came into the shop
Going by that description, it probably was the real William Burroughs!

Posted by: Fausta at October 15, 2006 7:23 AM

Mine was a packet of Kool-Aid in my shorts; I was five.

I, too, did time in my room waiting for the Doom to come home from work.

Those words used to invoke rightful terror; I wonder if parents know they're even 'allowed' to use that tool anymore.

And I spent the entire summer, at five, in my room, in bed, no TV, no nothin'; allowed out for meals and bathroom only.

Posted by: Cindi at October 15, 2006 9:38 AM

What a hilarious and rich look back at your early Sandy Berger moment before later role models polished their talents on the national political stage.

Sadly, I had to face my own criminal nature at a much younger age, 4 or 5, when I not only took something under false pretenses, but also perjured myself in the aftermath.

It had to do with a project my best friend, Patti, and I had conjured up one summer afternoon in our back yards. I will write about it one day on my own new blog under the title of "Slop-Ma-Doodle." But suffice it to say, the powers-that-be, my parents to be exact, were not amused in the slightest when my criminal creativity showed up in full view for all the neighborhood to see.

Mother said that when my father got home we would settle the matter in a variety of ways, with the punishment of "switching" being a "certainty."

I, too, considered several quick exits from existence as I went into a time warp that made the rest of the afternoon seem like it was being lived in slow motion. I had never been switched before, but I knew that it would be A, if not THE, low point of my young life so far.

So I hatched a plan which involved hiding under the big guestroom 4-poster bed, behind the dust ruffle and hoping I could outlast them. Survival of the fittest was foremost on my little delusional mind.

When my father came home from work, I'm sure he had already been apprised of my unacceptable behavior and had hatched his own little plan to punish and surely keep his errant daughter from one day landing in a federal prison somewhere: He hammed it up. He was a great practical joker, and so he combined justice with high drama.

After a chat of discovery, he informed me that as soon as he changed his shoes, he would be going outside to find the perfect switch and then he would allow me to decide where justice would be served me. And then he left the room.

I ran off to the guestroom where I stood at the windows and watched in horror as he cut a large switch off a nearby forsythia bush. Then he took out his pocket knife and scraped all the buds off the branch before he whipped it through the air in a Zorro-like fashion.

So scared was I that I almost couldn't carry out my escape plan. But as he turned to come back in the house with THE SWITCH, red alert activated flight mode in my reptilian brain.

I dove under the bed, behind the dust ruffle, scambling between storage boxes like a little marsupial going to hibernate in the deepest, darkest place it could find. Then silence and stillness overtook me.

Let the rest of the story be left to the imagination. In the end, after much waiting, my father gave me the ultimatum of surrendering sooner rather than later thereby saving myself an even greater punishment yet to be disclosed.

When I crawled out, and took my took my medicine, it was anticlimatic: three maybe four light swats and it was all over. Then, with a twinkle in his eye he said he hoped I would never pull such a stunt again and walked out of the room.

This episoade had profound and lasting effects on my wayward nature. And who knows where else Sandy Berger would have been that day at the National Archives, if he'd had been with me that day many years ago making slop-ma-doodle.

Posted by: Webutante at October 15, 2006 1:50 PM
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