Two Tales of Youthful Misbehavior

I need a break from the news, and I’m hoping you need one, too. I’m Carr-fire exhausted. And I’m exhausted by politics—embarrassed for our country regarding the latest Trump news: the bruhaha with his fellow reality TV character, Omarosa.

I give you below a couple of tales of getting into trouble in my youth. My aim is to elicit similar stories from you readers in the comments. My two vignettes aren’t embellished in any way, but if you feel the need to fiddle with facts for the sake of entertainment, go for it. Goal #1 is levity, life here under the blanket of oppressive heat and smoke being as it is.

The Window Putty Incident

I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has passed, so I’m free to tell the tale.

I was skateboarding in the halls of my elementary school one weekend with a buddy in 4th grade. Some of the glazed single-pane factory windows on a classroom had just been replaced, and the putty was still soft. We decided that it would be a good prank to scrape out some of the putty and put it in our classroom door’s keyhole. Then we decided that it would be a much better prank to put putty in almost every keyhole on campus.

By Monday we’d forgotten about our deed. When all the kids showed up at school that morning, the custodians were already removing the doors from the doorjambs, removing the doorknobs, and dropping said doorknobs in buckets of solvent. We were informed that school was canceled and were told to return to our homes. I had the presence of mind to find my buddy and convince him that we needed to make a pact—tell NOBODY about this, because kids can’t keep secrets.

We were never brought to justice.

The Paper Airplane Incident

Here’s how I knew a couple of years later—when my buddy and I managed to get school canceled—that kids can’t keep things under their hats.

When I was in 2nd grade I had quickly finished an assignment and was bored sitting at my desk. Our teacher, Mrs. Oaks, was at the front of the class at her own desk, head down, grading papers or something. I folded a paper airplane and threw it.

To my horror, the airplane banked to the left and began floating directly at her—I was sure it was going to land on her desk.

It didn’t.

Instead, the airplane maintained altitude and came to rest abruptly, nosing into her magnificent 1960s beehive hairdo (we’re talking Marge Simpson-eque), and sticking soundly. She looked up, plucked the plane from her hair-stack, and demanded, “WHO THREW THIS?!” Nobody said anything, but about 25 kids turned and looked at me.

Justice was swift and Biblical.

So there you have it—my two tales of youthful misbehavior. Your turn.

Steve Towers
Steve Towers is co-owner of a local environmental consultancy. After obtaining his Ph.D. from UC Davis and dabbling as a UCD lecturer, he took a salary job with a Sacramento environmental firm. Sitting in stop-and-go traffic on Highway 50 one afternoon, he reckoned that he was receiving 80 hours of paid vacation per year and spending 520 hours per year commuting to and from work. He and his wife Elise sold their house and moved to Redding three months later, and have been here for more than 20 years. His hobbies include travel, racquet sports, taking the dogs on hikes, and stirring pots. He can be reached at
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40 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Good respite from the news and smoke. Thanks.

  2. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Confession cleanses the soul. Neat.

  3. Jim Dowling Jim Dowling says:

    Thanks for a good chuckle. That image of the plane embedded in Mrs Oaks “do” and the imagined look of terror you must have worn are priceless. Ah, to be young again!

  4. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    1961, Collegedale, Tennessee. Best buddy Brian and I discovered a net across our favorite trail with multiple birds held captive. Poor birds, nefarious captors, two 11 year old boys with the best of intentions and sharp pocket knives resulted in the original Freebird. Little did we know at the time that the birds were being caught, banded, and released by a college biology class.

    We never told and no one ever discovered our youthful COLLUSION, but I still get a flush of embarrassment just thinking about the ruined net and the consequences of our well-intentioned misdeed.

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      About a decade ago, my field biologists were putting in game camera stations around Shasta Lake, baited with chicken, to inventory forest carnivores. They used our pontoon boat to access remote drainages all around the lake. We had a large map on the wall in the office with pictures of critters around the periphery and string connecting each photo to the location the image had been captured. We’d place the cameras in locations that weren’t easily found, because theft was an issue.

      Somehow a local couple caught on to us. We’d bring images in, and there they were—smiling for the camera. Over a couple of years, they found our cameras at several far-flung locations. They didn’t seem to be following us, and we never did figure out how they knew where to look, or why they were all over the lake hiking in some pretty rugged, out-of-the-way drainages. Their mugging faces went on the map, along with the black bears (lots of bears), pine martens, raccoons, Pacific fishers, mountain lions, and deer.

  5. Oh, Steve, you crack me up. This was absolutely perfect timing. We needed this so much. Thank you!

    OK, friends, Steve went first. Now it’s our turn. Dust those cobwebs from your memories and pull out some of your favorite youthful escapades to share. Don’t be bashful. (I’m thinking, too.)

  6. Avatar Doug Mudford says:


    Thanks for giving us a little break. It’s hard to know when it’s ok to laugh again. Doni mentioned that Dave Letterman had the same problem after 9/11…when is it ok to tell the first joke? I’m not quite there yet but I do think each of us has several moments that shape our entire futures…I’ve mentioned this briefly before.

    The 2″ Stolen Soldier…at seven years old, I stole a small plastic figure. The idea was to collect them and paint them. Since I didn’t have paints, I guess that was my next theft. My mother found out and beat my butt which made her cry more than me. She then forced me to return the soldier by myself. I gave the store owner a tearful confession.

    I stood there dumbfounded when he said he knew, was glad I returned it on my own and would I please return it to the bin with the other soldiers.

    I started to tell him it was my mother’s hand to my backside that made me return it when he held up his hand and said “Stop while you’re ahead son”.


    • Aww, I was hoping the guy would have let you keep it. (And let me guess … do you own any little toy soldiers now?)

      I think it’s OK if we laugh a little, especially if it’s not fire-related.

      • Avatar Doug Mudford says:

        If he had let me keep it, my 7 year old mind would have determined that crime pays. Steve is right…the advice he gave me has stayed with me. Even today, I have to remind myself …you’re ahead so quit arguing.

        Hell no, I never went near another toy soldier. They make you do evil things.

        • “Stop while you’re ahead.”
          I’ll remember that one.

          • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

            Even today, I have to remind myself …you’re ahead so quit arguing. Or as Will Rogers said, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Another along those lines, “You’d be ahead if you took yes for an answer; so shut up.”

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      “Stop while you’re ahead son.”

      The wise teachings of our elders, so often ignored or forgotten. I can easily think of a dozen decision nodes in my lifetime where that particular advice would have served me well.

  7. As I looked through my memories of youthful misdeeds, most have to do with my sisters.

    The one I have in mind was when Shelly – my identical twin – and I were 17. She’d spent part of a summer in Turlock with our beloved Aunt Rita and Uncle John Handley, where she’d met this teenager named Dan. He fell for Shelly, and they went out a few times in Turlock. and then the summer was over and Shelly came home, glad that she didn’t have to break it to the guy that she wasn’t that into him.

    But the guy had a car, and he was smitten with Shelly, so he drove from Modesto to Palo Cedro (where we lived at the time). They went out once, and he planned to return as often as possible to see Shelly.

    I don’t exactly remember how the solution came up, but it was probably along the lines of my telling Shelly she should just break up with the guy sooner than later, and Shelly saying it was not that easy, that she didn’t want to hurt his feelings, because she liked him as a person, but not as a boyfriend.

    He came to the house to pick Shelly up, and I answered the door in her place. We stepped outside on the front porch where I told him I wanted to tell him something. I said he was a nice guy (true), and I didn’t want to hurt him (true), but I didn’t want to see him as a boyfriend anymore, and I didn’t want him driving from Modesto to see me, because I just wasn’t feeling about him the way that he felt about me (well, about Shelly). I told him it was as if I didn’t know him at all (100 percent true).

    My misdeed: I impersonated my twin and broke up with her boyfriend so she wouldn’t have to.

    He never knew.

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      Ha ha ha! So you were the BAD twin! (Though it sounds like Shelly was in on the plan.)

      That plot line suggests something that I think I’ll keep to myself.

      • Avatar Shelly Shively says:

        That’s one of the problems of being a twin: some assume that we have to be opposite. Maybe Doni was the Bad twin that day, though she did me a favor by breaking up with Dan.
        I was the Bad twin, one day when we were in 2nd grade, in blaming Doni, to escape sure wrath of rubbing Tide soap in a neighbor boy’s crew cut. I didn’t anticipate that the soap would get in his eyes, sending him running home, crying. He returned with the largest woman I’d ever seen, in width and height, ranting “Which twin did this?!” to our mother on the porch. Doni wasn’t around, so I said, “Doni did it.” I’m pretty sure our mother knew it was me, though she didn’t give Tide boy’s mom the satisfaction of handing over the guilty twin. I was so relieved that Doni didn’t pay the price for my misdeed.
        In other twin misdeeds, it wasn’t until I was an adult, that it occurred to me that all the times that Doni and I switched classes to take tests for one another, was actually Cheating. Honestly, it just seemed that we were such an extension of one another, that we were capitalizing on our strengths. Doni would take English tests for me, and I would do Science or History related for her. Neither of us could do Math. Still can’t.

        • That Tide-in-the-crew-cut story was new to me until you told me yesterday. I must not have gotten in trouble for your misdeed, or I would have remembered it.

          What always amazed me was that we could pull this off; that people couldn’t see how very different we were from each other.

          • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

            “What always amazed me was that we could pull this off; that people couldn’t see how very different we were from each other.”

            This reminds me of identical twins I know very well, who I once found laughing hysterically at the back of our church. I asked what was so funny, and even though they could hardly speak, Liese said, “Bethie and I put each other’s makeup on today, and,” at this point she collapsed in giggles so Beth continued, “and we look SO AWFUL!!”

            Of course to me, they looked pretty much the same (though I knew them well enough to tell them apart), but to them? “I look SO UGLY in her makeup,” was the comment that had me snortling. No amount of protest could convince them that they just looked like each other, in each other’s makeup :-D.

      • Oh, Steve, you’re not the first man to entertain that plot plan .. we know. We know. 😉

  8. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    I can’t think of a single youthful mis-deeds worthy of this venue. I’m certain it must be the faulty old lady memory cells, NOT the stellar construct of my character.
    Thanks to all of you for the face lift . . .you know, starting at the corners of my mouth.

    • Come on, AJ, dig deep … I’ll bet there’s something … 😉

      • Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

        Weeeeeelllll . . . . there was the time in high school when a bunch of we kids were coming back from a day at the beach. It was after dark. We were taking a short cut on a back road between Carlsbad and Escondido. There was some construction going on and there were some red lights put out on some barricades.
        Now, you gotta remember this was back in the olden days when the caution lights were actually oil lanterns. We stole one of the red lights and set it on the front porch of our pastor. . . . They never said a word about it, but that Fall it was in obvious use in some of the Fall Harvest decorations at church.
        It was an especially heinous crime for me because my dad was Superintendent of Highways for Northern San diego and Imperial Counties. For a couple of months, I just KNEW his special CalTrans ESP was going to catch up with me.
        Is there a statute of limitations on something like that?

  9. Hal and RV must not be up yet, because I KNOW they have stories.

  10. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Growing up in Utah the general consensus at the time was if one took a puff of a marijuana joint one was hooked on drugs for life. So in my youthful experimenting with mind altering substances I sniffed glue and lighter fluid. Maybe that’s why I’m a conservative and can relate to Trump.

    • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

      Oh man, I lost it with that one. I’m afraid that I may have hurt myself. 🙂

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      The scenes in “Airplane” where Lloyd Bridges says, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop drinking…” (:::drinks:::) and a few similar scenes later it’s progressed to, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue….” (:::huffs:::).

      I think a lot of us have felt that way these past couple of weeks.

  11. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    One summer, at the age of nine, I decided to embark upon a life of crime. I planned the misdeed for a week–I was going to shoplift tropical fish food from a pet store within walking distance of home.

    I knew that the owner usually worked alone on weekdays, and that was key to my plan. With only him in the store, I was less likely to get caught. I walked into the store, noting the owner was at the register with a customer, and no employees were about. I grabbed the smallest container of fish food he had, stuck it in my pocket, then grabbed another container to actually buy, to divert any suspicion. Oh yeah, I was Mr. Slick.

    Once I got clear of the shopping center parking lot, I abandoned any pretense of composure and ran the rest of the way home, certain that the black-and-white units would soon surround me and haul me off to juvenile hall.

    That didn’t happen. I made it home with my haul. Fish food.

    That night, I reveled in the glamorous life of an outlaw, congratulating myself for being so cool and composed. But, the next morning, guilt started to set in. The owner had always been nice to me and other kids, and it seemed like he was tired a lot. He worked hard to make a living, and I had victimized him with my grand fish food shoplifting caper.

    So, on the third day, I walked into the pet store, and found the owner near the back, stocking the shelves. Feeling like I had lead weights on my feet, I approached him. I’m pretty sure that I recall the ensuing conversation verbatim, or pretty close. (I can’t recall where I left my car keys last night, but oh well.)

    “Son, can I help you?”

    I was surprised at how calm I felt. I was ready to accept my fate.

    “Yes, sir.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the fish food.

    “Is there something wrong with the fish food?”

    “No, sir,” I said. “I stole it.”

    He looked surprised for a moment. “I see. What should we do about this?”

    “Sir, I’d like to pay for it.”

    We walked to the register, and I pulled (I think) forty-nine cents of change out of my pocket. He rung it up.

    He looked at me solemnly, then said, “Son, you did the right thing by coming here today, but I can’t just leave it at that.” He reached for the phone and started dialing.

    My blood went cold. I was going to juvenile hall, where the kids only got hot water and bread for meals, and the guards beat kids with rubber hoses so as to not leave any marks. I didn’t cry, but sheesh, I sure felt like crying.

    I could faintly hear the ringing as he held the phone to his ear. It seemed that two minutes passed between rings. My life as I knew it was coming to an end.

    I could barely hear the “hello” over the phone as someone answered. I was expecting something other than “hello” from juvenile hall. I mean, I did watch T.V.

    The owner looked at me, and suddenly, he looked very angry. Oh God.

    I was mistaken about that look, because suddenly, he started laughing. The son of a biscuit was LAUGHING at me. Tears came to my eyes, and I’m sure I was beet-red in my humiliation. Still, I stood in front of him, steeling myself for my fate.

    Perhaps sensing my humiliation, the owner spoke into the phone. “Honey? I’m sorry. I’ll call you back, okay?” He hung up, and seemed to try hard to compose himself.

    “Son, I’m sorry I laughed at you.” It looked like he was fighting against breaking into laughter again. “How old are you?”

    “Nine,” I answered, my voice coming out in a tiny little squeak.

    “I just wanted to give you a little scare by making that call, but when I looked at your face, you looked like you were in front of a firing squad.”

    (Yeah, well, I FELT like I was in front of a firing squad.)

    He went on to talk with me about how we all make mistakes. Then he apologized for laughing. He admitted that he had done things in his youth that he wasn’t proud of. Then he apologized for laughing. He talked about how making mistakes and owning up to them can make us better people. Then he apologized for laughing.

    Finally, he thanked me for being brave enough to face him, and said something like, “Well son, I think we’re done here, but you’re welcome in my store any time.”

    Did I ever go back? Oh, HELL no.

    • I love this story. (I knew you had at least one.) Like Doug’s, your story came with a lesson.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Oh how I love this story!

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      That’s a great one, Hal. I have similar childhood confession story where guilt got the best of me, but it involves confessing to a fire chief. I’d have to end telling that story with, “What…too soon?”

      I will say that when I was visiting my cousins in Denver as a kid, circa 6th grade, we’d get bored and go to the giant mall called Cinderella City. We didn’t shoplift. Our entertainment was to ID the security guys in the big department stores and torment them by *pretending* to be really intent on shoplifting.

  12. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    I really enjoyed this piece. I’ve been digging through my mental files but I’m not finding one labeled “Youthful Misdeeds”. I’m sure I’ve got something, anything, but so far nada. I don’t have any twin-swapping stories because my brother and I are fraternal twins and I never shut down my grade school through any malfeasance.

    However…I’ve got one from when I was 19 or 20 and I worked at a gas station. I noticed water was pouring out of the men’s bathroom and started looking around to find out why. After poking and pulling a few things I somehow managed to bust the water pressure “tube” in the toilet tank, sending a giant fountain of water into the air, across the ceiling and down all the walls. The owner had to come down and shut off the water to fix it and I acted just as mystified as everyone else how that could have happened. I spent the afternoon mopping up the giant lake in the bathroom.

    That evening I told my Dad what happened and he laughed and said, “Son, you learned a valuable lesson about being an adult: lie your ass off and fix it later.” That has served me very well over the years.

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      I’m not sure “lie your ass off…etc.” qualifies as the best advice, but your dad sure made me laugh my ass off.

  13. Avatar Belinda Sanda says:

    Steve, Thank you for starting all of the laughs. Here’s my story.

    April Fools is my favorite holiday. Each year I try to come up with something to top the past years.
    So far, the best prank was started in February, culminating on April 1. I can’t remember the year.

    In February my husband and I announced we had both submitted recipes to the Pillsbury Bakeoff.
    That year the prize was one million dollars, so friends and family were very excited for us.
    We didn’t realize that all of them told their friends, who told their friends.
    When we announced that we were both finalists and would be going to the big Cook-Off, all of these strangers emailed, called and sent cards.
    One of them even tipped off the local newspaper- it was kind of embarrassing to tell the reporter it was part of April Fools.

    On April 1, we fabricated a San Francisco Chronicle article saying that for the first time Co-Winners of the million dollar prize were Gary and Belinda Sanda, husband and wife from Redding.
    The article was kind of long and the punch line was at the end. Most of the people didn’t read past the headline. When the ruse was revealed, some people were very angry. I guess they didn’t get my macabre sense of humor.

    Besides not winning $1,000,000, payback has been a bitch because no one ever believes anything I say on April 1!

    • Avatar Richard Christoph says:

      Yes, Belinda. Your Medtronic stock windfall tale from a few Aprils ago was also a good one.

  14. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    Here’s one from my young adult years, inspired by Matt and Belinda.

    I started out my career in environmental consulting working for a Sacramento firm that’s owned by a husband/wife pair of archaeologists—Gary is the hubby. The firm mostly does archaeology—I was hired to build up a biology program starting with my own half-time position.

    So I’ve been with the firm almost two years and it’s going gangbusters, to the point where the biology department revenues are exceeding the archaeology department revenues, and I’ve got about 20 people working under my wing. I was plenty full of myself, brimming with confidence. I was also a bit pissed off at Gary for reasons that I won’t go into here.

    It’s Spring of 1993, nearly all of the archaeologists in the firm are planning on attending an archaeology conference in Auburn the following week, and such professional conferences are often preceded by a social event, like a golf scramble.

    If you’re older than dirt like I am, you remember phone memos. A phone call comes in for someone in the office, the receptionist writes a memo with a caller’s name, a return phone number, a brief message, and leaves it on the intended recipient’s desk.

    So when the office manager/receptionist isn’t looking, I swipe a blank phone memo from her booklet. I fill in the memo and leave it on Gary’s desk. The memo is from the president of the archaeology society that’s hosting the upcoming conference. It says:

    “Gary. Short notice, but I’d like you to organize a golf scramble for the Friday morning preceding the conference.” – Reginald Lithicscatter

    Later that afternoon, Gary storms into the front of the office where I happen to be and confronts our office manager, Gillian. He’s waving the memo in the air and his face is red as a forest-fire full moon. “I just got off the phone with Reggie Lithicscatter! I called him because of this goddamned phone memo! I told him that I didn’t have time to organize a golf scramble between now and Friday, and he had no goddamned idea what I was talking about! GOD DAMN IT!”

    (As an aside—just so you fully appreciate the scene—Gillian was spectacularly gorgeous, had a pronounced Scottish lilt, and was impossible to rattle. If you had to conger up Trump’s platonic ideal of immigrants that we should be allowing into the country, that would be Gillian.)

    Gary tosses the phone memo on Gillian’s desk. She picks it up. She looks at the memo and says coolly to Gary, “I din’ fookin’ write this. This in’t my fookin’ handwritin’.”

    “Whose goddamned handwriting is it?”

    Gillian looks at the memo again. I’m avoiding eye contact, but I sense her turning her gaze on me. I say, “Gary, check out the date on the memo.”

    That day’s date is on the memo: April 1, 1993.

    Gary storms back into his office.

    I lasted about another six months with that firm.

  15. Avatar Ken Speed says:

    Posting for a friend who asked me to share his story. I haven’t changed a word. Promise.

    “In my “gap year” between high school and college my buddy and I were hanging out with our girlfriends at his girlfriend’s home. Her parents were gone for the weekend. At some point we fell asleep and when I woke up I realized I had to go to work. More important, I realized I hadn’t told my mother that I wouldn’t be home that night. Not coming home was OK, not letting parental units know you weren’t coming home was simply not done.”

    “I started walking the three blocks to my house in the early dawn light. Turning the corner, a block ahead was a green Mustang. My mother had a green Mustang. Yep, it was Mom. She made a U-turn and I got in the passenger’s side door. “Where’ve you been?” “Oh, I was just over at Laura’s hanging out and we all fell asleep watching a movie. Sorry I didn’t call, Mom!” Mom said nothing, in a tone that only a mother can produce, for the duration of the short drive home.”

    “When we arrived, Mom got out of the car and went into the house. When I got out of the car, I saw that my Levi’s 501s were on inside-out. Fully buttoned, belt buckled, too. Inside out.”

    “Mom never said a thing.”

    My friend swears this is true. I can’t figure out how I actually got those suckers buttoned up.

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      I believe we are to assume that something beyond movie-watching occurred that night. Something like hanky-panky.

      I can only make sense of the jeans scenario like this: The dude was skinny as a rail or favored loose 501s, and shed his jeans like a snake sheds its skin, peeling them down from the top and leaving them inside-out without having unbuttoned or unbuckled. In the morning he hastily pulls them on, still inside-out, still buttoned and buckled.