Approximately half of my handful of readers may remember a certain event about, oh, fifteen years ago. June 7, 1995 to be exact.

Here is the University of Toronto Police’s take on the matter:

June 7 9:15am While working as a cashier for convocation ceremonies, the victim received a note from a man stating he was robbing her. A man was apprehended a short time later. Investigation revealed this was meant to be a prank. Criminal charges are pending. Ref. # 95-940-0001-027

I love the police and authorities of all sorts, honest, but that description does not do justice to what really happened.

It was graduation day for my engineering bachelor’s degree, along with perhaps a thousand others. The students gathered in the Hart House building for the compulsory fitting & rental of a ceremonial ‘gown & hood’. These wonders of clothing decorate the soon-to-be-departing bachelors of whatever. Considering the nature of engineering students, and the lengthy rental queues, some rowdiness was bound to occur. My initial contribution to this was subdued. I wore a pair of sunglasses and a very fine red beret. While by that time my brief time with the Canadian Armed Forces had concluded, this piece of paraphernalia accompanied me to other endeavours. It stood out like a sore thumb, which at the time seemed about appropriate.

The lines grew long, and the three artsie™ cashiers were making such slow, so slow, so dreadfully slow progress that some other sort of entertainment became necessary. I started humming tunes, thinking back upon the music of my youthier youth. By the time I got to the cash machines, Boney M. was firmly stuck in my head. By lucky (?) coincidence, their song Ma Baker has just gone around my mental jukebox, and I was in the mood for fun. So I quickly transcribed the first few lines of the lyrics onto the back of the ‘gown & hood’ rental form, the front of which was already dutifully filled out with my name, address, bank account numbers, location and nature of bodily tattoos, signed disclaimer of liability in case of allergic reaction, and one really awful UofT logo. Actually, Juimiin and I had for some reason swapped cards, so I ended up handing in her card with the lyrics, and she mine.

I handed it over, with a grin and with $80 to cover the fees. The cashier gave me $15 change, leaving some $40 to be returned later as a security deposit. Regarding those $40, I winked and said “I’ll be back for the rest later.” With the required uniform now in hand, I rejoined my classmates and had a generally boring time for the next ninety minutes, until it was our turn to join the people-snake our way into Convocation Hall for the ceremony

A few minutes into this snaking, two of Toronto’s Finest tapped my elbow (successfully sneaking up behind me), and asked me to come with them. They delivered me into the rear of their cruiser. She was picked out of the line the same way, after being identified / ratted-out by a certain friend.

The next half hour is kind of a blur. One of the police dudes asked me to admit that I indeed “passed a note”. Not being appropriately educated, I did, and gave identification etc. I believe I was told that I was being “held for questioning”. I removed my sunglasses and lovely beret. Then I was locked in the back, in the searing heat, with no air conditioning. Every now and then, the cop came back, asked something inconsequential, then went back inside the Hart House, presumably to talk with the victim. At one point the cop explained that the cashier was in tears, afraid for her life, or something like that. I produced plenty of humiliating apologies. Eventually, he let me go to join my graduating class.

The whole time I was in the police car, Juimiin (being an accomplice or at least associate), was yakking it up with a lady police officer on the nice shady sidewalk. They were exchanging jokes, notes about working conditions, and about police exercise regimen. (It now occurs to me that Juimiin may have been subtly interrogated by this lady cop with this casual discussion, in which case bravo!) Sympathy for me, there was none. Juimiin in fact blamed my capture on my wink, and my beret, neither of which was or is a central feature of my character. My parents were of course furious.

In case you were wondering, the rest of the ceremony was utterly uneventful. There was never a follow-up from police or anyone else. A few years later I applied for and received a restricted-firearms license, meaning that my hideous offence did not even warrant an administrative delay to legal handgun possession. In Canada! The red beret was bequeathed to my old IBM colleague Ted Wewiora some years later. I hope it served him at least as well.

The saddest part of the whole affair is to imagine it from the point of view of the cashier girl. Me, a thin weakling of an engineer wearing a goofy hat, rents a ‘gown & hood’, and leaves behind a note with his name, address, $80, and a block of text that might be interpreted either as a threat, or as homage to bad disco music from the 70s. We know what she chose — but what a conflicted jumble of logic that must have been.