Above The Law
“Nora! You are NOT above the law!”
In Family Flanagan lore, this is one of our most legendary quotes.
This gem was uttered by my Mom (with no irony what so ever) to my sister Nora, in high school at the time, directly after Mom opened Nora’s closet to find several purloined street signs, including the highly coveted “Slow Children” placard that (formerly) hung near our Middle School.
While arguably “good girls,” Nora and I both had a tenuous relationship with The Law (in an innocent, largely harmless vein.) It wasn’t that we were hell bent on breaking the rules, it was more that we each had (and have) an innate desire to Buck The System and a burning curiosity to see how far we can push the proverbial envelope.
For example, when I was in college, I worked for the Admissions office at my University and through a series of mix ups, coupled with fast thinking on my part, I managed to pocket a Master Key to the ENTIRE UNIVERSITY.
Sure, I could have caused some major damage but, instead, I used the stolen key for benign feats like unlocking the aerobics room at the school gym where I held an unlicensed (ergo unlawful) aerobics class for myself and my roommates. I used it to infiltrate the Theater so my fellow cast members and I could play Hide and Seek at 2:00 AM. Another night, high on mushrooms, Nora and I threw an impromptu, clandestine dance party in the spacious studio high atop the Dance Hall. Once or thrice, my friends and I sneaked into our dorm’s cafeteria to grab a snack when we had 3:00 AM munchies.
Against the rules? Of course - but in a mischievous, No Animals Hurt During Filming kind of way. (Yes, I realize we stole some food but given the amount of food that was thrown out on a daily basis, coupled with the tuition cost at our University, I doubt we made a dent.)
Though I instigated the nefarious missions, I was also the first to call “Abandon ship!” Frankly, I was more interested in proving what I could do with the contraband key than hanging out for long to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I liked to deceive but I sure as hell didn’t want to get caught - which is why I found myself losing my nerve late at night in the dark, dorm cafeteria while my dear friend Molly ransacked one huge industrial freezer after another, looking for a specific cookie till I panicked and cried “Take the cake! Just take a cake!”
Which she did.
Many moons before University, as a child, I completely destroyed my younger sister Nora’s schemes on more than one occasion. This was not out of jealousy or pique, Oh No! I inadvertently blew up her spot because I naively tried to shine a complimentary light on what I found to be her kindness or ingenuity.
Once, when we were VERY young, on a family road trip, I recall Nora’s small, sweaty hand surreptitiously squeezing a cute, Kitty eraser into my palm. We had just stopped at a gas station and, impressed by her thoughtfulness, I showed Mom the very sweet gift little Sis had bought for me.
The problem was, of course, she had *not* bought it. Mom insisted we return to the station where a now furious and sobbing Nora had to return said item (plus the eraser she filched for herself), tearfully exclaiming, “I STOLE THIIIIIIS!!” She didn’t speak to me the rest of the day.
A few years later, when we were in third and sixth grade respectively, Nora and her BFF decided that, to increase the profit margin of their Summer Sidewalk Lemonade Stand, they would hold a raffle. The prize was a Smurf.
Said raffle was, however, rigged.
Nora told me I would “win” the raffle, but then I would have to give the smurf back to her. I can’t remember if I was promised a cut of the proceeds to take part in this scam or if I agreed to it because Why The Hell Not?
Either way, I thought the idea was cheeky and clever and I shared my admiration with our parents. Our parents, however, did not think the idea cheeky nor clever and insisted Nora return everyone’s money. She did and, again, it was the Silent Treatment for me.
Our poor Mother. While neither of my parents were scofflaws, Dad had a more casual relationship with the Law (Lord knows the man never drove the speed limit in his life. If Mom wasn’t with us, our job as passengers was to “Look for cops!” while Dad pushed pedal to the metal.) Conversely, my Mother was (and is) a By The Book stickler for The Rules.
As such, her finding the street signs in my sister’s closet was an outrage (and, according to Ohio Penal Code, a misdemeanor of the third degree) but that wasn’t the only outrage Nora’s closet would harbor.
In Jr. High, Nora and I were hanging out in her bedroom with our friend Chris, whose back yard abutted ours. We were discussing fingerprints when one of us (probably me) said, “But you know what’s more advanced than fingerprints? Lip prints!”
Chris wanted to know ALL about Lip Prints so Nora and I, improvising, riffed on the attributes and advantages of Lip Prints, then told him we could take his if he REALLY wanted us to. He did! Nora and I played off one another (our eyes meeting with a look that said ‘Can you believe we’re getting away with this?!’), as we convinced Chris that he had to be TOTALLY immobilized during the Lip Print Procedure. As such, we needed to bind him to a chair with jump ropes and belts. He enthusiastically agreed and we promptly did just that. After he was rendered helpless (trussed to the chair by hand, foot and torso), we said it was the time for the Lip Print Potion.
Chris gave the go-ahead and we smeared Bonne Bell Lip Smackers on his lips, slapped a Kleenex over that, then tied a tube sock over his mouth (purportedly to create the Lip Print impression.) He wasn’t on to our chicanery until we picked up the chair, shoved it into Nora’s closet, and gleefully slammed the door.
Laughing hysterically, we sprinted downstairs to find our Mom (who was just home from work and most likely making dinner or scrubbing the bathtub or any number of thankless household duties.) We demanded she come to Nora’s room *immediately* to see our great SURPRISE!
Gamely, Mom did - only for us to open the door and reveal the neighbor boy, gagged and lashed to a chair, struggling to break free.
Needless to say, Mom was NOT amused and demanded we release the prisoner post haste.
(I am happy to report Chris is still a good friend and didn’t sue us, for this was back in the day when shit happened and one just got on with it. )
It’s no surprise to me that, years later, I worked as a Private Investigator, which required a high degree of bending the truth. Ironically, Nora, the Master Scammer, ended up working with the Court System - arguably a Bastion of Veracity, and she was faithful to a fault. As adults, while we still seek loopholes where we can, both Nora and I seem to have landed (mostly) on the side of the Straight and Narrow. Mom should be proud.