Sunday, November 1, 2009


I’ve had my fingerprints recorded twice in my life: Once when I was 11 years old, and again on Friday.

When I was a kid, my parents enrolled me in the Cub Scouts for awhile, which consisted mostly of hanging out at someone’s house and doing stupid crafts projects. It was really just an extension of the adult babysitting network. When I turned 11, they convinced me to join the Boy Scouts, which was really just an extension of the juvenile justice system.

I’m sure some kids had a wonderful Scouting experience, learning knots and Indian lore and all that crap. But in my case, it was terrifying. Every kid in my Scout troop was a vicious delinquent, and the only reason they stuck with the Scouting program was because it gave them easy access to knives and guns. I called them “hyenas,” but never to their face.

I attended lots of events, such as campouts, Jamborees and exhibitions. Campouts were the worst, because the adults would hang out around a campfire drinking, and the younger kids were left to fend for themselves, out in the dark woods in the company of psychopaths. We would set up our tents and then disappear, huddling in the mosquito-infested woods until the hyenas lost interest.

On one campout, one of the hyenas brought a large package of firecrackers. He and his buddies spent most of the early evening catching frogs in a nearby pod. They caught a hundred or so, which he kept in a bucket. Every few minutes or the rest of the night, he would stuff a firecracker into the mouth of a frog, light the fuse, and let it hop away. Boom.

He was thrown out of the Boy Scouts a year later for dousing another kid’s tent with kerosene and setting it on fire, with the kid inside, sleeping.

At one exhibition, various groups of Boy Scouts were working on merit badges, and had set up booths for public demonstrations. Some were cooking, some were making arrowheads, some were demonstrating Ham Radio sets, and one group was taking fingerprints as part of the Criminology category of merit badges.

They demonstrated the procedure for me, rolling my fingertips on an inked pad, and then carefully pressing them into the corresponding locations on a fingerprint card. When they finished, I asked what they would do with the dozens of fingerprint cards they had collected. “We send them to the FBI,” they told me.

I’ve thought about this many times over the years, wondering if he was joking, or if somewhere in the basement of the FBI building, there’s a fingerprint card with my 11-year old signature on it. The requirements of the merit badge say nothing about sending the fingerprint cards to the FBI, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. I’d like to believe that the FBI has fingerprint cards for all of those future serial killers in my Boy Scout troop.

Fifty years later, as part of the requirements of my new job, I had to be fingerprinted and photographed. It’s a holdover from the days when banks of this type actually handled money instead of electronic representations of money. Security is very tight. The door to the office area is locked from the inside, and a uniformed guard sits outside, verifying that anyone wishing to enter has a proper ID badge. All of this security is necessary because there are Boy Scouts out there somewhere.

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