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—an excerpt from RELATIVELY CRIMINAL

It was apparently just a few hours after his release from his latest prison stint that he appeared at my back door.

“Hey, Sis! Just thought I’d stop by,” he said, with a smirk. I noticed the small red vehicle in the driveway, but at first I didn’t think about the car at all. I was still shocked that he wasn’t in prison, since that was where I thought he was supposed to be for at least another year. But as always, first and foremost I missed him, so I gave him a hug, grabbed him a Pepsi, and we sat on the couch together.

“Frank, what are you doing here? I mean, I’m happy to see you, but I thought you had more time on your sentence.”

“I do! Guess it was just my lucky day.”

“Wait a minute . . . did you escape?”

“Nah, didn’t have to. They let me go. I just walked out.”

“Frank, they don’t just let you go!” I insisted.

“Welp—they did!” he said, and took another swig of his Pepsi.

He was really enjoying this whole little tease of a story, but I was losing my patience.

“C’mon, Frank, quit playing stupid games with me. What happened and how did you get here?”

Frank relented then and told his story about the court mix-up.

“That’s our justice system in action,” I said. “But you still haven’t told me how you got here. Whose car is that in the driveway? A friend of yours?”

“Nope. I borrowed it.”

“From who?”

“Welp, I was standing on the street in Schaumburg and saw this car sitting right there with the keys in it.”

“You didn’t borrow it—you stole the car! And then you came here? Jesus, Frank!”

“Don’t worry, Sis, I’ll get rid of it quick. They probably don’t even know it’s gone yet.”

“Great! So here I sit with my escaped criminal brother and a stolen car in my driveway.” He was laughing. “It’s not funny, Frank.”

He continued to laugh and pulled his usual presto-chango, switch the subject-o. He threw a small foil package in my lap.

“Need any rubbers, Sis? I got a bunch more.”

“Rubbers? So, I suppose you knocked over a rubber machine, too, on your way here.” I joked.

“Well . . . ,” he began, pausing for the punch line, “as a matter of fact, I did!”

I did not find it funny, and smacked him in the arm. “You are hopeless, Frank, ya know?”

“I had to have some money, Sis. You know me.”

“Yeah, I do, Frank,” I said with a big sigh.

I was relieved when he finished his Pepsi and announced he had to go. Saved me the trouble of asking him to leave, because that stolen car in the driveway was making me very, very nervous. He assured me he was going to ditch it on a street somewhere that same day, once he made it to a friend’s house.

“Don’t worry about it. Besides, what could I do, Sis? I suddenly found myself free and out on the street. Couldn’t get Ronnie or anybody on the phone, had no money in my pockets. So I saw this car sittin’ there with the keys in it, just like somebody left me a ride.”

“You could have called me, Frank.”

“I know—didn’t want to bother you. I’ve bothered you enough, ya know?”

I just shook my head. Whenever there was a choice to be made, Frank could be counted on to make the wrong one. But then again, it might have been a bad idea anyway if I had picked him up. Would that have made me an accessory, since he was technically a prisoner and supposed to be in jail? I wasn’t sure, but I knew two things: I was happy to see him, and I was happy to see him leave again.

He was back in prison a few days later. Not for the stolen car, which he had dumped as promised. He got picked up for theft of a coin machine. I’m sure the drunken dating population in the area was happy to see the local rubber supply return to normal.

I was way, way late to the Breaking Bad party.  I heard people talk about it for years, but having only caught glimpses here and there of a scene or two, I could not understand their addiction to that particular series.  I mean, really – who wants to watch a show about some dude with cancer making crystal meth?  Why glorify that kind of thing?  And meth, as drugs go, is certainly not glamorous, nor are the folks who do it, from the photos I’ve seen.

So, I never took it up (the show, or crystal meth).  But people just kept talking about it.  Incessantly.  A co-worker who was also late to the party watched it, and started telling me that I should see it or I would be totally missing out on something amazing.  This from an intelligent, family woman who had no experience with law breaking.  So my curiosity grew stronger – what was the deal?  Wtf?  Finally, during our exceptionally rainy midwestern month of June, after getting an Apple TV device and access to Netflix on my big-screen TV, I thought, hell…let me just watch an episode or two and see what all the friggin’ fuss is about.

From the first episode, from the first glimpse of awkward Walter in the desert pointing a gun as he stands shaking in his tighty-whiteys, waiting for what he thinks is the police, I was hooked.  He was not the character I expected at all, at least not at first, and that’s what drew me in.  He was a nerd, a hen-pecked husband, and while he showed some initial balls by approaching his former student Jesse to partner and make meth, he was also just as likely to look scared half to death when things went wrong.  And whenever his wife spoke, he mostly jumped.  Not exactly anyone’s idea of a drug kingpin.

And Jesse seemed like your typical stoner dude, who fell into dealing perhaps by accident, or lack of options.  He didn’t seem to harbor any real desire to move up the ranks of the drug world, and he was about as threatening as a cocker spaniel.  He had made poor choices, but he was likable.  He reminded me so much of my brother Frank, who in some ways was as sweet and bluffingly tough as Jesse, with the same puppy dog blue eyes.  Frank, too, never really liked violence or crime that came with too much risk.  Both were vulnerable to the influence of other criminals who were stronger and colder-hearted.  For the character of Jesse, that was Walter, though it would take many episodes for that to become really clear.

Fascinated, I couldn’t quit them.  I watched the entire 6 seasons via Netflix this summer.  Addictively.  Obsessively.  In nail-biting binges.  The show from season to season was like a freight train that had gone off its tracks, picking up steam and careening wildly here and there until the end of season 6 when it finally crashed in a blazing inferno of gunfire, ultimately bringing a fitting end to Walter and a smidgen of hope for his pawn, Jesse.

So why did I fall in love with this crazy show, just like so many others?  For me, it was the essence of truth and believability that ran throughout the plot, brilliantly acted by the entire cast, but most of all by Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul.  The writing was amazing, filled with subtle little real-life moments (like power-horny Walter feeling up his wife at a school meeting, lol).  They never became caricatures, and their transformations were subtle and built well, episode by episode.  They stumbled forward from one situation to the next, caused by Walter’s increasing egomania and thirst for power.  

And for the naysayers who feel it glorified crime or cooking meth, I vehemently disagree.  I was appalled each and every week by the things that happened to them, and there was never a feeling like “Wow, I want to cook meth and risk having psychopaths beat the living crap out of me, or shoot me and put my dead body in acid.”  Walter’s character never truly got to enjoy that money, nor did his family – and the family he wished to protect and shower with money in the event of his demise eventually shut him out of their lives completely.  And Jesse?  He got in over his head, and when he finally realized what a dangerous egomaniac he was really dealing with – it was far too late.  I never felt, even once, that the characters or their lifestyles were glorified.  

I’m so glad I watched the show, but like the rest of the fanboys and girls, I miss those crazy guys.  Here’s to you, Walt and Jesse (Bryan and Aaron) – may you get your just desserts tomorrow night.  Yo, bitches, a round of statues, please, for the Breaking Bad bunch.  Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston