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what's the worst that could happen?
a question, yet rarely a concern
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

I made it into the local paper last month.

There's a link below to the article, but more on that in a bit.

See, there's a story behind it (there always is, isn't there?) -- a tale of grief and woe and whoa and wait, what?

It started simply enough -- hang out with friends at a happy hour after work on a Thursday. Wait around because another friend is having her birthday party there. Leave at a reasonable hour, climb into bed, get up for work. So you'll be at the bar for about four hours total, what's the worst that could happen?

You leave the bar around 11:00 p.m., decide that you don't want to bother waiting for the subway and you'll just grab a taxi. No problem.

You're in the taxi on the way back to Queens when you realize you spent your last couple of dollars on that pitcher you and your friend split, or maybe on the shot for the birthday girl. Either way, you're going to have to hit an ATM. No problem.

When you get back to your neighborhood, you direct the taxi driver to the local Citibank. "Wait here," you say, "I'll be right back," but before you can even exit the car, you notice that your ATM card is no longer in your wallet. Slight problem.

"Oh, my God, I'm sorry sir," you stammer. "I'm so sorry. I lost my [expletive deleted] ATM card. I have no way to pay you. Oh, Jeez. What do you want me to do?"

"Do you have any money at home?"

"Not really, no."

"How about a friend you can call?"

"No, my roommate's at her boyfriend's apartment tonight. I'm really sorry about this."

"Well, if you can't pay me, I will call the police."

"Okay, call them," you answer, "I'll just tell them the same thing I told you. I literally cannot pay you. It's not by choice."

"Fine. I'm calling them."

"I'm really sorry about this. I just don't have my card; I don't know what the police can do."

And here's the kicker, folks. The police can be very sympathetic. They can be friendly, calm, and understanding as they ask you to step out of the car and put your hands behind your back so they can handcuff and arrest you.

"Wait, what?" (I told you that was coming.)

"You heard me, sir. Please face the car and place your hands behind your back. Not paying a taxi is a very serious offense."

"No it's not."

"Okay, sir, whatever you say, but you're still under arrest."

That's right. Nineteen-dollars-and-eighty-cents. Lost ATM card. Going to jail.

Don't believe me? I understand. I found it hard to believe, myself. Plenty of other people have said, "And what else?" as though I wouldn't have been taken in unless I had thrown up on the cop or something. There's nothing else. Look it up. Wait, don't bother; I'll look it up for you: Click here and scroll down until you see 165.15. I'll wait here while you look.

Got it?

Yeah, that's me. A thief of services. Class A misdemeanor.

Still don't believe me? Well, they got the intersections wrong, but The Queens Gazette mentioned me. December 8, 2006, third entry. I told you I was in the paper.

My parents are very proud of me. (Actually, my father thought it was hilarious and that it would make a great article. Shows how much he knows.)

Now I won't bore you with the extreme tedium that actually being in jail brought except to say four things:

1) The cops at the 114th precinct loved me. Loved me. They were even willing to take a photo of me behind bars with my camera phone (see my MySpace page). Then they told me that once we reached Central Booking ("Central Booking? Really? Really?") that I should shut the hell up because the cops there would not find me as funny. I don't think I spoke a word the first ten hours I was there.

2) Thank God for irony.
While I had lost my ATM card, I still (for some reason) had the card number memorized, so I was able to make pay phone calls from the holding pen.

3) Thank you to all the recipients of those calls, and to all my friends who helped me: Adam, Erin, Sus, Terry, and especially Brian and his dad, a judge. Apparently, had my case not been fast-tracked by a timely call from His Honor, I might still be there. And it would have been just another case of the Man trying to keep a nice Jewish boy down.

In all seriousness, there are no words to thank you all for your help and support. You stopped me from seriously losing my mind. Which brings me to my fourth point.

4) Rather than being scary, jail is just plain boring. If you're gonna go, smuggle a pen in your anus. You can play Tic-Tac-Toe with the riff-raff.

The point of this whole story?

Well, it's this: Always, no, never ... Never say "What's the worst that can happen?" unless you are willing to find out.

I'm pretty sure there was a movie of the same name. Again, as it turns out, the worst that could happen was that movie.

But seriously, we've all tempted fate at one time or another. We've walked under ladders, we've darted into traffic, we've tried to drive into downtown Philadelphia with my mother behind the wheel.

That's right. All of us. She used to have a very big car.

"Just one more drink, what's the worst that can happen?" Bye, bye license. "I'll go on a date with the guy, what's the worst that can happen?" Hello, stalker. "I'll vote for Ralph Nader, what's the worst that can happen?" Need I say more?


I know that without taking chances, life can be boring. I know that some of the best stories come out of either succeeding with a stupid plan or not succeeding with it. I think the trick, when faced with a dilemma of this nature, might just be to consider the worst-case scenario and decide if you can live with those consequences.

There's the flip side of that argument, of course, which is that life (or maybe capitalized) Life is enough of a gamble and fraught with enough peril that creating drama is just redundant.

I'll give you an example: my brother had a friend in high school who was convinced that he was good at everything. He wasn't, actually, good at most things, so he tended to lose a lot. But he was always betting small amounts of money on stupid contests like ping-pong games, eating competitions, wrestling matches with kids twice his size, card games, chugging contests, you name it. And was always losing. Yet he continued to do it.

I do hope, for his sake, that he made these bets because he was okay with the consequences of losing, rather than think that he made them without even considering that he might lose. Either way, it is sort of amusing, and for years he kept my brother supplied with money for sodas and snacks.

Which gets me back to the question at hand: "What's the worst that can happen?" I think the problem with asking this is that it implies that you're not actually considering "the worst that can happen," or at least denigrating the import of the outcome. I guess what I'm saying on this topic is that that at least being prepared is the lesser of the two evils (and remember, evils wobble but they don't fall down).

I mean, if you're gonna do something stupid or risky, at least go into it with your eyes wide open. Had I known that jail was an option in my situation, you can be sure that I would have tried an awful lot harder to come up with the $19.80 I owed the cabbie. Or just run for it.

I'll leave you with something the judge said to me as I was standing in front of him during my subsequent arraignment: "We'll make it $20 plus 5%, and we'll need proof of payment by February 8."

Okay, so it's not exactly a wisdom-soaked aphorism. But come on, I don't have to end every column with something deep and meaningful. I mean, what's the worst that ... never mind.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer


behind the grammar
adam kraemer: what intrepid media did for him.
by adam kraemer
topic: humor
published: 9.9.02

knock, knock, knockin' on, well, wood
tell me you believe, and let me hear an "amen"
by adam kraemer
topic: humor
published: 10.6.06


jay gross
1.10.07 @ 12:10p

1) Taxis are more expensive than the subway.
2) Keep a $20 bill in one shoe and a razor in the other.[for those holding cells]
3) New Yorkers have; a. a lawyer in the city, b. can sleep anywhere.
4) What's the worst that can happen?....

We'll have a beer over that some day.

ken mohnkern
1.10.07 @ 12:21p

If you're gonna go, smuggle a pen in your anus. You can play Tic-Tac-Toe with the riff-raff.

I can't even imagine the worst that could happen when you say to your cellmates, "Hey! Let's play tic-tac-toe with my ass-pen!"

adam kraemer
1.10.07 @ 12:41p

Better or worse than asking the cops to let you stick a pen in your ass before they book you?

I didn't mention it in the column, but I would like to say that the peanut butter & jelly sandwiches they gave us for lunch did nothing to help my mood.


tracey kelley
1.10.07 @ 1:16p


You know I love you, and I tried not to laugh, picturing you spread-eagled against a Checker. But I laughed. A lot.

Do what chicks do. No matter how tied you are to electronic services, always, always carry an $20 for emergencies.

And next time, use your credit card at the ATM.

ETA: Ah. I hadn't refreshed, and Jay kicked in the $20 suggestion already.

I also keep extra change and a fiver in my car for emergencies. Parking meters are a nasty, nasty thing.


adam kraemer
1.10.07 @ 4:27p

Yeah, because that would never turn into, "Wait a minute, guys! I have an extra $20 in my sock!"

sandra thompson
1.10.07 @ 5:50p

That scenario was just unimaginable to me until you wrote it. And yet I've got twenties stashed around my purse, my truck, my house, so I must have been planning for it unconsciously. I was thimking ahea................
d (you know that old thing where the "d" falls off the paper?) I must confess I also found it somewhat funny, even though I really tried not to laugh. It falls into the banana peel syndrome, pun intended. I have never been able to resist the BPS.

alex b
1.10.07 @ 11:59p

Oh Adam. I never thought I would get a random phone call from a technical-sounding police officer involving you. But I did. It adds to your cosmic share of "manly man" points.

adam kraemer
1.11.07 @ 10:27a

You didn't help me, though, did ya? :-)

And for everyone trying not to laugh, feel free to guffaw. It's funny. Really funny. I was laughing my ass off the night it happened. So were the cops.

Not so much after 8 hours and crappy sandwiches. But originally, yeah, I was tickled to say the least.

alex b
1.12.07 @ 4:48a

No, I did not help you. That was because I had been evading sobriety for three days in a row at that time. Being around the po-leece would have freaked me out, then landed me in jail. Which would have gotten in the way of my 4th day of avoiding sobriety.

But clearly you've transcended that, the bad sandwiches, and getting spread-eagled against a car by a guy. Hence, the bonus "manly man" points in your existence. Well done!

iris corbin
1.19.07 @ 8:12p

when someone tried to convince me that fear of otters was an actual thing, i did a google search and stumbled onto adam's page. i went to high school with you, adam. i just wanted to sign up to tell you that i'm really enjoying your columns. nice work!
ps-i swear i'm not stalking


adam kraemer
1.22.07 @ 4:50p

I assume your maiden name is Leon?

Nice to hear from you.

And quite happy that "fear of otters" leads to my Intrepid Media stuff. Somehow, I always knew it would.

iris corbin
1.25.07 @ 9:37p

yup, that's me. i wish i kept in touch with more people from high school just so i could tell them that adam kraemer has been to jail. such a good story.

adam kraemer
1.31.07 @ 11:00a

Oh, yeah. I'll make sure it goes in the next alumni letter.

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