Jerry Zezima, a Newsday assistant editor who writes a nationally syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a private eye (my other eye, I figured, would be public), but I never pursued it because I was sure I'd end up investigating myself.
Now that I am an adult who does not (as yet) have a criminal record, I thought it would finally be a good time to take a class on how to be a detective.
The instructor was Larissa Froeschl, a forensic science teacher who has worked with law-enforcement officials and has a master's degree in biology.
The class was composed of about 10 kids, all of whom were 12, and one geezer, who was almost five times as old but only half as mature.
The first session, which like the others lasted an hour and a half, was a fingerprinting workshop.
"Your prints are hard to read," Larissa told me as she looked at them on my personal identification sheet. "Maybe you would be a good criminal."
Then, while wearing rubber gloves, the kids and I used ostrich-feather brushes and nontoxic powders to dust for fingerprints we put on items such as a glass tube, a soap dish, a butter knife, a hair clip and, the one I used, a fake jewel.
"I could bring it home to my wife and tell her it's real," I said to Larissa.
"I can see your thumb print on it," she replied as she inspected the item with a magnifying glass. "Even though your fingerprints aren't too distinct, with modern forensics, you'd get caught."
"There goes my criminal career," I lamented.
I went from crook to kidnapping victim in the next class, which focused on ransom notes.
"You have to give handwriting samples," said Larissa, who instructed each of us to write the following sentence three times on a sheet of paper: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."
Then she divided the class into two groups. A member of each group had to write a ransom note for the other group to solve. The note our group had to solve read: "We have your mustache! Give us two million dollars or we will sell it on eBay."
"It looks like you've been kidnapped," Larissa said.
"Who would want me?" I responded.
Possibly the cops, as I found out in the third session, for which Larissa had created a crime scene that was cordoned off with yellow police tape. Scattered over the floor were pieces of evidence, including a purse, a key and a knife with ketchup on it.
"It could be the murder weapon," Larissa said.
"Or maybe somebody was making a sandwich with it," a student named Jack theorized.
After we all gave hair samples and looked at them under microscopes, Larissa said to me, "You have a nice medulla. Your hair has a very distinctive structure."
"I thought only my hairdresser knew for sure," I replied.
I escaped the hairy situation (Larissa was the guilty party), but I was a suspect in a jewel heist in the final class.
Actually, I was two suspects because I played dual roles: the husband of the princess whose jewels were stolen and a long-lost friend of hers. Larissa played the princess, her maid and her secretary.
The kids had to use the skills they learned in the previous three classes to deduce the identity of the thief. They correctly collared the secretary.
"At least I'm not going to jail," I told Larissa at the end of the class.
"No," she said. "But maybe you can be a detective and get your own show."
I can see it now: "CSI: Column Stupidity Investigation."