Cheating

I got away with a few things that, in retrospect, I am not proud of.

Firstly, for some reason I had a really hard time learning how to swim.

I went to swimming school two, or was it three summers running and never did get the hang of it.

Come the third (or was it fourth) summer, I slugged away at it again for several swimmable (as in July-August in northern Sweden) weeks, and toward the end of that swim-season: still no joy.

Now the test, at that time—and we’re talking late 1950s, early 1960s—was to meet the criteria for a medal called Järnmärket (Iron Medal) which included 50 meters (any style) in deep water, 25 meter back stroke, one minute (or ten meters) of straight floating, and a dive from the edge of a water. I “earned” this medal by convincing the swim-teacher that I should be able to swim the 50 meters in shallow water. She agreed, and I set out touching the bottom on several occasions during those painful 50 meters, something she did not notice so in the end approved that part of the test.

Point here, of course, is that I knew damn well that my feet had touched bottom, that I, in other words, had cheated. I should have been disqualified me on the spot.

Weird thing is though that over the next two weeks I actually got the hang of it; I could do (and did, I believe) the 50 meters in deep water, but never re-took that test—since I had already passed it. Instead I did the 25 meters back stroke and the floating and diving, all in deep water, and so, in the end, “earned” my Iron Medal, which I (aka my mother) proudly paid for, received, and wore.

I was congratulated by one and all—and never told a soul that I had, in fact, cheated.

Secondly, to earn top honors as a Swedish Boy Scout we had to do a 15-kilometer hike with just map and compass. Our mission was to find a particular spot out in the middle of foresty nowhere, bring something from it, and then orient ourselves either to the next spot, or back home, to so complete the hike.

All the older boys had done this, and proudly wore their First-Class badges on their Scout shirts to prove it. Now it was my and Lasse’s turn.

We were to set out around four a fall Saturday afternoon, and had to reach home (our Scout cottage) within 24 hours.

Now, here’s the rub. One of the Boy Scout leaders made the emphatic point that we could not under any circumstances hitchhike any part of the assignment.

Sure, of course, we got that. Of course not.

Okay, so we packed needed equipment, including a small tent for our overnighting, met at four o’clock at Lasse’s place in town and opened the first of two envelopes they had given us—numbered, you guessed it, “One” and “Two”.

First envelope instruction, “Get yourselves to Enånger, then open the second envelope.”

Ha! How easy was this. Enånger was a small community exactly 15 kilometers south of Hudiksvall (my home town). And of course, since we were told, emphatically, not to hitchhike, this was our hike. Amazingly easy. We could not believe our luck. Just follow the highway for 15 kilometers and we’d be done.

So, we took off, me, Lasse, and Grip (my German shepherd who came along for the walk). A few hours later (early evening) we arrived in Enånger and opened the second envelope, which had no right to say anything but “Congratulations” since we had now accomplished our 15K hike.

But not so fast.

The second envelope hoped that we had enjoyed our bus journey from Hudiksvall to Enånger (hence the injunction that we could not hitchhike, we were to take a bus—but the second part of this direction was mysteriously left out; I still wonder if those leaders left it out on purpose), then proceeded to give directions for our actual 15K hike through the forest.

We could not bloody believe it, but even so, off we went.

About halfway to the first (and only, as it happened) checkpoint, night had fallen and it was too dark really to continue. We looked at each other and realized that we were not going to locate anything in the darker and darker night so we decided, hell, let’s catch some sleep right here and then let’s see how we make out in the morning.

I’m not sure exactly how, but we overslept by a mile.

A comfortable tent, with a comfortable dog to keep you warm as well, we both slept soundly and way into the morning.

Bottom line: we were not going to make it to the checkpoint now and still make it back by the deadline. What to do? What to do?

Oh, hell. We decided to head straight back for home based and lie.

After all, we had been fooled into walking 15K before starting the 15K hike, they had “lied” to us, so it was well within our rights to “lie right back” to them.

This is what we did.

The instructions included collecting something or other (stones, flowers, sticks, I don’t remember what) at the checkpoint to bring back as proof that we had made it. So, we grabbed some of each from where we were and then set out for home.

We made it back in time (barely, as it happened) and handed over the spoils.

We were both exhausted. The day had turned both sunny and hot on the way back, and there was no trail to follow. The only one who navigated the understory well was Grip that happy dog—who ran about 3Ks for every K we walked, we’d see him vanish up ahead only for him to then catch up with us from behind some minutes later.

Wiped out, I remember falling asleep in my parents’ car on the way home.

I am sure that Lasse (whose older brother Olle was also a Boy Scout, one of the junior leaders, in fact, but not the one who instructed us) complained loudly and officially about our shitty directions which had us do a 30K hike instead of 15K. We’ll, of course we didn’t do the second 15, perhaps 10. And I’m also sure that Olle would have brought this up with the leaders in charge of planning the hike.

What I don’t know is whether Lasse told Olle the truth (I suspect that he did) and that Olle passed that on. I also suspect that the powers that be, since they had given us what in effect were faulty directions, decided to approve the hike as done, even though we didn’t make it to the checkpoint, and we were both awarded Boy Scouts 1st Class.

I don’t know how they dealt with us obviously lying about having made it to the checkpoint. Perhaps they believed us. Perhaps Lasse never told, perhaps Olle never brought it up; but I find that hard to believe.

Still, though, to this day, I now and then think of the 1st Class Hike which we cheated and faked—regardless of stupid and useless instructions. We never made it to the checkpoint while we said we did.

I never cheated on tests in school (as a rule I nailed them all), except for one essay/story assignment where I simply re-told something I had read in a magazine hoping the teacher had not also read it. I got an A for the story. However, about a year later the self-same teacher pulled me aside in the hallway and said, under his breath, “I know that you lifted that story.”

That’s all he had to say. I knew exactly what he was talking about. He said nothing more about it.

For all my lying and stealing as a kid, I am surprised that as far as cheating goes, that’s about it. Well, I have cheated now and then on my vegan diet, and then mostly with Cheetos, hence the name.

Moral: To me, the fact that the two times I did (and obviously so) cheat have stayed with me so clearly speaks volumes. You know what you’ve done egregiously wrong and it eats at you long, long after the act itself.

Strangely, I never felt that bad about my pilfering small (and sometimes not so small) change; and lying was/is in my DNA so that’s never bothered me either.

Cheating, though.

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