Saturday, August 7, 2010

Crime


In this age of social networking and instant credit checks we’re instructed never to post anything a potential employer might have access to. If you know me you know I can’t resist an act of self sabotage.

I was a natural born a thief. This behavior completely disappeared at puberty but it took a confrontation with the law.

My dad used to empty the contents of his pockets onto a dresser near his bed every night. He continued this practice up until the day he died. By then the pile included a .38 revolver.

When I was probably around 5 or 6 I’d sneak into my parents bedroom in the morning and snatch a quarter. Back then that was an incredible amount of money. Candy bars were a nickel and comic books were a dime.

Eventually I was caught and my reputation was established. It came back to bite me when Sue, my baby sitter, came up with an empty drawer that should have contained bill money.

The whole world was convinced I took it. I spent an entire day under interrogation from my dad. I was spanked and stood for hours with my face in a corner. I continued to deny and my parents grew more and more frustrated with my resolve.

Eventually Sue stepped in and convinced my parents to let the matter rest. She even brought Christmas presents for my brother and me. Mine was a painting of an English setter pointing toward some hunter’s kill.

Around 4th grade I got involved with a bad crowd. We became criminal enablers for each other. I remember stealing Swisher Sweet cigars from the drug store. They were dipped in sugar and tasted like candy.

The bolder our crime, the more respect we gained from our peers. This was the beginning of a social awareness that I’ve never quite outgrown. It’s the same sense of satisfaction I get when I’m the center of attention on stage. Needless to say, my crimes had to be the boldest.

I would walk into a supermarket open a can of soda and walk out the front door drinking it. I got caught when a clerk decided to feel how warm my can was. I couldn’t show my face there for months. Eventually they forgot me and I was able to go around the back of the store, grab a bunch of empty pop bottles and turn them back in for the deposit. Then I could buy cold sodas.

One day a friend and I watched a crowd of kids gather around a Mr. Softy truck. We got in line and ordered our favorite ice cream. When the guy handed it to us we ran. He couldn’t do anything but yell because he was still surrounded by the other kids.

At about this same time my brother and I dropped our bikes in front of a Burger Chef and went in to get a burger. We watched in horror as a gang of kids surrounded our bikes and took off with them. We ran after them but were helplessly out numbered. Our bikes were our entire life. Our territory was the whole city and that required transportation.

In spite of this event it still didn’t sink in that our stealing really hurt others.

A couple of years later we moved to the county. This was the golden age of shopping centers just before they evolved into malls.

Our gang used to ride up to Crestwood Plaza to spend the day. To this day I hate it when my kids want to hang out at the mall. How could they resist the temptation to shop lift? The difference, of course, is the fact that they actually have money.

Sometimes we wouldn’t even make it to the shopping center. We’d stop at a supermarket and line our clothing with candy bars and soda and find some hidden spot to gorge. It’s no wonder I was a fat kid.

One day I walked into Sears and took a large bag, a discarded receipt and a stapler from a closed check out counter. I went to the toy department and grabbed a large box that contained the Mongoose-Snake Hot Wheels race track and cars. I took all of this into a dressing room where I placed the contents into a bag and stapled the discarded receipt to it. I walked through the door like I owned the place. My friend Jeff watched in amazement. He has since said I had balls of steel. This was exactly the kind of approval I was looking for.

My friend Don Belk stole a bike and soon the rest of our gang was doing the same. I’ll never forget get one day a few of us were in E.J. Korvetts. My name came across the store intercom. When I went to the service counter my mom was there waiting for me. I remember a long drive to the police station. My mother was in tears and basically asking where she had gone wrong as a parent. I was wearing a stolen belt and shirt under my clothing.

It finally occurred to her where the race track, Mad books and other toys had come from. I’ll never remember all the stolen things I had. I had a movieola, movies, expensive walkie-talkies, hundreds of books and God knows what else.

My friends and I all ended up in Juvenile court in Webster Groves and I was on probation until I was 16 or 17. I even spent a short period of time in a cell just to put the fear of God into me.

I think it was the pain my mother was going through that made me finally realize how much pain crime causes. I was ashamed. I still am. The pleasure and urge completely disappeared.

As an adult I’ve been a victim of crime more times than I can remember. I’ve been hit on the back of my head with a pistol and rolled up into a carpet as my apartment was robbed. I’ve had my apartment ransacked as I slept in the next room. I’ve come home to and empty apartment several times. I can’t really muster rage against the perpetrators.

I have friends that will insist it’s karma, that I’ll spend the rest of my life suffering payback. Maybe I believe it, I don’t know.

Pic is 4th grade mug shot.

5 comments:

Dorothy said...

I haven't laughed so hard in weeks...! (guess I shouldn't worry too much about my youngest)

Anonymous said...

I love that picture of you, my innocent and good young son. I bawled out the policemen for arresting my son who could not have done anything criminal. Imagine my astonishment upon finding out you were a crook!

I suffered the delusion you told me everything, and I knew you, therefore trusted you implicitly.

On the way to the police station I asked you how you could have done this bike thievery without telling me. You responded, "God, Mom. How do you think I felt, not telling you?"

I remember years later, your telling me of the Hot Wheels theft and your hiding your stolen goods in the large hole in the floor which was the furnace vent, and how anxious you became when I removed the grate to vacuum down in there; however, I never found your stash!

I had no idea you were a little crook all those years!

Your still loving Mom

Tracy said...

David those are wonderful stories. Some I’d heard bits and pieces of over the years but reading them here was great. It occurs to me of the sort of parallel lives you and I led in some ways. I used to do the steal a quarter from my dads table in the summer all the time and pretty soon I got brave and was stealing 4 at a time so I could buy a chocolate malt at the ice cream store on Woodbine in Kirkwood. Later I remember actually stealing enough change to buy “Is this what you want?”, an album by Jackie Lomax on the Apple label in 1968. My kids did the same thing but they were smart about it. I used to leave my change everywhere and often it wound up on the floor. The kids got tired of having to look for it or bend down on the floor to steal my money so Sarah made me a special change jar and painted it red and gave it to me as a “present”. This of course was so she and Spencer would have a central repository of my change that they could pilfer at will.

My life of crime began when my older brother took me in his pink 59 Buick convertible to see “Breakfast at Tiffanies.” at the Osage theater. There is that shoplifting scene in there and they made it look easy and fun. When I saw that, it was like a big light bulb lit up. I was off to the races. Who says movies don’t influence kids?! I got very good at loading up my pockets in a very bold but nonchalant way with candy bars and such. Man you’re right, candy bars were a nickel! I remember a sale at Katz drug store for 5 candy bars for a quarter! Of course I stole a quarter from my dad to go buy 5 candy bars only to find out they wanted 26 cents cause of the tax. I couldn’t understand it. There was the sign. “5 for a quarter”. Yet they wanted 26 cents? First tax lesson.

Anyway one day I decided to teach a friend my methods and he and I went into the IGA store. The plan was to load up our pockets but not too much, then buy a piece of gum for a penny in the checkout line so we looked legit. My protégé must not have been paying attention about the “not too much” part and he completely stuffed his pockets right there in front of everyone till they were bulging with stuff. In the checkout line “Rose” the owner of the place (and the biggest gossip in town who knew everything about everybody and was good at making sure everyone else would find out also) noticed the bulging pockets of my partner in crime. She made him unload right there at the checkout counter. My reaction was “shocked! Shocked I tell you! Why, I had no idea my friend was a criminal! How could he??” I played it all innocent and after she was done yelling at him and threatening to tell his mother we left. Me being so “nonchalant” barely got around the corner when I was unloading the goods from my pockets and sharing with my friend (even though he had blown it for himself), laughing hard at how I was able to get away with it. Right about the time I was pulling a candy bar from my pocket to hand it to him I hear a honk. It’s Rose pulled up along side of us in her car on her way to tell my friend’s mother and now wagging her finger at me and yelling some unintelligible stuff. Me with my mouth hanging open and no way out of this one. Rose’ next stop Tracy’s Mom. Crap!

Tracy said...

correction: Is this what you want came out in 69

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