Oliver Twist

June 22, 2006 at 9:26 AM | Posted in Journal | 6 Comments
  On the radio I heard them talking about the rise in shoplifting among old people.  Times are tough, I guess I don’t blame them.  It might be embarrassing when they get caught, though.  But I have explained what I want to do when I get older, so shoplifting would be the least of my problems.
  Of course, times are different now, and everyone prosecutes.  But back in the day, it was seen as a prank, or just a small problem, not dealt with as the serious issue it is today.  I was raised in the country, but for reasons I don’t quite understand even today, we briefly moved closer to town for about two and a half years, into basically the suburban Metro east area.  It was closer for the parents to go to work, but we still had the house in the country which we eventually moved back too.
  So from half of fourth grade, and then fifth and sixth grade, we lived in a  near-city setting.  We lived in a tiny house on a tiny street.  In fact, it was called Small Street.  There were four houses on it, all on the same side of the street.  The other side was the back yards of houses on the bigger street.  Out there was also the Lutheran church and school.  We hung out on the steps and in the school yard after hours, which, of course, is no longer allowed.
  By "we," I mean my friends and I.  We had a typical "Stand By Me" coming of age thing going on.  It would probably make a good movie, except it’s been done over and over.  One friend, Jay, was probably closest to the normal one.  His back yard was across the street from me. 
  The first house on the street was the–hell, what is their name?  Last names, I mean?  Cause there were more than one name in the house.  Now, listen, this was a tiny square house, and their entire yard, like ours, was a hill.  This was Collinsville, IL, an area that had been extensively mined.  I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but after living there, I sure don’t believe the earth is flat.
  So this tiny house had a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, and two bedrooms.  One or two rooms built in the basement.  Later, the dad built something in the attic for the boys to sleep in, but it was an attic–no higher than four feet.  I remember the kids, all of them, in order of age.
  Gary, Brian, Tina, Greg, Randy, Donnie, Billy, Stevie, and Kevin.  And the parents, Beverly and Donald.  All living in this tiny two bedroom house.  Greg was a year or two older than us, so we got into lots of trouble with him.  Randy and Donnie were my age.  Donnie was Donald’s son, and mentally retarded.  Just mildly, but enough to ride the short bus. . . and be talked into doing incredibly inappropriate things.
  Me and Jay and Randy, we were the Three Musketeers.  In fact, when I moved away, they gave me a present that I still have today.  A comic book, Huey, Dewey, and Louie–who are they, Donald Duck’s nephews?  And Scrooge McDuck, the rich guy.  He always had these three bandits that were after him, trying to steal his fortune.  They had on their prison uniform, with numbers.  Same numbers, different sequence, on each one.  The comic book had the bandits on the cover, and they had written our names–Jay, Randy, Bryan–on the characters.
  I was the only one with a bike, so I didn’t ride it–we walked everywhere.  I mean everywhere.  We walked uptown alot, and there was Dean’s liquor store.  We went in to buy stuff alot.  Candy bars were 15 cents each, or two for a quarter.  Sales tax, if there was any, was included.  The candy was up on the counter, on an angled shelf, so he could watch kids to make sure they didn’t steal anything.  We still did, though.
  With the older crowd of boys, we took to petty larceny.  Parking meters had boxes on them where you could stick an envelope in them to pay your fine, like five or ten dollars.  We would crowd around the parking meter, three or four of us, and two would be inside, working the meter with needle-nosed pliers, and pull an envelope out.
  In 1976, between 6 boys, five bucks was alot, and ten was a fortune.
  Also invovled in two B & E’s.  The first time I smoked pot, it was me and Jay and these two other dudes whom I did not know, but they were older.  We smoked it behind the library.  I don’t think I actually got high that first time, who knows.  But the older boys had a plan, and we were part of it.  They were going to break into the library.
  The logic behind this escapes me, but it had to do with the fact that they MUST have money in there–how’d they pay for all the books?  Me and Jay stood watch.  It was a scary few minutes, which seemed like an hour.
  Suddenly, they came bustling back to us, and we took off through the woods behind the library.  We heard sirens, which could have come from anywhere, and been for anything.
  Quickly, they divided up the take.  We each got almost a dollar in pennies, and then we split up, taking our own separate paranoia-laden path home.
  The other time was a little more serious.  Again, with some boys I didn’t know too well.  How does that happen, exactly?  Actually, I did know two of them, Royce and Reynold, two brothers. The only black kids I knew.  There was a bar, or club, or VFW hall, or something, over on the side of town Royce and Reynold lived on.  We broke into it, got a couple of cases of soda and some chips.  As luck would have it, the only reason we didn’t get busted was that some one else broke into the place as well, and stole money and beer.  They got caught.
  This was a golden age, a simpler time–the mid 1970’s.  Cigarettes were 45 cents, sold in a machine.  We all smoked, all of us 11 and 12 year olds.  Salem was the smoke of choice for young punks. We would sit on the steps of the Gym entrance to the Lutheran school, hang out, smoke, and spit.  Pretty fuckin’ cool, every one of us.  We could buy cigarettes at the store, too.
  Or we could steal them.
  Me and Randy were on a mission:  Go to the Piggly-Wiggly, steal a certain number of packs of cigarettes.  One fine Thursday afternoon in the middle of summer, Randy and I went to the store.  We were each supposed to snag two packs.  This was before they kept cigarettes behind the counter, and this is why, too.
  So this was a rare occasion when Randy had a bike, so we both rode.  It was pretty far, not in our neighborhood.  We arrive in back of the store, I go up first and park, Randy waits about five minutes, comes up the other side, parks, and goes in.  We ignore each other in the store:  our own protection, in case one of us gets caught. 
  I eventually get my two packs, down the front of my pants they go.  I wander the store a little, get a glimpse of Randy, and out the door I go.
  This is stupid, how this happened.  I was getting on my bike.  SOme woman in the store came to the window and rapped on it to get my attention.  I looked, and she waggled her finger at me, indicating I should come back in.  So I did.
  You know, I could have just left then.  She’d never catch me.  I go in, she has me almost by the collar, I think.  She asks me sternly, "What did you do with those two packs of cigarettes you took?"  Her eyes narrowly set on me.
  I appropriately stammered.  "I–I–uh, I put them in the back, in the frozen food section."  I looked at her, and turned away.  "It was just a joke."
  She let me go, straightened up.  "Fine.  I want you to leave here, and you can’t come back in here anymore.  Ever."
  I answered sullenly, "Okay." and walked sadly to my bike.  Then I took off like a bat out of hell.
  Back at the steps of the Lutheran school, I recounted the tale.  We waited for Randy to arrive.
  And waited.
  And waited.
  We thought the worst had happened.  He had gotten busted.  After probably an hour, he returned.  We cheered, and he showed us what he got.  I don’t think he ever explained it, and to this day I wonder:  How did a skinny little kid, wearing summer clothes, with the manager already on the lookout, manage to make it out of store–not with two packs, but two CARTONS of cigarettes!
  You know, it occurs to me, my parents never had any idea where I was.  I could have stolen a car and driven to Chicago for all they knew.  We lived in Collinsville, and if we could scrape the change together, we would go to Fairview Heights, a city just down the road, where the Mall was.  We would go whenever we could.  My family actually had money, so occassionally I would score a few bucks, and we could buy something to eat.  But anything else we wanted, like this cool deck of magic cards that was at Venture, that had to be liberated in a different fashion.
  It was cold, probably Christmas break or something.  We trudged back across the highway from Venture to the mall, to catch the bus.  we had some time to kill, and the bus pulled right up to Famous and Barr’s door, so I went shopping for a while in Famous.  I had an identity crisis, at that early age.  I had thought it through, and realized what I was in need of was a fashion accessory.  Something I could put my ID in, if, you know, I ever got one.  I was 12 at the time.  I needed a wallet.  that would make me feel cool. 
  I purused the leather accessories.  I looked through the whole display, moving around so I could look around, without being obvious about turning my head.  I left several wallets out as I looked through them, like I was picking several to choose from.  And I was.  I made my selection, and put the rest back.  It was about time to get to the bus stop.
  Randy strolled up from the other direction, no doubt thieving as well.  We both waited inside, by the doors, with several other people.  A woman with a nametag stood by casually, and watched me.  Randy saw her watch me–he was like that.  He could smell trouble.  Trouble to him was Authority.  He casually walked to the other side of the doors from me.  The fucker was going to leave me hanging!  But that was the rule.  "All for one, one for all–but every man for himself, if you get busted."
  The woman was staring daggers at me, trying to intimidate me.  Ha!  I had on my cool, bravado face.  She knew I was waiting for the bus, so she had to make her move.  She finally marched over, went straight to the bulge of my breast pocket on my jacket, flipped up the the flap, and pulled out–
  The deck of cards I had lifted at Venture.  Not a wallet.  She was not backing down, however.  "I saw you take a wallet.  Where is it?"
  I lifted up my arms.  "Search me, lady.  I didn’t take a wallet.  I was just looking at them." 
  She looked at my front pockets, turned and looked at my back pockets.  She muttered something under her breath and stormed off.
  When we got on the bus, I showed Randy my new wallet, which had been down the front of my pants.  It was pretty cool, and I had it for a long time.  In fact, it may still be around.
  So, if any of you think I may have stolen something from you–not that I would, I’m a good boy now–still, if you think I did, make sure you stick your hand down my pants, to check.  You can never be to careful.


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  1. Hah!  The stupid things we did as kids . . . I was dared to steal something from the local Woolworth\’s.  Never been so scared in my life, but finally got out of there with a Duncan yo-yo (don\’t remember where I stashed it).  Truth be told, I still have it – tucked in a keepsake box.

  2. I did all my stealing at the bar..  filled a cupboard with various drink glasses and ashtrays. Just a few months ago I walked out of a restaraunt with a pretty cool plate for a friend of mine.. but I asked the waitress first if I could take it and she said: if it disappears, I know nothing. So that doesn\’t really count.
    However, could you step over here please? I seem to have a couple things that are.. missing.
    hugs and love

  3. they made a cartoon out of Scrooge Mcduck, I know those bandits well. In fact it was called "Duck Tails". I can still sing some of the song to it. Basically are you saying you were a follower? LOL

  4. haha! The good days!!! ha! I stole a snickers bar and got busted! I got caught for EVERYTHING! To this day I can\’t tell a lie without blushing – I know I will get caught! I don\’t even bother anymore! I will never forget that Snicker\’s bar incident! scared the daylights outta me!! They didn\’t call the police I think because they didn\’t know what would happen after the hysterics I was already in – ! I still can\’t really truly enjoy a Snicker\’s bar! LOL! -patti

  5. I remember when I was about seven years old I stole these \’Snoopy\’ crayons.  It was a miniature set of 4 differrent colors and I SO wanted them but my mother said no.  So I did the next best thing.  Stupid me, later that day uses them to color with right in front of her and I get busted.  She took me back to the store and I had to tell the manager what I did; I felt about 2 inches tall.  I tried to give the crayons back and pay for them.  Well, he took the crayons back but instead of taking the money for them he had me give it to the Salvation Army bell ringers.  I felt so bad I never stole anything again.

  6. hahaha man that was some story.  I didn\’t DO stuff like that when I was younger, too busy running away from home every chance I got.

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