Other Folk's Business

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


'Other Folk's Business' is a collection of six short stories about, well - other people’s business . The stories are real and tell the tales of things I encountered growing up. The subject
households in these stories are from different social classes, and all depict bits and pieces of 'other folks business' that I learned along the way; information that folks either thought I didn't
know, or figured I wasn't paying enough attention to, to re-tell.

Submitted: July 22, 2018

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Submitted: July 22, 2018

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Other Folk's Business

...These seven stories prove that even the best of folks can be quite selfish and indeed have a little mean streak. 

STORY I

A Box of Trouble

A story about a harmless prank that reached a platform, unimaginable

 

Sparky and I were thirteen, and had been friends for as long as we could remember. Most people thought we were sister and brother because we often spat, but had never failed to have each other’s back in a pinch. It was late January, and being that we lived in such a small town, there was hardly anything to do on the weekend, except sit around watching Saturday morning cartoons, hoping that an adult would decide to treat us to a movie or a Burger King Happy Meal. It was Friday evening, and already Sparky and I knew our weekend was destined to be a dud. I had no money, and he had very little. We’d planned to take the bus to the movie theater in the mall on Saturday, but Sparky, being the chubby, greedy kid that he was, had elected to spend most of his allowance at a school bake sale. I was just as pathetic; I’d lent my library book to an older girl who’d put me on the spot by asking. When I got the book back, it was defaced with obscenity and it took most of my allowance to pay for it.

Just as Sparky and I were about to resign ourselves to a weekend of drudgery, my sister offered me seven dollars to clean and organize the basement, so she that could have a jewelry party there the following week. It wasn’t much to do in the basement, mainly just move the Christmas decorations back to their proper places; something I’d been asked to do a month earlier, but had somehow maneuvered my way out of. I came across the box from a baby doll that my niece had gotten for Christmas. The box was in pristine condition, and I thought it was a shame to have to throw it away. It was no use keeping the box, as the doll had already met the fate of a Mohawk and blue ink pen scribblings on its forehead, and my niece probably would not have been able to find as much as one piece to its outfit, if her six-year-old life depended on it.

As I crammed Christmas boxes into shelving, smacked away cobwebs, and splashed Mr. Clean in ridiculous places, I realized that despite what I was to earn from the job, it still wouldn’t meet my goal. I knew I’d earned enough money to get Sparky and me to the mall by bus, but would only have enough money for lunch and maybe a magazine. The movies was out of the question, even the matinee show. This was so unfair, I thought to myself; all we want is to have a fun weekend – one we that we can laugh and boast about over lunch Monday at school. Is that asking too much? I thought resentfully. I tried to remember the times when Sparky and I were able to generate the most fun with the least money. Running through the garden sprinklers was out of the question, thanks to the old January Jack Frost. The city had installed a snow fence on the giant hill behind our house, to keep kids from going sledding there, so that too was out of the question. I remembered how much fun we’d had doing a practical joke that we called ‘the money prank.’ The money prank was when we cut up bunches of newspaper to the precise size and shape of dollars, and sealed about twenty of them into a baking envelop. We then placed it on the floor in the bathroom of Swanson’s diner, and waited for unsuspecting people to go into the bathroom and find it. We’d sit at a table near the bathroom anxiously waiting for miscellaneous people to scurry out of the bathroom with an excited, sinister look on their faces. We did that particular prank about once a month, until Mrs. Swanson had a stroke and the deli closed forever.

‘Maybe we can revive the money prank somehow, at the mall’ I thought wistfully to myself. I couldn’t think of a single spot in the mall where Sparky and I could sit innocently and wait for our victims to flee the bathroom. With the constant traffic in and out every one of the mall restrooms, I realized that it would be difficult to be able to tell who, if anyone, had picked up the package. I found myself wishing that dollar bills had been manufactured much larger; at least as big as the giant birthday cards in Huey’s drugstore – the ones the size of a wall poster - that way, we’d know instantly who had picked up our 'bait package.'

Suddenly the idea of a lifetime tackled me!  …It doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘money’ in the package! I grinned slyly over at the perfect looking doll box. ‘Maybe,’ I thought cunningly, ‘we could convince someone that they just found a brand new baby doll!” I giggled sinisterly. I smirked as I considered how pleased Sparky would be that I’d managed to save the weekend.

Now that I had my plan, I needed to fine-tune it a bit, so that it would work perfectly. The box needed to feel - to the shake - like it contained an actual baby doll. I thought for a moment, and then I grabbed an old pair of sneakers from the pile destined for the trash. I used rubber bands from the utility drawer to bind them together, and then taped the bounded mass onto the cardboard piece still inside the box. I closed the box, just like it had appeared on Christmas morning, when my niece first grabbed it from under the tree. I shook the box, and it felt like it couldn’t possibly contain anything but the baby doll pictured on the box. I was quite pleased with my work. Just as I was finishing up the job, I just couldn’t believe my good fortune! There, in the corner, holding a line of silver tinsel, was the original bag that the doll came in! Glory! I removed the tinsel and stuffed it carelessly down into a box marked ‘Xmas,’ then carefully placed the doll box into its original bag. I couldn’t WAIT to let Sparky in on this one! It was just too grand to be true!

Sparky grinned, impressed with the whole scheme. Then, suddenly a look of concern shadowed over his face. “What if they open it – right there in the bathroom? …They’ll only be fooled for about a second, and we wouldn’t even get to see their face as they rush out of there, after having been fooled into thinking they’d gotten something for nothing…”

I was able to see Sparky’s point. We needed to figure out a way to hinder them from opening it in the bathroom. I had an idea! “We can tape it!” I suggested.

Sparky gave a crooked-lip frown. “Tape won’t stop anyone from opening a box.” his eyes brightened. “Wait! Wait! If we put a bunch of tape on it – I mean, mounds and mounds of it – then the person won’t open it; they’ll most likely do the same as those people did with the money packets – try to get the heck out of there as quickly as they possibly can.”

We taped the box - not too much - that way the person wouldn’t get suspicious, yet just enough to make them reason that wasting time opening the box may cost them the prize, if the real owner should up looking for it.

The next day, Sparky and I went to the mall. I strategically placed the box in the handicap stall, sort of behind the toilet, so that it would only be visible to someone using that particular stall. I figured that anyone who would dare to occupy a handicap stall – when they are not handicap – couldn’t possibly have enough integrity about them to turn a lost package over to the lost and found.

People came and people went, probably a dozen or so, but no one came out with the box. Just when we began to think that perhaps we’d missed the culprit, an elderly church-looking lady emerged from the restroom carrying our planted bag. Disappointment rained over both our faces; the woman was going to turn the package over to the lost and found for sure; a total waste of a clever scheme. We’d infiltrated dozens of these pranks, so we were able to tell who among our victims would act on the urge of integrity. The woman didn’t exit the restroom looking alarmed, nor did her gestures show any sense of urgency, and she simply walked, as opposed to scurrying. We decided to follow the woman to the lost and found, partly out of curiosity and partly because we had nothing better to do; we’d just missed a bus.

Even after the woman had passed the lost and found, we still refused to believe that she was the type who would just keep something that wasn’t rightfully hers. We speculated that she must be looking for Mall Security – that is, until she walked into the store where the original doll had been purchased!

“What the heck?” Sparky whispered, seemingly more to himself than to me.

I stared, wide-eyed, as the woman got into the returns line, head held high and the utmost expression of integrity about her face. Sparky and I were terrified! ‘What if they open that box?’ we were thinking to ourselves. When it came the woman’s turn, she boldly removed the doll box from the bag, spoke a few words to the clerk, then waited patiently with one set of long graceful fingers delicately clutching her pocketbook and the other patting an already perfect cluster of greying curls into place. Sparky and I peered cautiously from thirty feet away, as the clerk took the doll box, scanned its barcode, and then tossed it into a bin behind her. She then begun pressing the register keys, the register popped open, and the clerk handed the woman a fistful of bills and some coins. The woman, head still held high and back arched, without any expression, thanked the clerk, tucked away her loot, and was on her way. The plot didn’t quite unfold as Sparky and I had planned, yet somehow it proved to be just as entertaining as our intended one - in an odd sort of way.

As a kid, I didn’t lose any sleep over the events of that day, but life has a way of catching up to you, in due time. The irony is, that I may not have lost any sleep over that incident as a kid, but I lost plenty over it as an adult. I thought about possibilities, such as, what if the woman would have gotten arrested? What if somehow, they would have discovered our dastardly deed and our parents were notified and had to pay a fine? …And the absolute worst possible scenario of all – what if they didn’t check the box and just returned it to the shelf, and someone purchased it, believing that it was a doll and presented it to a little birthday girl as a gift? If that was the case, then, would the store have taken their word for it had they attempted to return it, or would they have simply be out their money? What if the police would have been called, and the police didn’t believe the victim? What if an innocent person would have gone to jail just because two mindless teenagers got bored and decided to prank someone? A few times a year, I still reflect back to that box, and would give anything just to be able to rest assured that it didn’t cause any more trouble after that day.

 

STORY II

Instant Fun

…A harmless little tale of how one couple got drastically even with someone who seemed to have absolutely no regard for those working in fast food. ...Sometimes, in the process of diliberately trying to make someone else's life more difficult, you often create unnecessary problems for yoursefl.

 

There’s a time in most of our lives when we seem to temporarily forget some of the forms of human decency that our parents taught us. This usually occurs somewhere during the ‘young adult’ stage; a time when we seem to think that we can pass-off certain forms of selfish ill-mannered behavior as ‘thinking for ourselves.’

…What can I say? –We were bored that night, and an opportunity for free, instant fun seemed to impeccably land itself right in our lap, and so we embraced it. It was 8:00 in the evening, the first day of November, and Daylight Savings Time had recently been put into place, so it seemed like it had been dark outside all day instead of just a few hours. We were about to move the next day, so our cable had already been transferred to the new address, and we had mindlessly packed every one of our DVD movies into God-knows which of the eight million boxes piled in our dining room.

Quite unexpectedly, our phone rang. My husband and I looked at each other, puzzled because we thought our phone service had been turned off to be transferred to our new address and, oddly enough, the phone hadn’t rang all day. (We later found out that since we were moving to a district of the city that required our telephone number to be changed, our phone service would be on in both places at the same time for a brief cross-over period). In sync, we shrugged our shoulders, and I answered the phone. My husband sat beside me and could hear the entire conversation.

Right after I said hello, I could hear a rude, aggressive male voice speaking urgently to someone in the background. “What'd you say you want on that again?” It was obvious that the caller was not yet aware that someone had answered the phone on my end. I didn’t recognize the voice.

Again, I said hello, in a questioning tone, hoping to alert the caller that the phone had been picked up.

The caller responded in a nasty tone that suggested that I’d said or did something inappropriate to him, which I had not. “Hello? …Hello, you’d better wait a damn minute!” he snapped to me. My mouth gaped open in shock, but before I could speak, the caller resumed talking to me. “Hello? Yeah. Gimme a large pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and Italian Sausages and mushroom, two large steak and cheese subs - one with extra meat, but with no onions on the extra meat one…” The caller spoke in a tone as if to be ordering around someone who knew better than to cross him; perhaps a servant. He continued with his order, clearly talking down to me. “…And I want an order of twenty-five hot wings with a side of barbecue dipping sauce and two extra blue cheeses, and a two liter orange soda.”

The caller hadn’t allowed me to get a word in edge-wise, thus far. And once again, before I could inform him that he had the wrong number – as sort of an after-thought, the caller spoke in a snarling but humor-laced tone, obviously trying to impress someone around him – and the giggle that followed confirmed it. “…And y’all can keep that nasty carrot-celery {explicit} for your own dinner, and I don’t wanna be waiting all night for my {explicit} to get here, and y’all had better not forget my damn soda!”

Suddenly an angry rush flowed through me. I spoke. “Okay sir, that’ll be Twenty-seven fifty with delivery.” I said in a phony-cheerful voice.

The caller paused for a few seconds. “What? Twenty-seven fifty? Are you sure?” The caller’s voice now sounded like a nice guy.

“Yes, sir.” I said in the same cheery voice. “We’re running a special today; if you purchase two subs, you get a huge discount on everything you order…”

“That’s the bomb! Y’all are the bomb!” The caller praised in the cunning, superior tone that people use when they’ve just gotten over on someone.

“Sir, where will we be delivering this order to tonight?” I asked in the most respectful tone that I could muster. My husband looked at me wide-eyed, as if he suspected that I may have completely lost my mind – almost as if he was worried that he and I would actually have to prepare the order and deliver it.

When I was in my early twenties, I thought I had all the answers; after all – I was grown. As I look back onto those days, I am amazed at how dumb I actually was. This speculation of ‘dumbness’ is confirmed in the fact that my husband and I were genuinely surprised when – after an hour – the man called back to inquire on the status of his order.

“The driver hasn’t gotten your order to you yet, sir?” I asked, pretending to be shocked and confused. “He left nearly half hour ago. Sir, I am so very sorry. He will be there in about five minutes – I assure you.”

Between the time that I ended the initial call with the guy, and the time that he called back, to check on the status of his order, curiosity had prompted my husband and me to do a little simple arithmetic. We discovered that the order that we told the caller would total less than thirty dollars, would ordinarily cost over fifty dollars in most pizza places. We wondered how the caller could have been naive enough to believe that a little ‘greasy-spoon establishment’ could afford to present such an offer; one that wouldn’t yield any profit at all and would actually cost them money.

My husband and I laughed until our eyes teared up and hurt. The humor suddenly vanished from my husband’s face, and it was replaced with worry. “What if they call back again?” He asked.

The expression on my husband’s face made me fall right back into another laughter frenzy. “These are people, not the boogieman; they can’t do anything to us. They don’t even know who we are.” I assured, with a smirk. “…Besides, maybe this will teach them a little something about common courtesy and telephone etiquette.” The truth was, I truly resented the ill mannerism of the caller, and the fact that he had dare to speak that way to a fast food employee infuriated me, as half my friends [at the time] were working in fast food.

The phone rang. It was now almost ten-o-clock, so I knew it couldn’t possibly be anyone else besides our rude caller, so I reached to answer it with a sinister grin on my face. My husband got to the phone first, and I thought to myself, 'Oh well, there goes my last bit of fun for tonight – old Johnny-joykill is going to tell them they have the wrong number.' Prematurely, I exhausted a bored sigh.

“Hello, sir – this is the manager, and before you go off on me, I want to sincerely apologize for my employee’s incompetence…” I had to look twice to make certain that the voice was coming from my husband’s mouth and not the TV. “Apparently, our delivery guy quit on us tonight and took your food with him.” My husband spoke his words so fast, that the caller didn’t get an opportunity to say anything. “…We’ve already prepared you a brand new order, and it’s out for delivery. Our driver has a white Lincoln Town Car with a red ragtop roof, and if you look out your window right now, you should see him approaching your house in less than sixty seconds.”

Finally, my husband gave the caller a chance to speak… “Oh, okay, ‘cause I was about to say – this is taking all night; are they even coming?”

“And, sir, we’ve knocked off half the price and threw in another double meat steak sub, and upgraded your wing order from twenty-five to fifty – just to express our sincere apology, and to ensure that we may keep you as a customer. Again, I am very sorry for all this mess tonight, sir.” I was indeed impressed by my husband’s Oscar-worthy performance.

“Oh, man, don’t even worry about it; we’re cool.” The guy’s tone sounded really friendly, as if to be talking to an old friend.

“…Then you will order from us again?” My husband asked, with exaggerated humility, sounding just like a manager trying to salvage his business clientele.

“Oh for sure my man; for sure.” I could hear the pleased grin in the caller’s voice.

“Okay, I’m going to hang up now, so you can go out to meet our driver; his name is Charles, and he’s shining a flashlight on your address plate right now...”

It was now too late for the caller to get anything to eat; every single fast food place in our entire city was now closed.

After my husband ended the call, we took our phone off the hook and laughed ourselves to sleep. Instant fun.

…To this day, whenever I order a pizza or wings, I secretly wonder what I'd do if it never arrives. Deep down inside, I know that if it doesn’t – it would probably serve me right.

 

STORY III

Rise & Shine

A teenager think her prank is ‘justified,’ even if the victim is her own mother

 

When I was fourteen, it was only my mother and me living in our home, since my parents had long divorced.My mother worked as a case manager for elderly people. Her job was to gather information pertaining to the client’s needs, and compose a sort of a profile to present, verbally, to any professional who becomes a part of the client’s regular care regiment. Most of the time, my mom’s work hours were from 7:00 in the morning, until about 3:00 in the afternoon. This schedule put her home about half an hour after I arrived from school. Since my mom didn’t have to wake up until after I leave for school, it was generally our routine for me to wake her up before leaving out each morning. Every so often, on the average of about once every two months, one of my mother’s clients would get a new ‘night nurse,’ which meant that my mother would have to report to work at night and spend most of the night familiarizing the new health assistant with the client’s care profile.

My mom was famous among family for her homemade New York Style Cheesecake. Most of the time, she topped it with cherry sauce and cherries, but there were times when she topped it with strawberry sauce and strawberries. As far back as I could remember, I’d loved the cherry sauce and berries, but had never been particularly fond of the strawberries and sauce version. I probably should have just asked my mom to leave the strawberries and sauce off my piece of cheesecake, but, in reality – what kid was going to turn down something sweet, unless it was molasses? During the summer that I turned fourteen, I finally told my mom that I didn’t care for strawberries, but of course I worded it more suggesting that I hated them. At first, my mom was surprised, she chuckled, seemingly to herself. She said – right to my face – that it was just a phase that I was going through, her logic being ‘You’ve eaten them all your life, so how could you just suddenly come to despise them so?’ True, I had eaten them all of my life, but like I said, ‘What kid is going to turn down anything sweet?’ That particular summer, I was finally permitted to go to stores outside my own neighborhood hence, had access to more sweets, so I no longer craved sugar enough to eat something as gross as I thought strawberries to be. Still, my mom was convinced that my ‘strawberry confession’ was mere teen nonsense.

My mom and I were invited to my great-aunt’s house for Thanks Giving dinner, and of course, everyone looked forward to my mom’s homemade New York Style cheesecake.

My mom is from a close-knit family, so close-knit in fact, that confidentiality & loyalty to kids was practically nonexistent. …Every time a teenager had a crush, or got dumped, or got beaten up or bullied,  – one parent shared it with all the adults, and as this story will prove that the confidentiality disloyalty wasn’t limited to just those few misfortunes. 

All evidence of the Thanks Giving dinner entrée had been cleared away from the table and desserts were now being served. My mom had always been what I referred to as a sensitive cook, meaning she didn’t take criticism too well. If someone, especially a male, was to imply that something she cooked was any less than perfect, it infuriated her, and being the lady that she was, she’d digest the perceived insult with silence, and later on – at home – go on a ranting rampage about it. A few times, at family gatherings, someone would devour a piece of my mom’s cheesecake and dare to pick the berries out, leaving them on the plate as one might seeds or bones. Whenever this happened, it would infuriate my mom so intensely, that her festering anger interfered with her enjoying the gathering hence she'd come up with a solution. The solution was to remove the berries from the topping and dole them out only to those who asked for them, specifically. This is why it made perfect sense to me, that Thanks Giving day, when my mom’s cheesecake was brought to the table and it had only the red sauce topping. Before accepting the dessert, I’d distinctly asked if the topping was strawberry or cherry, and my mom responded that it was cherry. I’m nearsighted, so from a distance, I couldn’t see the detail of the sauce, but as soon as I got my plate, I was able to tell that it was strawberry and not cherry, by the tiny green seeds and slightly lighter color. Like I said, I didn’t exactly hate strawberries, especially minus the berries, so I elected to just go ahead and eat it without raising a squawk. During one of the rare moments of near complete silence in the room, my mom asked me how I liked the cheesecake. I said it was good, I mean, what was I supposed to say, ‘…Well, considering the fact that I don’t like strawberries, and you distinctly told me it was cherry, it tastes mediocre compared to most I’ve tasted”? As soon as I’d eaten the last of my cheesecake, a chorus of sniggles erupted among the adults. It took a few laughter-laced comments and superior smirks from the adults, before I realized that my mom had just used this as an opportunity to prove to them that I’d expressed a dislike for strawberries, yet was obviously unable to identify them by taste. As if it wasn't enough of an insult to me, to state that I couldn’t distinguish a strawberry from a cherry, to add insult to injury, my own mom had attempted to exploit me for [technically] being polite enough to just eat the dessert and refrain from stating that she was incorrect; it was strawberry topping and not cherry. All that Thanks Giving evening, aunts sniggled every time I walked past them, and old drunken uncles cracked sarcastic jokes about how easily I’d been fooled – exaggerating that I’d ‘gobbled up the pie’ like some hungry wolf, and teens gave me sympathetic looks, realizing that they may end up being the adult’s next victim.

It was the Friday after Thanks Giving, and my mom’s client had gone to spend the holiday with family hence my mom didn’t have to report to work until Saturday morning. Since there was no school for me and no work for my mom, we decided to spend the day at the Mall. She and I had stayed up unusually late Thanks Giving night watching movies, so when we got home from the mall around 3:30, my mom was quite tired and decided to take a nap. It was approximately 4:00 when she laid down, and she’d given me orders to not let her sleep past 5:30; she had to lay-out her work clothes, and she had her line up of TV shows and the news, that she liked to watch every night.

Right around the time to wake my mother up from her nap, I got to thinking about the stunt she’d pulled the previous day, with the cheesecake, and resentment set in. …It wasn’t angry resentment, or even bitter resentment, but more like the ‘you got me, so now it’s only fair that I get you’ type of resentment.

It was 5:45 in the evening when I gently pushed open my mother’s bedroom door. “Mom? Mom. I fell asleep last night and didn’t get to wake you up. You have to get up now, or you’re going to be late for work!” It was my intent to convince her that she’d slept clear on through the night, and that it was now the next morning, and that she was running late. I planned for her to leap out of bed, alarmed, and then I’d inform her that it was just a prank, and because she had to get up around that time anyway, nothing would be lost, and we’d laugh about it. I was wrong. The whole prank got out of hand so quickly! First, my mom sat up in bed, then she leapt out. Before I could say anything to reveal my prank, my mom had dashed immediately to the bathroom. When I heard the shower water start, I tried to yell in to her, but she shushed me as she got into the shower. At this point, I was wondering how she’d allowed herself to be fooled so easily, and then I remembered her having glanced out the hallway window on the way to the bathroom, and it was the exact color outside – at 5:45 in the evening – as it would have been at around 5:45 in the morning. Also, given the urgency, she hadn’t taken the time to question the situation rationally – like, ‘why am I still sleepy?’ or ‘How could a fully grown adult and a teenager have possibly slept approximately thirteen hours, by accident?’ In short, by the time I realized that I’d gone too far with the prank, there was nothing I could do to prevent it from proceeding on.

I stood outside the bathroom door, trying desperately to think of a way to explain to my mom that it was all just a joke. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more complicated – I smelled coffee brewing and realized that my mom always plugs in the extension cord to the [already loaded] coffee maker from the bathroom, so that her coffee will be ready as soon as she gets out of the shower. I started to just go in the kitchen and pull the plug, but I knew that if I was smelling it, then it was already too late to cancel the brewing process.

“…Add my cream and sugar and put it in my travel mug to go – now!” My mom shouted from the bathroom, half ordering and half pleading – still convinced she was running late for work. I opened my mouth to confess my dastardly deed, but no words came out; my lips just frozed, in a shocked 'o.' I felt ashamed of myself for pranking my own mother.

As soon as the bathroom door opened, words of confession begun to flow like Niagara Falls. Even after a full confession, my mom’s expression suggested she still wasn’t fully convinced, so to support my confession, I pointed to the hallway window, which now bore nothing but pitch-blackness. After the realization that it had gotten darker outside, instead of lighter, my mother finally realized she’d been pranked.

The most surprising thing about that prank episode, is that my mom shared it with the entire family at the Christmas gathering the following month, branding herself the donkey-end of the old aunt sniggles and drunken uncle jokes. Maybe I just couldn’t take a joke, but either way, I told her I didn’t like strawberries, and I still don’t – sauce or berries.

 

STORY IV

That Day on the Six

…When you over-hear a conversation that is so far removed from ‘normal,’ that you begin to question your own sense of values and loyalty

 

The number six bus, at the time, was one of the city’s longest bus routes, spanning from central downtown Cleveland’s Tower City district, on out to the eastside inner city Windermere Rapid Station. The number six route had a notoriety for the most diversified crowd, compared to other routes. During the weekday rush hour, one could possibly find themself aboard the number six, seated snugly between a homeless drug-addict, toting his every earthly possession around in a Santa-sized Army bag, and a businessman donning an Italian suite, carrying a snakeskin briefcase. The hobo would have cleverly purchased a five-dollar all-day bus pass for the advantage of sparing himself the inclemency of the Cleveland Ohio weather. The businessman, equally as strategic, would have chosen to ride the bus to avoid the sixteen-dollar-a-day downtown parking fee. Both would be headed for the rapid station, where the businessman’s fancy car would be awaiting him in the park-n-ride lot; the same lot that would provide the hobo with plenty of potential pan-handling opportunity.

On that particular day, I recall the distinctive smell of a Rally’s Big Montana burger coming from someone’s bag, cunningly conspiring with the combined scents of stale urine and sweat-tainted cheap perfume, all seemingly on a merciless quest to send each and every passenger home with a nauseated stomach. Several conversations were buzzing-on around me, but it was so much chatter, that each one was nearly impossible to follow. In the seat directly in front of me, a preppy-dressed young-adult guy clutched his college books to his chest, deliberately concentrating solely on the scenery out the window; even after the pleasant downtown scenery had given way to the dingy, obscure East 55th Street slums. Next to the preppy guy, sat a young mother with a fidgety toddler on her lap. The kid tried to stand up in the seat between his mother and the preppy guy, and the mother struggled to keep him in place. The kid proceeded to wiggle, then he tried to maneuver his hand into his mother’s purse. “Leave that alone.” The mother hissed. “I want cookies.” The kid snapped. “Wait ‘till we get off the bus.” The kid reached for the purse again. “Didn’t I just tell you no?”  …By now, everyone around the young mother had become uncomfortable, and I determined myself to not catch the kid's eye. In the seat next to me, nearest to the window, sat a slender older guy in dark-colored work clothes, with an embroidered name tag affixed to his chest. Looking straight ahead, I was able to steal enough sideways glances to see that the man next to me was older, graying hair at the temples and a tired, worn-out look about his eyes. I could tell, even with limited glances, that he was hoping the same as myself and everyone else in our proximity; that the young woman and the kid would hurry up and get off the bus; hopefully at the next stop. People paused briefly, each time the kid sassed his young mother, and in reaction, she’d toss her weave braids behind her, with her head held high, but her eyes lowered – a feat that conveyed the confusing message of both pride and shame at the same time. Suddenly, the kid let out a loud spoiled-rotten whine, “I want cookies!” With the swiftness of a striking cobra, the young mother smacked the kid. The smack sounded like a firecracker. The preppy guy cowered into his corner by the window, tossing a pale blonde bang from his reddening face as he pushed his wireframed glasses further up onto the bridge of his pointed nose. There was a three-second pause after the sound of the smack, then the kid let out a loud shrieking scream. The woman lifted the kid up, by the arm and quickly made her way toward the exit, her three inch heeds scuffling along, and her ridiculously large pocketbook swacking end-seat passengers mercilessly on the shoulder as she passed by. The kid wailed even louder. A few people sniggled, one woman mentioned calling Child Protection Services, a few said the kid had gotten his just what he deserved, but most folks just rolled their eyes at the woman’s back as she passed them in the isle. Before the preppy guy could even breathe a sigh of relief, a heavyset middle-aged woman dressed in a CNN (Certified Nurse’s Assistant) uniform plopped down next to him. The heavyset lady had been previously standing, and I could tell that she was grateful to be able to finally get a seat. She’d been engaged deeply in conversation with a woman of about sixty, who was seated across the aisle form me; it was obvious the two knew each other. The older woman, I could tell, had been attractive at one point in her life, possibly before the wrath of hardcore living had taken its toll. The older woman talked mostly through her nose and had a sassy-savvy way of speaking, batting her eyes, sucking her teeth often, and swaying her shoulders; her vernacular and bodily gestures reminded me of a drunken teenager.

I obviously had not caught the conversation from the beginning.

The sassy older woman bucked her eyes and then sucked her teeth as she related this excerpt of her story. “...I wasn’t trying to sit my ass up in that jail; I’m too old for that shit. No jail for me. No sir. I knew she’d just got paid, so I called her up and told her to come down there and get me out.”

The heavyset woman grinned in amusement. “Did she come and get you out?”

“Hell yeah, she came and got me out. Shit, she better had; I birthed her ass into this world. …How’s she gonna not come get her own momma out of jail?” The woman’s expression changed; she turned her nose up. “…But she had to go get that no-good-ass Lil’ Dee first, ‘cause her ID was expired and they needed a valid ID down there at the station, in order to process my bail.”

“That girl is still with Dee? I thought they would have long broke-up by now. Damn.” The heavyset woman was obviously encouraging further information from the older woman, but on a sly.

“They might as well be broken up. Hell, they always fightin’ and carrying on like damn fools. Always raisin’ all kinds of hell with each other, but they ain’t never stayed broke-up for long.”

The heavyset woman’s nostrils flared and twitched, as she arched her back, extending her neck in attempt to turn around to get a better look behind her. “Mmm-mmm; smell like somebody got them some hot wings back there.”

“Sho-nuff!" the other woman responded. "And they smellin’ good too. I think I’ll call Greg up and have him bring me some wings when he get off from work tonight.” The older woman frowned. “…His ass still owe me twenty dollars from back 'round Christmastime, so he just ought to be willing to do me that favor without no bullshit!”

The two women shared a loud cackle-laugh, then the older one proceeded on with her story.

“…Anyways, they came down there to the police station, and while Lil’ Dee over there posting my bail, she standing over to the side, and I guess she was grinning or something because they said one of the policemen came up to her and asked her what was so funny. And she tells the cop, ‘I ain’t doing nothing but smiling. Can’t I smile if I want to?”

The heavyset woman frowned and cocked her neck back. “Whaaaaat? Girl, don’t she know you don’t go ‘round talking like that to no cops? ...Not if you don't want no trouble!"

“Exactly! Especially not when you up in their damned building, on their damned stomping grounds, needing something from they-asses! Anyway, the cop came at her again. This time he said, ‘I’m just dying to know what you could possibly find to be so amusing about a police station...’ ...Girl, and then her simple-ass come talkin’ about, ‘I can laugh if I wanna laugh. You ain’t God, so who are you to tell me I can’t smile?

The heavyset woman’s eyes widened. “…No she didn’t, girl!” The heavyset woman replied in a shocked, high-pitch tone.

The older woman folded her arms across her chest and nodded, convincingly. “Oh yes she did too.”

“Didn’t she know enough to keep her fool-mouth shut while she was down there?”

The older lady bucked her eyes and pursed her lips. “I guess not. But she learned that day – and quick too! …And then the policeman asked to see her ID.  …By that time, my bail was posted and they’d gone back there to get me to let me on up outta there...”

Concern shadowed the heavyset woman’s face. “…You said her ID was expired; did that matter any?”

The older lady’s expression was now smug. “Ordinarily it wouldn’t have mattered none, 'cept that heifer had a warrant on her ass.”

“…A warrant?" The heavyset woman nearly screamed her words. "You’re kidding me? She went and opened her mouth on a policeman like that, knowing that she was sitting on a warrant?” The heavyset lady seemed to not believe her ears.

The older woman closed her eyes and nodded her head slowly, as if to allow the reality of her daughter’s stupidity to thoroughly sink in. “…Had a bench warrant from almost two years back, for failure to appear in court to answer to some unpaid tickets. Almost six hundred dollars worth.” 

The heavyset woman’s mouth gaped open, and her eyes widened in amusement. “…So, when they were letting you out of jail…”

The older woman cut in and finished the heavyset woman’s sentence… “…They was hauling her ass in to jail.”

“Ump, ump, ump,” The heavyset woman chanted in exaggerated pity.

“And don’t you know she had the nerve to call me to come and get her ass out of jail the next morning?”

“Did you go get her out?” The heavyset woman asked. I could tell she was authentically curious.

“Can a pig see his ass? Hell naw he can't, and hell naw I didn’t get her out! I told her, ‘You ain’t in there for nothing serious. …You’re in there for some damn traffic tickets, so they ain’t even gonna keep you in there for long.  …You just stay on in there - rent-free - and eat their food, watch their cable, and suck up their heat and electric until your court date comes up, and then they’ll order you time-served while awaiting a court date.  …By the time you get out, you won’t owe for no more tickets." The older woman placed her hand onto her hip, despite that she was seated, and swayed her head back and forth cunningly as she spoke her next words…  "Hell - if anything I did her ass a favor, ‘cause when she gets out, she’ll have a clean slate to work with – won’t owe them folks nothin’ no more...” …The woman’s tone suggested that it was her true belief that she’d acted in good faith on her daughter’s behalf.

…The dumfounded looks on the faces of those who'd witnessed the conversation was priceless, and I’m sure my own expression bore no exception.

 

STORY V

Morning & Vancouver

A teen girl does something cruel, yet seemingly harmless – and extremely selfish

 

First, before I tell you this story, let me first tell you a little about the background…

Bitsey and Nora grew up in the same small conservative suburban neighborhood, but in different generations. Nora came from Vancouver Street, where every resident was familiar with their neighbors. Bitsey’s street, Morning Avenue, was right off Vancouver and even more conservative in culture. Not all folks, from the two streets, were familiar with the residents from the other, despite that on any given summer day, they often saw and greeted each other on the way to the only convenient store around, Charlotte’s Corner Store.

Bitsey was born with some sort of an ailment that had left him unable to exceed 4’9 in height, and a body weight that any doctor would describe as ‘morbidly obese.’ Bitsey’s rear end stuck out behind him, and he had a sort of a pigeoned-toe wobble to his walk. To one who is unacquainted with Bitsey, it would have been easy to mistake his social awkwardness for mild retardation. When I was a teenager, I’d had a few personal, in-depth conversations with Bitsy, and it was clear that, though his conversation content may not have been more consistent with that of a retirement-age man, he still couldn’t be considered ‘slow;’ only a bit quaint in mannerism.

From the time Bitsey was Nora’s age, on up to his adulthood, not much had changed in the neighborhood, except that most folks his age had long gone off and built themselves a life away from the area; most had been quite eager to leave the sleepy little town for a broader horizon. Bitsey had chosen to remain behind, living with his parents. His parents had provided a sheltered environment for him during his childhood, most likely because he’d been teased, bullied, and ostracized a lot during his school days by peers who were not used to his appearance. As a teenager, Bitsey had been extremely old-fashioned in expression, in fact, he reminded me of anybody’s Southern country-boy grandfather. He always seemed quite proud of his ‘old man’ way of speaking and behavior, and that’s what I admired most about him.

From the 1960’s decade, on up to the nineties, for children, the most exciting thing about the neighborhood had remained, walking to Charlotte’s for a candy bar or a Popsicle on a hot summer’s day, or sledding down the giant hill behind the elementary school in the winter. Over the decades, a few other stores emerged, but not a single one of them lasted more than a year or so. In the 1980’s, Charlotte sold her store to her nephew, but the only change that came about as a result, was Pacman and Centipede video game machines and a deli that served hot steak subs. Charlotte’s subs weren’t nearly as good as the famous ‘Adeline Subs’ down the street, but then-again, they weren’t nearly as expensive either. By 2007, you could purchase a steak sub at Charlotte’s for about $4.50, compared to Adeline’s $8.00 subs; a dream-come true for someone on a budget.

At the time of this incident, Nora was fourteen and Bitsey was approximately forty-four. The two had seen each other in the passing, but the only time they had acknowledged the presence of the other, was the few times when Nora was with one of her friends. In the company of her friends, Nora would sniggle as if she were seeing Bitsey for the very first time, and as if his appearance was the most comical thing she’d ever seen. Each time, Bitsey would do as he’d done all of his life, when rude teenagers make a spectacle of him; roll his eyes and mumble a few curse words.

To know Bitsey, is to know that he was a man of very little need, which was quite apt because he and his family didn’t have much. Morning Street consisted of a neat row of tiny houses, not much bigger than mobile homes, with tiny neat matching front yards and wire-fenced backyards that were more vegetable garden than anything else. By the time Bitsey reached adulthood, his physical ailment and obesity had left him relying on disability benefits to live. His daily routine was predictable to anyone who knew him. In the morning, he would go to Charlotte’s for a newspaper, and then stop at Cleve’s for day-old doughnuts. He wouldn’t come out again around two in the afternoon, as soon as the video store opened, to rent a movie and. Next, would report to Mrs. Hart’s house to walk her dogs for two dollars. BHis last stop of the day was back to Charlotte’s to play video arcade games until most of his dog-walking money was just about gone.

During the day, it was not uncommon for Bitsey to be seen talking with random people for up to an hour; mostly area business owners. Charlotte, the woman who’d originally owned the store, had been a petite cantankerous old woman who chained smoked, fussed and complained constantly, and cursed like a drunken sailor, and she’d made it no secret that she did not like children. When Charlotte turned the store over to her nephew Reno, it had to have been the best thing ever for Bitsey. He could be seen sweeping the store parking lot, or washing the deli counter glass, or even stocking the shelves, but everyone knew he wasn’t on the payroll. Bitsey did odd jobs for Reno all week long, in order to earn a free steak sub every Friday evening. To Bitsey, it was worth it because he spent hours in the store talking with Reno and the regular customers anyway, so I guess he figured he might as well be doing something constructive during that time. He also had long conversations with Cleve, the owner of the billiard, which is why he got first dibs on the doughnuts left over from the night before. It wasn’t uncommon to see Bitsey sitting on the bench in front of the billiard on an early summer morning, talking with Cleve, a man well into his sixties, both eating dounuts and nursing on a mug of coffee. The billiard didn’t open until 5:00 every evening, but by then, Bitsey was long-gone, as he’d never set foot in the billiard while it was open.

Over the years, I over-heard bits and pieces of conversations between Bitsey and people like Reno, Mrs. Hart, Cleve, the video store clerk, or Pastor Edwards. He talked mostly about fishing adventures he’d enjoyed with his father, and VCR movies he’d rented, or about zany things his niece or nephew had done. Bitsey also went to church every Sunday, and he talked about that too. I think he liked places that had the kind of people that he knew would never make fun of him and who appreciated his good-natured conversation.

...And now let’s talk about Nora. Nora was a slightly plump, cute girl with a huge perfect-toothed grin and big bright adventure-seeking eyes. she had a clear distinctive, mischevious sounding voice that would have made a fantastic voice-over for a Disney monkey. Her loud hyena cackle-of -a-laugh was a force to be reckoned with, especially for those who found themselves the subject of her laughter attacks. She was being raised by her grandmother, who worked long hours and needed desperately to believe that she could rely on Nora to behave herself and mind her eighty-something year old mother (Nora’s great grandmother), while she was at work. Needless to say, Nora ignored the elderly woman and did as she pleased. Her ill behavior mainly consisted of summer-long adventures of hunting down friends who were vile enough to roam the neighborhood, in search of someone to make fun of.

It was an early October Indian Summers weeks evening. Nora was at Charlotte’s, hoping to run into a friend to hang out with on this Friday night. The entire deli was lit up with the smell of steak subs in the making. Nora stood on her tiptoes, peering over the deli counter, just in time to catch glimpse of a long slither of beef being dragged across the grill, and diced into some peppers and onions. It sure smelled good. She had nearly eight dollars left from her allowance; more than enough to trat herself to a sub. Nora knew she'd better not spend any of her money if she wanted to enjoy a fun-filled weekend; something that had become scare in her life, since the start of the new school year, about a month earlier.

Bitsey had spent his week sweeping parking lots, mopping floors, Windex-ing glass showcase windows, walking French Poodles – and God knows what else. He was now about to claim his end-of-the-week prize; a large steak and cheese sub with extra meat, and an Orange Crush soda.

Bitsey waited patiently for his second dinner to be prepared. He gazed at the Heavenly mound of meat as the cheese melted over it like an erupting volcano. He watched as the meat mountain was piled onto the sub bun and as it was wrapped, first in cellophane, then in tin foil. He accepted his free sub, and paid for his soda, and was on his way home to enjoy it. Bitsey was deep into a daydream as he headed home, carrying the can of soda in his jacket pocket and holding his sub by the top of the long slender white paper bag; the universal kind - tailored-made for submarine sandwiches.

Bitsey felt a slight shove to his the right side of his body, and by the time he realized what had just happened, Nora was running off, full speed down the street – with Bitsey’s steak and cheese sub! He took off after her, but his pace was no match for the teen’s speed and agility. He was determined to not give up, as he continued to run after Nora. They were approaching a small bridge. Nora came to a stop just fifty feet away from Bitsey, but he was now out of breath. Despite being exhausted, he still proceeded to walk in Nora’s direction. He figured that since they’d come to a bridge, she would either have to go down his street, or over the bridge, as those appeared to be the only two directional choices. Nora was tired too. There was a set of steps, about midway on the bridge, leading to the top and Nora started up them. Bitsey couldn’t believe his eye – people had so seldom taken the stairs to the top of the bridge, that most folks had forgotten that they were even there. Nora paused, midway on the stairwell to flash Bitsey her famous monkey-like grin; taunting him.

“Why don’t you quit playing and give me back my sub, gal?” Bitsey shouted.

Nora just grinned, like a mischievous monkey as she proceeded to open the wrapping of the sub. Each time Bitsey made a move to climb up the stairs, she would move further upward on the steps - and take a bite of the sub. Nora sat - mid-way on the steps - eating Bitsey’s hard-earned sub. …And for some reason, he stood watching, in sheer disbelief. He couldn’t even report the incident to the police because – though he knew of the young girl, and could have verywell described her – he didn’t know precisely which family she belonged to - because she was from Vancouver, and he was from Morning.

 

STORY VI

One Cold Day

You hear about it, you become enraged, you angrily judge the culprit - and then you realize how close to home it hits - suddenly you're forced to reexamine the entire situation

 

Our car needed a tune-up, and the only service station in town, that happened to be conveniently located right next to a department store, was the one we chose. It was nearly two hours before they got around to our car, and another forty-five minutes to complete the job. We didn’t mind the wait, as we took advantage of the time by going turning it into a department store outng to allow our two toddler children to browse the toy section and give us an idea of what they wanted Santa to bring them for up-coming Christmas. After our outing, we went and picked up our car. Upon glancing across the street and noticing the motor vehicle department, I remembered that my husband’s driver’s license was due to expire in a few days, so we decided to get as many important things done that day as we could. It was unseasonably cold for late November, even for Western New York weather, and the sky had grown disturbingly gray. Nonetheless, we decided to gamble against the inclemency of the weather.

One of the characteristics of a small town, is that they are known for cramming as many human-related organization entities into one building as possible. Inside this particular building – besides the DMV, was the agency for child support & enforcement, a free clinic (which includes treatment for sexually transmitted diseases), child protection agency, adoption agency, and the agency for government welfare and food stamp assistance - all in one building. People hated going to this place for the reasons aforementioned, and most folks – even those not going to the clinic or welfare department – acted embarrassed to be see there. In order to reach the elevator that would take us up to the third flood Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), we had to first walk down a hallway, past an array of oppressed, degraded faces; all seated in a row of flimsy metal folding chairs that lining the walls on both sides. The familiar faces grumbled a quick hello as we passed them, and others lowered their head, pretending to be examining a cluster of paperwork, and the reaction of a few reminded me of a deer caught in headlights. Alas, we’d made it down the infamous hallway of shame, as us locals had dubbed it.

The upstairs of the building, where the DMV was, wasn’t much better, as the hallways were crowded with people who were waiting for their number to be called, and these poor folks didn’t even have the luxury of flimsy metal chairs; they just stood there, propped up against the wall, looking like oppressed zombies. My husband signed in and was given a raggedy, tattered piece of cardboard with the number seventy six sloppily scribed in black marker.

A stern looking woman emerged from a door. “Twenty-two?” she grumbled in a seemingly disgusted tone. An elderly gentleman pardoned himself from an incomplete conversation. “That’s me! I’m twenty-two!” he shouted, baring a toothless grin, as he scurried his way toward the door, as if it were finally his turn to speak with The Wizard of Oz.

Realizing how long of a wait he was facing, my husband gave me a ten dollar bill and advised that I take the children down to the cafeteria, where I'd at least be able to sit while I wait. I knew that, in order to occupy a booth in the cafeteria, I’d be required to make at least a five dollar purchase per half hour, which wouldn’t be a problem with two greedy-plump toddlers who would eagerly welcome a donut and a slice of pizza. After surviving the second dreadful walk down the first floor hallway of Shame, I was now able to peek inside the window of the tiny cafeteria. There were two empty booths inside, and a short line to order. The row of ‘oppressed people’ began just three feet  away from where I waited in the cafeteria line; the ones waiting to see a caseworker to screen and/or accept them for welfare assistance, and still - there were those who sat to wait. One of those sitting, was a young man in his early twenties who'd lucked-up on an end seat. He had two toddler boys about the age of my son and daughter, and I was sure I would have to endure the children interacting with my children; something I didn’t want. I didn’t like for my children to interact with children if I didn’t know the parents, and I certainly didn't know that guy. I caught the man’s eyes long enough to render him harmless; I owed him nothing beyond a nod of acknowledgement. Through the corners of my eyes, I observed him balance one kid on each knee. The kids seemed tired and they had sad eyes. It didn’t seem as though they even noticed my kids, which was quite rare for kids that age. 

The youngest kid mumbled something to his father that I couldn’t quite hear. I could tell by the frown on his face that he was uncomfortable. The toddler mumbled again. ‘He probably has to go to the bathroom,’ I speculated to myself.

“Eat-eat!” The toddler said, this time loud and clear. “Wanna eat-eat, dada!”

I was extremely relieved when the person in front of me walked off with their food because I felt just awful knowing that the two strange kids were hungry and mine were about to eat, practically in front of them. One hour and ten dollars later, my husband was finally finished in the DMV. As we exited the cafeteria, we came face to face with the guy with the hungry children; apparently he had been seen in the office and was leaving. He and my husband, strangers to each other, smiled and said hello.

“This place is crazy, man.” The guy said, sounding as if he’d just been put through the wringer.

“…It sure is. That’s why I avoid it whenever I can.” My husband responded, shaking his head as if the two were exchanging war stories.

The guy looked down at his youngest, who was staggering along like a drunkard. “…And now this one is about ready for a nap.” The man picked the kid up, balanced him securely onto his hip, and then took the oldest kid by the wrist. “I’ll see you around, man.” The guy said, managing to muster a smile from God knows where.

My son asked to use the bathroom, and of course my daughter suddenly realized that she too must got to the bathroom. After the children were done with the restroom, I bundled them up and headed for the car. The temperature had dropped significantly during the hour we’d spent inside,  it had to be in the twenties, and snow was blowing every which way. The car was so cold, that we cringed as we slid in, onto the vinyl seats, but to our relief, the heat kicked-in before we even left the parking lot. 

We’d driven less than a block when we caught glimpse of someone walking. The snow was blowing fiercely and the figure of a man was barely visible. As we looked closer, we noticed that there was a small child on the guy’s hip and another was being led along by hand. It was the guy from the DMV building!

“Oh my gosh!” I shrieked.

Without even consulting each other, my husband pulled over and rolled down the automatic window on the passenger side. “Man, do you need a ride? How far are you going?”

When the guy informed us that he lived on Alps Avenue, which was clear on the other side of town, I gasped, realizing that, at the rate he was traveling, it would take him two hours to get there.

The guy got into our car, nestling his children into the back seat next to ours, climbing in after them and thanking us profusely.

“No thanks is in order,” my husband said. “I just wish I’d known, when I was talking to you, that you didn’t have a ride because it could have saved you from having to walk these couple of blocks.”

“You’re a good man.” The guy said, in a sober tone.

“…I’m an ordinary man. Any real man would do what I have done. You'd do the same for me.” My husband assured.

“Well, in that case, there must not be any real men in this city besides you because over a dozen passed me by, only slowing down long enough, seemingly, to weigh my misery.” A moment later, we came to a stop light, and the guy extended his hand out to the front seat, between the bucket seats. “The name’s Mark.”

My husband shook his hand and gave his name, then introduced me and our children individually.

There was an awkward silence, and then Mark spoke. “I wouldn’t have brought my little ones out in this weather, except that I had to apply for assistance.” He sighed, obviously in despair. “…I just couldn’t put it off any longer; I need some help, man.” 

“There’s nothing wrong with needing help. And realizing that it’s time to ask for it, is an achievement in itself.” My husband responded.

Mark still looked as though he owed us an explanation. “A couple of weeks ago, my wife up and left me for another man."

“That is so messed up.” My husband said, in a tone that seemed like he could feel Mark’s pain.

“Yea, that’s what I say. But at least she left my sons with me.” He signed. "Now I just have to figure out a way to keep them fed. That’s why I had to apply for welfare and food stamps today.”

“It may seem awful right now, but soon you'll have everything in order.” My husband assured. "...I just know you will."

“I hope so.” Mark seemed to drift into thought. “I thought I had things together just one month ago. I was working at NICO’s, making pretty decent money. We had a nice apartment and a little money in the bank, and now…” There was an awkward pause before he continued. “…And now this. And the insane part about is all, is the fact that – I didn’t even see it coming.”

My husband advised Mark to hold his head up, and commended him for not having resorted to violence, or worse.

Mark’s head hang low. “The only reason I’m not sitting in a prison cell right this moment, is because I knew I needed to remain rational for my children. But how does a man remain rational under these kind of circumstances? How?” Mark's words were only slightly more audible than a whisper now.

It was clear that Mark needed someone to talk to. “We’d been together for three years," he continued, "and then she meets one man and suddenly - all that I thought we’d built together - she goes and allows some random guy off the streets to just come in and ruin it all.”

“Do you know anything about the guy?” My husband asked; not that he was particularly curious, but rather that, that seemed to be the appropriate question to ask at the time.

Mark shook his head. “Nope. Just that she supposedly has been messing around with him for about a month now, and that, that is where she was going when I thought she was at her mother’s house.” Mark was quiet for a moment. “He has even called my home and asked for her, and they’ve flaunted the affair all around town.” His voice denoted more than just a spark of hatred and resentment, and then he quickly adjusted it. “…But, like I said; at least she didn’t try to take my kids away from me, and for that I feel blessed.”

Before my husband could add any further input, Mark continued. “I had to quit my job because when she left, I couldn’t find anyone, on such a short notice, to watch my children. My car was in her name because her father had given it to us, and she took it with her when she left. I even had to place my dog up for adoption just last week – our beloved pet – because I could no longer afford to feed him.”

My attention swayed from the guy’s conversation as I wondered what kind of a sociopath his wife could possibly be. Then I noticed the wide-eyed observers in the back seat, who seemed to understand enough of what we were talking about for one set of them to feel like the luckiest kids in the world, and the other set - the most unfortunate. I wondered why some folks were foolish enough to speak of such things around kids, then realized that I'd just proven myself one of those error-prone fools. 

Mark was still speaking of his wife. “...Your wife may even know her because they’re about the same age, and this city is only about the size of a postage stamp…” Mark said, then finally treating his dammaged soul to a much-needed chuckle.

The statement caught my attention. ‘I doubt I would know her,’ I thought to myself, ‘If I knew anyone who was capable of those sort of despicable deeds, surely they would be at the surface of my mind, right now.’ Still, Iwaited for Mark to disclose the name…

“Her name’s Darla Cult, but her maiden name was Portman…” Mark revealed.

Darla Colt, Darla Colt, Darla Cold’ I recited in my head, searching my memory. Suddenly I realized that he’d said ‘Portman’ had been her maiden name, and suddenly I recalled Darla Portman from my last year of high school, and I had to admit [to myself] that I wasn’t really shocked that Darla would do such a thing. Darla was a tall, slender, curve-less girl who had taken modeling lessons and was not only convinced that she would one day be on Glamour Magazine cover, but also seemed to be convinced that she was indisputably the best-looking girl in the entire world. Back in high school, no one would have cared that Darla had such a high opinion of herself, or that her self-expectations seemed to exceed all reality, but what did bother people about Darla, was the fact that she would get visibly irritated whenever someone spoke favorably of any other girl’s looks. She also seemed to take pleasure in the short-comings of all females; regarless of how petty and minute. These flaws, though annoying as Hell, were easily over-looked by most, yet [obviously] not easily forgotten. I did remember when she'd became pregnant with her first child. I was able to recall that the guy was from Massachusetts and that they called him ‘Boston.’ Even after Boston married Darla, people still predicted doom for the relationship on the premise that Darla was so conceited, and would most likely never be satisfied with such a plain-looking everyday guy. I hated the fact that time had proven the grim prophecies correct - and at the expense of a good, decent man like Mark Cult. As I look back, I realized what a sheltered life I’d lived on up until that day because – in my twenty-four years of life, I’d never heard the words of a broken man outside of song lyrics.

Mark gave a nervous chuckle, as if trying to remain in good spirits when it was obvious that I knew Darla, and because he probably felt as though every joke in the world was now on him. “You know, I came here two summers ago, along with my mom. My auntie had just beaten cancer and needed us to help her for a few months…” A thought seemed to flash into Mark’s mind, causing his conversation veer into a new direction. “...You know, if it weren’t for my upstairs neighbors, an older couple, I don’t know what I would have done for food after yesterday. I’ve used up all of my savings over the past few weeks. My neighbors are living off Social Security and still working at their age, just to make ends meet, yet found it in their heart to offer me food and refused to take 'no' for an answer.”

“I hope that bastard gets what’s coming to him – just as long as it doesn’t involve you breaking the law. I’m talking about karma.” I could tell my husband meant what he said.

Mark seemed to suddenly think of something else – more information. “He drives around town in the car that was meant for my family. The same car that I'd been using to travel to work, and he has his own car.” Mark exhausted a bitter, frustrated huff. “…That guy’s one cold human being.” Mark shook his head in pity.

We were nearing Alp Avenue. “Let me know when to start slowing down.” My husband instructed.

Mark navigated us to a small well-kept two family duplex with a cement stoop for a porch and an unbelievably tiny front lawn. The entire neighborhood looked like no one under sixty had stepped foot in it in decades.

“Yay! We home!” the little one cheered. “Daddy, are we gonna eat-eat now? Pleeze.”

Mark ignored the tot as he shook hands with my husband, then struggled to free his oldest from the seatbelt.

“Daddy? Daddy, eat-eat? Eat-eat daddy?”

“Be quiet Joshua!” snapped the older kid.

The little one omitted a slight discontented whine in protest of his big brother’s order. “Daddy? Daddy, where’s Bo-bo?” Mark disregarded the toddler’s inquiry as he exited the car and hoisted him onto his hip.

“Thanks again, man.” Mark said, with a Universe of gratitude in his voice. “Like I said; you’re a good man.”

“Daddy, BoBo had to go bye-bye to a new family, right?” the younger toddler asked, regarding their dog.

“Hush Josh…” Grumbled the oldest – again. Then the car door closed, thus ending that encounter.

Two weeks later, my husband and I were in Kmart picking up our children’s Christmas toys from layaway. I heard a familiar voice call my husband’s name. It was my husband’s older brother Ralph, walking hugged-up with Darla Portman-Colt. My husband smiled, pleased to see his playboy bachelor of a brother finally showing signs of moving toward becoming a family man. We were less than twenty feet away, and with Ralph and his jezza-belle moving progressively toward us, I had no time to fill my husband in on Darla’s identity. With a seven year age difference between my husband and Ralph, even before our marriage, the two didn’t see much of each other between work and Ralph’s active social life, so whenever they met-up, it always meant a lot of catching up – even in the middle of a department store. I cringed as Ralph introduced Darla, as if he were Prince Charles and she was Lady Diana Spencer. I glanced down into the cart and saw what I perceived as evidence that the two might be living together, and the thought sickened me.

Of course, Darla pretended to not remember me from less than six years back, then finally she remarks, “Oooooh yea, you were the one with the big hair, who used to always complain about the dark acne spots on your forehead and chin. ...You know, I always thought you were pretty, and I didn’t think they were that noticeable.”

I was forced to make small-talk with the home-wrecking hussy, but after what seemed like a small eternity, Ralph and my husband parted ways, anticipating the usual Christmas brunch at their parent’s home.

I had to wait until they were a safe enough distance away from us before I even attempted to link Darla Portman to Mark Colt's woes, but of course, that was also enough time for my husband to spit out his assessment of the situation. “...You know, it’s a damned shame, but I don’t think Ralph will ever settle down. Ever.” My husband looked off into the direction that Ralph and Darla headed, and released a defeated sigh. “That poor girl there…” he still stared after the couple. “…She has no idea, but Ralph is about to leave her – real soon. He’s already seeing a college cheerleader from Buff State University. He’s trying his damnedest to dissuade her from making plans for the two of them to attend the New York City Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop ceremony. He already as tickets to go to Aspen Colorado with his cheer leader girlfriend.” My husband now looked even more disgusted. “He says he’s going to regret letting this one go because he’s gotten used to driving around in her snazzy little sports car that her father bought her.”

Finally, they were far enough away for me to convey the news that his brother has been dating another man’s wife. To say that my husband was shocked would not be nearly enough emphasis to place on his reaction to the news.

That afternoon, my husband must have dialed Ralph’s telephone number a hundred times, in attempt to inform him that his sweet little innocent girlfriend was another man's wife. Finally, my husband got through to Ralph, just before six. If you think my husband was shocked by the initial news, then you should have seen his reaction once he discovered that Ralph knew that Darla was married from the beginning, but just didn’t care. And yes, he had in fact called her home, where she lived with her husband and children, to ask to speak with her; it was true.

“I don’t see what the big problem is, bro.” Ralph said to my husband over the phone.  “…I don’t want to marry her. Hell, I don’t even like her; she’s too stuck on herself, and she isn’t even that hot. …But you should see the gal I have now – I’m talking Jasmine Guy, Cindy Lauper, body like the Baywatch chick!”

That night, my husband and I said very little about the Ralph/Darla situation, but we were both silently wondering the same thing, ‘How could two men, who were raised in the same house, by the same set of parents, with the same set of morality regulations & values, turn out so differently; one of high rectitude, and the other bereft of anything that even resembles moral compass? How?

…I don’t know if it was Universal Intervention or what, but we never seen nor heard from Mark ‘Boston’ Colt or his wife Darla again, ever. ...But unfortunately, we seen Ralph again - many times.

 

STORY VII

The Family Thief

The matriarch of a large family had to deal with a disturbing family dilemma, and she done so in such a clever manner, I will never forget

 

 

For any family, the suspicion that there may be a thief among them, is a dreadful conclusion, but for a family as large as the Jamison family, the realization was just plain disastrous. They were a family of ten living under one three-bedroom roof, facing the undeniable fact that one of them was shamelessly stealing personal belongings from others.

It seemed as though Mr. Jamison was always at work, and when he was at home, he was a mere shadow in the distant, uttering only an occasional mumble of dissatisfaction or approval, and a few times a year, administering a well-deserved spanking. He was a hard-working man, who only exerted minimal involvement into the dynamics of his home life, as it was Mrs. Edna Jamison who kept the family affairs in order. Mrs. Jamison, a short portly woman, was the sort who carried herself as proudly as a queen and displayed a sense of optimism to match her royal demeanor. It was rare to catch Edna Jamison without her sweet, confident slight smile – even in times of trouble, like the summer of 1979, when it became clear that there was a thief among her children.

It all started that late April, when Gregory turned twelve. It was customary for Josephine, the oldest Jamison daughter, to bake her famous homemade lemon cake whenever there was a birthday. People looked forward to a ‘Jamison birthday,’ and would come from all over the neighborhood in hopes of getting a slice of Josephine’s delicious cake. Whenever Josephine baked a cake, she would bake six of them, the size of a telephone book, and cleverly assemble them together onto a huge platter, and once the icing job was completed, it looked like one big cake. The evening after Gregory’s party, there was nearly half a cake left, and Mrs. Jamison wrapped it in waxed paper and carefully placed it onto the bottom shelf of the fridge. The next morning, almost all the remaining cake was gone. By the time Mrs. Jamison discovered the theft, the kids – with the exception of four-year-old Joey, had already left for school. Years later, I learned that Mrs. Jamison had first suspected Mikey, her nineteen-year-old son who’d been battling obesity for most of his life. Mikey had put on more than thirty pounds since graduating high school the previous year, all from over-eating at night. Mikey had never been one to lie, so when he denied eating the cake, Mrs. Jamison took his word. Sixteen-year-old Valerie was also a candidate, as she’d been known quite frequently to live up to her life-long nick name, ‘Plump,’ by gorging on food. Plump wasn’t exactly fat, but rather – well – ‘Plump.’ When Plump denied eating the cake, Mrs. Jamison realized that, unlike Mikey, Plump could not have possibly been able to eat the huge quantity of cake in just one night. After questioning her children and getting denials from every one of them, Mrs. Jamison started to question other possibilities. For example, she considered that maybe baby Joey may have gotten up and eaten the cake, but then she remembered that he couldn’t even eat a sandwich without making a mess of everything around him. Next, she wondered if her husband had gotten up in the night and had eaten the cake and just forgot, but that too proved to be a far-fetched theory. Lastly, she wondered if perhaps a neighbor had snuck into their home during the night, knowing that the remainder of the cake would be in the fridge, and just helped themselves. Secretly, she knew that if that were the case, the culprit would have taken the entire cake – pan and all, and also that someone would have to be insane to take such a risk. Within a week or two, all talk of ‘the disappearing cake’ faded in the Jamison house, as the up-coming summer vacation became the topic of choice.

Eighteen-year-old Mikey decided that he was going to buy himself a new bike for the summer and hand down his old one to fourteen-year-old ‘Tance’ (they called him ‘Tance’ because his name was ‘Terrence’ and when he was a baby, his younger siblings couldn’t pronounce it, and the mispronunciation stuck as a nick name).

Oh, what a big ruckus it was in the Jamison household when Mikey discovered that twenty seven dollars of his hard-earned eight dollar bike money was missing.

“I’ve already paid Nelson’s big brother five dollars to take me to Kmart to pick up my new bicycle, and now some of my money is gone!” The gentle-giant of an eighteen-year-old was near tears. “…And he can’t give me my money back because he already used it to put gas in the gas tank!”

Everyone in the house felt just awful for Mikey because they realized that, of everyone in the family, his money had been the hardest to come by. Being that he was so overweight, Mikey couldn’t shovel snow or mow lawns; that sort of physical exertion was too much for him. He had accrued most of his money by babysitting, saving Christmas and birthday gift money, and by eating the cheapest candies and sweets the stores offered. Occasionally, he’d place a bet on a ball game with one of his friends and he almost always won. Mrs. Jamison ‘canceled the weekend’ for the children in her house. Those among them who didn’t have a summer job to go to, had to ‘stay home to help search for Mikey’s missing money.’ As a preteen, that was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard, but once I grew up, I came to realize that Mrs. Jamison’s instated ‘search’ was really a punishment disguise. There was no Saturday morning cartoon line-up that weekend, and the ‘Saturday Night at the Movies’ 8:00 movie feature was skipped that weekend. No one got to run through the garden hose sprinkler, and there were no trips to the corner candy store, there were no phone calls, and no one was allowed any company – unless, of course the company was willing to join the search for Mikey money. …All the Jamison kids did that entire weekend was search. Finally, Sunday evening, Mikey’s sister-in-law, the wife of their oldest brother Junior, gave Mikey the rest of the money he needed to buy his bike, and she gave him a free ride to go and pick it out. As a kid, I thought the matter of ‘Mikey’s money’ was forgotten – at least until the next theft incident, but I later discovered that it was still eating away at Mrs. Jamison.

Deena and Malinda liked to tell people they were twins, but only because they liked the fact that they could get away with it, despite that they didn’t look much alike. No one ever questioned it because Deena was born premature, and the two were only nine months apart, and were the same age for three months out of the year, and were also in the same grade at school.

Deena Jamison was a cute, quiet girl, and sort of lethargic - unenergetic but nice. Deena was short and curvy, and what most would refer to as ‘a girly-girl.’ Malinda was also short, but petite, slender and rather plain-looking, but with a charismatic, lively personality. Malinda had a beautiful singing voice and was almost always singing and dancing. At any given time, she could turn the [otherwise serene] Jamison home into her own rendition of a Broadway musical. Malinda liked to invite friends over to her porch, where she would sing into her electrical microphone, putting on a show pretending to be Toni Tennille or Cher, or Diana Ross or Marie Osmond, or some other top diva, and she’d done so with such excellence.

Lydia, Stephanie, and Dora had been waiting on the porch for fifteen minutes for Malinda to return with her microphone. She’d searched every nook and cranny of her tiny bedroom for her microphone. Every one of the Jamison kids knew what the deal was; the thief had stuck again, and not even two weeks had gone by since Mikey’s money had gone missing. Mikey had since used his next allowance to put a lock on the closet door of his bedroom, and only he and Tance had a key. Mikey shared a basement bedroom with Tance, but he figured that, even if Tance turned out to be the thief, he’d know better than to steal from the closet since it would lead directly to him.

Everyone silently prayed that Malinda would find her microphone. No one wanted the weekend to be ‘canceled’ again, so they all joined in on the search, but luck didn’t prevail. Mrs. Jamison consorted with her husband, who offered no advice, as he wanted no parts of the latest family dilemma however, he did promise the spanking of a lifetime to the culprit, once caught. But they had to catch him or her first. Mrs. Jamison’s solution to the issue of Malinda’s missing microphone was to deduct a portion form everyone allowance; enough to purchase another one from Croft’s Flea market. Of course, no one was happy about the solution, but at least they still had their weekend to look forward to, they reasoned. For one whole week, Malinda stored her microphone in her parent’s dresser drawer, and as soon as she got her allowance, she purchased a trunk and key to protect her personal belongings from The Family Thief (as the culprit had now been dubbed). Mrs. Jamison confided, years later, of how upsetting and degrading it was for her to have to stand idly as her children, one-by-one, begin to lock up their personal belongings in their own home.

As aforementioned, cute little Deena was quiet and unenergetic, but what I forgot to mention was the fact that she’d never failed to ‘perk-up’ in the presence of boys. No one knew the details of her secret except Malinda, her pretend twin, and her diary. The moment that Deena discovered her diary missing, she let out a shrieking wail, as if she’d glanced into the mirror and found her head shaved completely bald – but, of course, that’s probably a pretty good analogy for how she actually felt. …Poor Deena had lost all of her accumulated secrets, and didn’t even know with whom they were now shared. As I look back (and I confess this observance with not a shred of humor or exaggeration), I can now identify Deena’s reaction to her missing diary, as a ‘mild nervous breakdown.’ To this day, I can aver that Deena hasn’t been completely the same since the summer of 1979, when her diary went missing. Mrs. Jamison’s solution to Deena’s missing diary was slightly different than her other solutions, as it was more proactive as opposed to reactive. Mrs. Jamison bought Deena a trunk and lock, just like the one that Malinda had purchased just a few weeks earlier. As an adult looking back, I can now see that Mrs. Jamison was probably more worried about ‘the secrets’ that the diary [obviously] contained because – judging by fourteen-year-old Deena’s reaction, it was something that warranted grave concern. Every one of the Jamison kids felt as though they’d gotten off fairly easy with the latest ‘theft episode,’ as far as ‘consequences’ was concerned, and you could tell they were hoping and praying that the thief would take a hint and just abandon his or her despicable habit.

“This is ridiculous. Mom, I’m sorry, but I can’t continue to put myself through this. I go to work every day to make money to be able to buy certain things for myself, and then when I go to use them, they’re missing.” Karen was nineteen years old when she decided to move in with her adult sister Bonnie. On up until that day, Karen had refrained from burdening her parents about the few small items of hers that had gone missing from her tiny basement bedroom that wasn’t much bigger than a closet. The items missing from her room included nail polish, perfume, jewelry, magazines, and even a few issues of TV Guide. This time, the family thief had dared to take some concert ticket that Karen had purchased in advance and stored under her dresser doily a month prior. Luckily, she’d registered the tickets in her name at the ticket outlet when she purchased them, and no one besides her, could use them, and they could easily be re-issued.

The evidence behind Karen’s victimization had prompted most of the extended[WU1]  family and friends, including myself, to speculate that the thief had to be a female. …But as time demonstrated to me, Mrs. Jamison wasn’t completely convinced of that theory.

Tance was a shy, awkward boy with severe acne, and was not popular with the girls. However, that summer, a girl named Rosalie had taken notice of him. Rosalie was a heavyset, plan-looking girl; one that would have most likely gotten labeled a misfit among peers, had she not come from a big, popular family. Tance, Gregory, Joey, Deena and Malinda often teased and feuded among themselves and, for the most part, had speculated that adults paid no mind to their nonsense however, there was very that was little said and done in Edna Jamison’s home that she failed to take notice of.  Mrs. Jamison had overheard the taunts and teases directed toward fourteen-year-old Tance, implying that he had been buying Rosalie’s affection. Mrs. Jamison was wondering if it could be possible that Tance had been stealing items from the family to present as gifts to Rosalie. Mrs. Jamison later confessed that she’d been ‘dying to ask Rosalie’s parents,’ but refrained because she didn’t want to air her family’s dirty laundry outside of the home. Earlier-on in the ordeal, Mrs. Jamison had come right out and asked two of her children if they had anything to do with the thefts, and at time, she’d expected the truth, but now, she knew that she couldn’t very-well expect anyone to come forth with a confession, since the thefts had now reached this new heightened level.

Plump had made the junior cheering squad for her school’s basketball team, and practice was to begin one month before school resumed. It was required that the squad wear their uniform for practice, and the uniforms cost nineteen dollars. The week before squad practice began, Plump came rushing into the kitchen while Mrs. Jamison was cooking dinner and burst into tears. She explained that she’d lost the twenty dollar bill that was meant to pay for her cheering squad uniform. Mrs. Jamison asked when the last time was that she’d seen the money, and Plump couldn’t pinpoint any narrower of a hiatus than early that morning. In 1979, twenty dollars was like fifty dollars in the new millennium, hence to expect an average working-class family to replace nineteen dollars, was just not feasible. Plump didn’t get to serve that year on the cheer squad, and the Jamison kids who hadn’t already done so, had to spend their allowance on a trunk and padlock to secure their personal items.

Just in my few brief visits to the Jamison’s home during that time, I could tell that the issue of The Family Thief had taken a drastic toll of most of the family. Even the normally silent Mr. Jamison seemed to step outside of the shadows to try to persuade the thief to resign. “Whoever it is who’s been stealing around here, you needs to stop it now because if you keep it up, and then get caught, it’s going to be hell to pay around here for you!” Once Mr. Jamison came forth with his chilling warning, everyone realized just how rash the situation had gotten. Mr. Jamison, for the first time ever, appeared to be embarrassed by his children’s behavior, and I could tell that he longed for a crystal ball, so he’d know for sure whose head belonged on a silver platter.

Despite the recent hardships within the Jamison clan, Mrs. Jamison still looked proud and optimistic, and at the time, that sort of worried me. I was concerned that perhaps the totality of the thefts had caused Mrs. Jamison to lose touch with reality and that – once she comes to realize that there’s no way to identify and stop the thief, it would be too much for her to handle, and she would change. Mrs. Jamison was a mother whose pride, and positivity made every kid around her feel good and strive to do better, and I didn’t want to lose that.

That late August day, Tance was angrier than anyone had ever seen him before. Someone had gone into his basement bedroom that he shared with Mikey, and opened all six boxes of his Cracker Jacks and had stolen the prize out of each one. Apparently, Tance’s friend Georgie was at the door, and he’d only meant to be gone for a brief moment and left his snack on his dresser. He and Georgie decided to go for a bike ride and when he arrived home and was about to treat himself to his anticipated snack… Of all the theft victims, Tance seemed to be the most ‘taken by surprise.’ There he was, a big fourteen-year-old boy – who called himself ‘courting,’ yet one step from tears over Cracker Jack Prizes. As I reflect back on the ordeal, I now speculate that Tance must have thought that since his bedroom had already been targeted by The Family Thief once – the time that Mikey’s bicycle money went missing - that it was immune to falling victim again, which is why it was such a total shock to him. To add insult to injury, Tance could tell that - because it was just Cracker Jacks prizes that was stolen - no one took it seriously. …It was true; they hadn’t taken it seriously at all; almost every one of them, even the ones who were grown and no longer living at home, had taken a turn cracking jokes behind Tance’s back, and to his face they struggled to hold back laughter, carelessly allowing an occasional sniggle to escape.  Everyone did in fact realize that something had been taken away from a kid who had used his own hard-earned money to purchase something for himself, and that some undeserving derelict had benefitted from it through ill-gain. This what infuriated Mrs. Jamison most, hence the summer ended just as it had begun, with the weekend being canceled, which included the Labor Day barbecue, just to ensure that the adult children (who seemed to find a tad of humor in the situation) would feel the wrath of her punishment as well.

At this point, even as a little kid, I realized that something had to give in the Jamison home. Everyone knew that things just couldn’t go on the way that had been. I overheard my mom and her sister talking about the quandary that Edna Jamison was facing, pertaining to her family thief.

“There’s so many of them; it’s just no possible way of telling which of them is doing it.” My mother said to my aunt in conversation. Even though they spoke of the Jamison family dilemma in a hushed tone, I’d detected the alarm in their voices.

My aunt shook her head in apathy. “Well, she says she has it under control and that she expects to identify the thief soon.” My aunt said, with obvious doubt in her voice, and ending her sentence with a sigh.

“I don’t know how.” My mother said, her tone matching my aunt’s pessimism.

If I’d never known how badly a thief was looked upon, I certainly knew after the summer of 1979 because that is precisely what the adults kept reiterating. They said things like, ‘A thief is a terrible thing.’ and ‘There’s nothing more low-down than a thief who steals from his own flesh and blood.’ and ‘Looks like we’re using our keys to lock the burglars out and the thieves in.’ And there were lots more sayings to match those. …After that summer, I’d heard them all, thanks to the Jamison’s family thief, and never forgot a single once them.

Needless to say, after that incident, Tance made a point to keep his belongings locked inside his trunk or in the closet with Mickey’s things. But apparently, Gregory hadn’t taken an example from the others losses. In the late seventies, Burger King had a program called ‘The Kid’s Club,’ whereas kids could sign up and receive a little red Burger King members only wallet in the mail, containing coupons good for one free featured menu item per month. Every kid I knew looked forward to a free burger or fries, or milk shake each month. …You guessed it – Gregory went for his Burger King Kid’s Club wallet and it was missing. This stunt was discovered just days after baby’s Joey’s kindergarten snack crackers went missing from off the parent’s dresser. The Family thief was getting bolder and bolder, and we all knew something had to give. I’ve mentioned only the major items that went missing but there were other items missing from around the house as well – ink pens, flashy pencils and other school supplies. Nail polish and perfume continued to disappear from dresser tops. A few times, pieces of meat was taken from a plate set aside for a family member who couldn’t make it home in time for dinner. ‘Theft guarding’ begun to become the norm in the Jamison home.

Despite all the chaos, Mrs. Edna Jamison kept her optimism. By late September, the subject of The Family Thief arose, and Mrs. Jamison had sworn to know who the thief was, and claimed to be standing idle only to give the thief a chance to come forth and confess. In fact, she’d instated an October first deadline for The Family Thief to come forth and receive lenience. Everyone figured this was just a ploy to trick the culprit into turning himself in, under the false belief that their anonymity had already been discovered.

October first came and went without incident, and I recall having been embarrassed on Mrs. Jamison’s behalf, for daring to issue an ultimatum that she had no way of carrying through. …But, on October 2nd, Valerie ‘Plump’ Jamison got into more trouble than – to this very day – I’ve ever seen a teenager engulfed in without police involvement. It was Plump who’d been doing all the stealing, which amazed most people when they heard the news. What was even more amazing, was the fact that Mrs. Jamison had actually been onto her for the entire length of time that she’d claimed to have been.

Mrs. Jamison, when asked how she knew who the thief was, responded “…It was simple; Plump was the only one who never bothered to lock up her belongings. She was also the only one who kept referring to her missing money as ‘lost,’ as opposed to ‘stolen.’ I also checked with each of my children’s teachers, to see if any items had gone missing around the classroom, knowing that a thief as bold as the one we were dealing with, would eventually slip-up someplace besides home. …And sure-enough, Plump’s Science teacher and Social studies teacher had both reported a theft, and I found the Science teacher’s sunglasses inside a shoe box in Plump’s closet.”

Plump was given a choice that day, either get an after school/weekend job immediately invest three-fourths her earnings into restitution to everyone she’d stolen from until the debt was all paid off, or expect her allowance to be reduced down to one-fourth its usual amount until summer – at which time she would have no choice but to work to pay of her debt. Plump got her first job, less than two weeks later, and began her payments of restitution to the family, which took just under one year to complete.

Over the years, despite Mrs. Jamison’s disapproval, every time something in the house went missing – which wasn’t too often – all eyes stared skeptically over at Plump, until the item was recovered. …I wish I could say that Plump never stole again, but I’d be lying. But over the years, none of the other Jamison children ever stole or got into any kind of trouble, and they enjoyed their weekends and their Labor Days, uninterrupted.


 [WU1]


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