It is said confession is good for the soul. I’ve confessed past indiscretions in this column pulpit, which by no means says I’m proud of my youthful lack of integrity. I’ve changed, and the important thing is I have never killed a man.
For reasons unknown, as a teenager who had never drank, smoked or chewed till age 18 – raised in a Pentecostal, fire-and-brimstone church who must have gotten “saved” a dozen times – I developed a penchant for the proverbial “five-finger discount.” To the layman unfamiliar with that street syntax, I was a little thief. I couldn’t steal now even under the threat of death, but as a teen, I didn’t see the harm.
Twice, these flights of freebie fancy involved my old best buddy, Donnie Eash. Now Eash did drink, smoke and chew, but I instinctively knew those things to be wrong. Our first caper of petty theft was at 15 when we often hitchhiked to Bud’s Atlantic to play our favorite pinball machine, “King of Queens,” (not to be confused with the TV show that debuted 30 years later).
Eash and I were widely known as Pinball Wizards. Without bragging, we were every bit as good as that deaf, dumb and blind kid Roger Daltry and The Who sang about in the ’70s. Yes, we too played a mean pinball.
So at Bud’s one afternoon, we weren’t on our usual roll of free games and were rapidly running out of nickels. That’s what a game of pinball cost back then, but bear in mind, in today’s market, that’s equivalent to probably a hundred bucks. I think I was the one to suggest we lift a few ice cream sandwiches and bags of Snyder’s potato chips on our way out, and Eash said nothing to dissuade me.
A couple hundred yards down the road, sucking on ice cream sandwiches with our thumbs pointing home, a Cadillac pulls over. Running to our ride home, probably saying something upon entering like, “Gee, thanks Mister,” the driver asked, “Did you boys pay for those?” I think Ralph Cramden of the Honeymooners said it best with, “Humina humiha, humina.”
Sure enough, the driver of that fine automobile was Bud himself, so our claims of payment fell on deaf ears. To add insult to terror, he made us walk back to his gas station as he followed us. We were throwing chips and candy bars over the guardrails faster than he could say, “Pick it up and keep walking.”
Back at the station, in a desperate maneuver that may have garnered Oscar nominations in a different place and time, I whimpered on the verge of tears, “We were really hungry but didn’t have any money.” I still hear him saying, “Had you just told me that and asked, I’d have given you food.” In a shocking display of compassion and gullibility, Bud canceled the call to the police and sent us on our way.
I hope this is a lesson to all you young people out there. If you swipe something, eat fast, even the wrapper if you have to. Possession is 9/10s of the law, ya’ know.