City Confidential: Criminal Idiocy (also titled: Not As Slick As We Thought)
For adults, like I am now, there is a saying out there that “nothing good ever happens after 2am”. Well, after attaining the age in which our parents let us stay out past the streetlights coming on, that time might as well have been “after 8pm”.
During the summertime, we would spend our time looking for the town cop, and then running away from him like we were guilty of something. It relieved us of our boredom and gave him something to do, when the local kids driving the loop weren’t speeding and driving recklessly all over the place. And sometimes we were guilty of being out after curfew, which really gave us some exercise. We would walk out on Main Street, wait for the cop to drive up on us and begin to turn around. And suddenly we would bolt like our lives depended on it. Sometimes we just dodged through yards and behind people’s houses. Other times you could find us running from the old Corner Store all the way downtown, and hiding in the big spools of wire behind the telephone company building. Lucky for us, the cops weren’t too keen on getting out of their patrol cars for something as dumb as a couple kids running around. This activity only lasted so long, as I think the cop finally caught on to what we were doing, and left us alone on purpose. It kind of took the fun out of staying out late.
The wintertime was a whole different ballgame. My best friend, Jed, and I had a little rivalry going on with who we thought was an unsuspecting ex-school teacher. Every winter around Christmas we stole a light out of the decorated trees in his yard. He had the strands that if one light went out the whole strand went dark. So we took great pride in putting a dark spot in those lighted trees. And every day he would go and replace them. It was a nightly game of back and forth. We even took extra care to approach the yard from behind the trees and out of view of his windows. After a while of him replacing the lights successfully every single time, we thought we could outsmart him. Instead of taking the bulb out altogether, we began to take a little extra time to loosen a bulb, thinking that it would make it harder for him to get them replaced. And every night, to our dismay, we would find that he thwarted the previous night’s plans. My buddy and I always thought we were anonymous in our after dark activities. It wasn’t until we were in our mid teens that we found out this just wasn’t so. I was working at the Carlson House restaurant in the kitchen, and Jed also worked there as a busboy. One night, Mr. Harklau, his wife and another couple came in to dine at our establishment. As Jed was pouring them all some water, Mr. Harklau looked up at him and proclaimed, “Well, good to see you have a job. Now you and that Lovell kid can afford to buy your own damn Christmas lights instead of stealing mine!”
This statement goes to show the common sense approach of small town folks and that of an older generation. Harmless fun doesn’t warrant calling the cops, or lining up a lawyer to sue the pants off a kid’s parents. He’d just bide his time and deal with it on his own. Although I’m sure, had he caught us in the act, rather than finding us in a highly public setting of a restaurant, he may very well have throttled us to within an inch of our lives. To save face, we would’ve left the cops out of it, and if our parents inquired, out of pride we would concoct a story about being jumped by a big group of, oh, say a dozen kids we didn’t recognize.
Anyways, Jed came back to the kitchen to relay what had just happened. Both of us were in shock. Again, our sneaky factor was far below where we thought it was supposed to be. But then again, I guess everyone thinks they’re more mysterious than they truly are. Of course this didn’t stop us from our little shenanigans. We still went out confiscating decorations from time to time. We just chose different targets, in other areas of town, occasionally returning to the Harklau’s for old time’s sake. Eventually our collection of lights and lighted ornaments became the decorations for us. Pretty stupid thing to do, but that’s the life of bored children in a small town. It was enough entertainment for us to avoid going beyond petty crime. Of course nowadays, as an adult with kids of my own, I settle for merely looking at other people’s decorations. Somehow stealing with my kids in tow doesn’t seem to be the example to set. But as we’re out admiring the decorations, I sometimes find myself smiling about the old days when I wouldn’t have thought twice about doing a little collection work! The kid is still alive and well in me. I just have a better moral compass now, when it comes to the action part anyways.