Part I

Paper, Plastic, and Porn

 

Chapter 1
Deviance; A Primer

Like many youths, I had a little experience making money doing odds and ends for neighbors and family friends before I got a “real” job.  Before I would become shackled to the grid through official paperwork, I earned whatever these benefactors saw fit to pay me.  Before I became one of the 78% of working stiffs who hated 68% of their bosses 47% of the time (Almanac of
Made-Up Statistics
, 3rd Ed.), I was an undocumented worker.

 

One of the first such jobs I did was babysitting for a former babysitter.  The “baby” I was in fact “sitting” for was Keith, a 22 year-old severely retarded person.  That’s an understatement, as all he would do was sit on his knees, with legs outstretched, bend and eventually succeed at ripping up old TV Guides, all the while mumbling “Bob, Bob…” ad infinitum.

 

I didn’t have to actually do anything for him.  The most I would have to conceivably do would be to give him another TV Guide if he somehow obliterated one—”Time to throw another magazine on the Keith”—but that moment never came under my watch.  I would amuse myself by perusing these old issues, as all I really accomplished at circa 12 years of age was watch
TV and hit a triple in Little League once.  I would read recaps of old episodes and think, “Oh yeah, I saw that on as a rerun. Jack Tripper, you sure are a trip.”  I also liked reading the old articles.  What was Norman Lear up to these days anyway (“these days” understood as five years prior)?  And who in the hell was Norman Lear, anyway?

 

In my precociousness, I remember this as my first bout with theological angst.  I had spent time around retarded people before, mainly when I would accompany my dad to his job at a group home for people thus afflicted.  Even though they always scared me a little, they seemed happy and nice, and at least they exhibited that something was going on upstairs.  Here, with
Keith’s obliviousness, I could stare at him without awkwardness.  
I found myself reflecting on a song we sang in chorus some two years ago.  The chorus was, “I’d like to be you for a day…”  (I think it was some Disney bullshit.)  I thought that I might like to be him for, say, just five minutes.  Then it occurred to me, “What if I couldn’t get out?”  Or, more frightening, “What if I didn’t want to get out?  That that last thought even entered my mind was telling; a life of drugs and alcohol likely awaited me.

 

How could God do this to someone?  I wasn’t brought up in a church, and the whole concept of religious dogma was pretty alien to me.  I had picked up some stuff from the culture at large, and I had also gone to Release Time in elementary school.  It was about an hour of church that I wanted to attend just to break the monotony of school, and, as a townie, riding the bus always held a certain novelty for me.  While there, I did what I was supposed to do, including memorizing passages that always came with numbers, just so I’d be rewarded with gummy fish.

I didn’t know her well enough to inquire, but I always wanted to ask my aunt Connie, who was always referred to as “Aunt Connie, the Jehovah’s Witness.”  Said as it was in hushed tones, I figured she must know some good shit.  All I was capable of gleaning was that some Jehovah thing had gone down, and that she was there.  I wondered if she had to appear in court at some point.  All I really knew and believed is that I did believe in God, and that I was ascared.  I didn’t think It would send me to hell, but I couldn’t be sure.

 

When I describe another aspect of my babysitting routine, you can surmise that I couldn’t have been too afraid.  I began to snoop around.  “Don’t tell anyone I’m going upstairs, Keithie,” I said, and then immediately felt remorseful about my smug self-satisfaction.  I had one quarry in mind, and I have no idea why I thought to look for it in a house occupied by two women and a Keith.  I just sensed it, an aptitude I would demonstrate later in life when I’d show up just as dinner, or beer, or weed, was about to be partaken of.  As a newly pubescent boy, I wanted to find some porn.

 

I’d perused my dad’s cache before, and had even seen a real live naked lady before (not including my mom, which is just gross).  Oddly enough, it was at another babysitter’s, when her gorgeous 18-ish year-old came from out of the shower into the kitchen, sans towel, not realizing that I was there.  “Whoooa!” was all I could think about my 2.6 glimpse of something I would
have to see more of and do other things to as part of my life’s mission.

 

Now that I was the babysitter, I was able to find just one magazine under the daughter’s mattress, enough for me.  On subsequent dispatches to babysit, I would usually manage to have my way with myself once or twice while leafing through the magazine, trying to block out the cries of “Bob, Bob…” from below.

 

So the moral of the story, for boys or young men in this position, is that 95% of all houses have some form of pornography.  For adults who entrust these curious juveniles with their houses, know that they are going to look for real or imagined porn.  It’s the remaining 5%, in either category, that I might worry about.

 

The solution, clearly, calls for more openness on behalf of both parties.  Imagine the homeowners giving out these instructions:  “There’s sodas and lunchmeat in the fridge. We left the porn on the coffee table, right next to the tissues and hand lotion. We’ll be gone for three hours, but we’ll honk when we return, just in case.”

  • * *

Having discussed stealing looks at others’ porn, we are led naturally to a discussion about purloining porn.  We will take the scenic route to a discussion of the resale potential.  My best friend, Donny, had passed along a book, Kiddo, that talked frankly about the stuff that young teenagers do.  What appealed to us was the how-to facet concerning their shoplifting techniques.  Knowledge is power, which is as terrible to waste as the mind that contains it.  That’s how 36 year-old Brian puts it.  For two 13 year-olds, it was expressed as, “Dude!  We could get porno mags this way!  Let’s do it!”

 

Since I was braver, I would act as the “Torpedo,” while Don would be the “Decoy.”  We would arrive separately, a not-too-clever stratagem, considering that every other time we showed up together.  As he distracted the employee using his gift of gab, I shoved a magazine up my shirt and strolled oh-so-casually out the door.  We had succeeded, getting so lucky as to score a special issue full of pics.

 

Back at his house, we paged through it I don’t know how many times, each of us having to suddenly “take a crap” at different times.  Within several hours, we both started to feel stealer’s remorse.  We may have initially prided ourselves on being bad asses, but now we realized that we were, in fact, bad kids.

 

We needed to make amends somehow, to right our wrong.  Late at night—I was there on a sleep-over—we snuck off to a nearby field and burned the magazine.  It really was a primal, archetypal kind of atonement.  We didn’t think, though, to cover ourselves in the ashes.  Never mind that we were creating a fire hazard during a drought; our consciences were (slightly) assuaged.  We both earnestly vowed to never again do this.

 

“Never again” was a relative concept, in my case good for several weeks.  It took me slightly longer to drag my friend back down with me, but in the meantime I’d corrupted Mike, a mutual friend of ours.  (I should mention here that Mike and Don went on to graduate first and second in our class.)  Once one has tasted the thrill that shoplifting provides to a boy that age, the
genie is not easily stuffed back into the bottle.

 

I resumed by myself, a lone torpedo with no accomplices.  For several months, I would steal two Playboys or Penthouses.  I would keep one for myself and sell the duplicate to this rich kid I was somewhat friends with.  I pocketed $20 the first time, but after that made a mere $5 on every sale.

 

Since everyone knows that bad-ass derelicts smoked, Mike and I stole cigarettes a couple times.  After all the porn I had been looking at, you’d think the ads would have rubbed off on me, so to speak, and I would have figured out that brand names were the way to go.  Marlboros, Camels, Newports and the like—that’s where the cancer scene was, man.  As smart as we were, we uncreatively stole Merits, a brand we were familiar with from stealing my mom’s.

 

This particular experiment was short-lived.  It did re-ignite for me about a year later, when I became a bona fide smoker.  By that point, my shoplifting yen had lost its legs, so I had to get my smokes legally.  It was “legal” insofar as I was a 14 year-old buying cigarettes.

 

As for the shoplifting, it took two inconsequential busts for me to stop.  Don was with me the first time, but we were at a fair so we just walked away fast and disappeared among the throngs of people.  It wasn’t until I got caught a second time that I was deterred.  My downfall was my nonchalance about my crimes.  I stole just to steal, often giving the stuff away.  This was far from my original aspiration of running a lucrative fencing operation.

 

During that second time, I had truly forgotten that I had stolen something.  As I courteously held the door open for another customer, the pack of Combos I had shoved under my armpit fell out.  Realizing that the clerk had seen it, I knew I had to act smart.  And fast.  I looked up in the sky to see where the snack pack had come from, because it couldn’t have been from a nice lad like myself.  Obviously, a plane carrying Combos cargo had dropped a bag.  This explanation might have made some sense had there not been a roof that extended out about four feet from the building.  I picked up the bag, returned it to the cashier, and didn’t go back for over a year.

 

* * *

Around the same time, I began babysitting my neighbors’ two young ‘uns and housesitting for them when they went on their summer vacation.  The kids were old enough to take care of themselves, so again I really didn’t have to do anything.  Taking care of the pets, on the other hand, actually required work.

 

After the lady of the house observed me and a friend streaking around the block late one night, I figured I would not be asked for such favors any more.  I guess she figured that “Boys will be boys” and wasn’t worried.  I would’ve liked to explain to her that addicts will be addicts, and that the only reason my friend and I did it was because we weren’t used to going without any intoxicants and we needed some kind of rush that particular night.

 

As I got older, there was no need to snoop at their house, because what I wanted was right there in plain sight.  For every year save one, I was judicious about the liquor cabinet.  I merely took a shot or two from this bottle, a shot or two from that bottle.  The exception was the year that Donny and I had a camping trip planned upon their return.  We’d both managed to dip into our parents’ beer supply to acquire about 12 between the two of us. By age 19, I had a clear preference for the hard drink.  The problem was that it was so much harder to get, especially since our town had not yet held a liquor store.

 

Taking an empty fruit punch bottle, labeled “Ponche de Fruite” on the opposite side, I dumped a little bit of everything from his extensive collection into the container.  “Everything” as in whiskey, vodka, schnapps, wine, tequila, kahlua for Christ’s sake!  In my haste, I could easily have dumped a bottle of aquarium cleaner in there.  Even without that, it’s a wonder the concoction didn’t eat through the bottle.

 

Dissatisfied with the impression made upon the bottle, I made a second lap with more generosity.  When I was finished, I looked at the 2/3 full bottle and grinned a shitty grin.  I felt like I had indeed created something new and probably dangerous.  I felt as if I knew what Oppenheimer would’ve felt had he been a bartender.

 

During our short trip, we would do outdoorsy stuff during the day like hike or throw around the Aerobie (which is like a Frisbee on steroids).  We even chased a few deer around, years before I saw video that showed that deer were capable of saying, “You know what?  Fuck you!” and kicking the shit out of humans.  Most of our daily activities were done while a little high. Evening was the time to get a lot high and drink Mexican nepenthe. Ole!

 

On our second night there, we were having a conversation that seemed so deep to us that we felt compelled to record it on my tape player for posterity.  After all, imagine if Socrates or Jesus had bothered to write stuff down.  In the morning, I only remembered smatterings of our conversation.  I did remember that I had retired an hour or so after him, meaning I was responsible for leaving the flap open and inviting all the mosquitos and their insect brethren into the tent.

 

That night, we both demonstrated the remarkable ability to be incredibly stupid while drunk and high, as well as the simultaneous stunning clarity that one can achieve in this state.  The downpour started around dusk, driving us into the car for relief.  It was a tease of a storm that would relent periodically, only to resume stronger every time we deemed it safe to open the car door to go outside.

 

After shooting the shit (off the record) for about two hours, we decided we had to do something.  Don suggested we go find a diner.  Oh please.  We’ve got bologna and cheese for sustenance, but our booze supply is running dangerously low.  As our captain, I determined that we were going to a bar.  “Pack the bowl, Doniel-san!  It’s full speed ahead.”

 

There were two slight problems of a legal nature with this agenda.  We were fucked up minors.  Donny’s tolerance was lower, just as his looks were younger.  I had bought alcohol multiple times before and had only been denied once, but I wasn’t sure if my comrade could pull it off.

 

I wouldn’t be able to experientially make this comparison until years later, but the sticks, like the inner-city, were spheres of quasi-lawlessness.  We would exploit this anarchy by driving while inebriated and drinking at a bar.  On the off-chance that we could find any decent redneck women, we would hit on them.

 

Navigating the labyrinthine dirt roads to get out of the park proved quite a Herculean task.  I tried to explain the importance of casualness when we got the bar I’d dutifully spotted on our way there.  We also discussed the practicality of the Jedi Mind Trick.

 

“Do you think my tie dye will make us stick out?”

 

“I doubt it.  Hippies gravitate to these parts.  If anyone gives us any shit at all, we’re fucking up some cars on our way out.  This [AMC Concord] is a beast.  Jesus fuck I can’t see!”

 

“Yeah this rain is something. Just take your time.”

 

It took us about five minutes into our trip for me to make an amazing discovery.

 

“Dude!” I exclaimed, reaching over to pull the knob I’d forgotten about.

 

“Windshield wipers! What a great idea!”

 

“No shit. At least everything will be smooth sailing from here on out.”

 

“I don’t know, man. Maybe we are too faced for this.”

 

“Well we can’t turn back now, either the car or our buzzes.”  I clutched his shoulder and looked him in the eye.  “We’re on a mission from God.”

 

He begin to hum the Blues Brothers theme, which he had to abruptly abort to announce, “Deer!”

 

We skidded slightly as I slammed on the brakes, but we were going at a stoned snail’s pace anyway, so it made little difference.

 

“Probably one of the ones we chased earlier,” Donny mused, “back for revenge.”

 

“Shit, Don, give me another shot of courage.”

 

Our mission was a success, and a safe one at that.  We yukked it up with local yokels, even winning two out of five pool games.  Not too shabby for two young bucks.  At my insistence, we spent our remaining money on two sixers for the road. This would necessitate using Donny’s dad’s emergency credit card to return home.

 

“Relax,” I solaced, “he’s cool.” We both chuckled at this blatant falsehood.

 

But we at least felt that we were.

* * *

 

Several years later, I came home from school around 3:00 PM.  Thankfully, my sister and her entourage were not around, because I was beat and needed a nap.  I put on my headphones, lest they or my friends awaken me.  I would normally opt for classical music in such a scenario, but for whatever reason I popped in a Santana tape that I recalled as one of his mellower efforts.  Instead, I heard something from a long, long, time ago (OK, only four years):

 

“Hello, I’m Don, here with Brian at Rickett’s Glen in the heart of Pennsylvania.  Say hello to the future, Professor Brian.”

 

“Howdy folks!  How are those robot slaves working out for you?”

 

“Brian, how many laws do you think we’ve broken while here?”

 

“Seven—wait, is sodomy a crime in our state?”

 

“Classy as always, mon ami. And here I thought my ass was sore because I slept on a rock.”

 

We were laughing throughout in a style that unintentionally evoked Beavis and Butthead.

 

“So, Donald, explain to the blessed citizens of Great Briania how cannibalism is caused by laziness.”

 

“Well you see, in primitive cultures, protein procurement can be quite labor-intensive…”

 

And the conversation went on in like manner, somewhere in that murky area between
funny-stoner and stupid-pothead.  The traces of Santana that could be heard from the tape that wasn’t fully erased added a subtle soundtrack.  It added to the comic factor, and as I dozed off I could’ve sworn the music sometimes played in concert with the ebb and flow of our dialogue.

 

Carlos and ponche de Fruite-induced talk; good stuff indeed for a siesta.

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