Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.
~ G.K. Chesterton
I’d like to fast-forward a few years and revisit the subject of golf for a moment. In the Midwest, the sport tends to have quite a bit less of that refined Eastern attitude. For example, not only is there more of an expectation that golfers will urinate as much as possible all over the course, but because of the relatively flat land there, there’s also unfortunately significantly less in the way of hills and other natural landscaping to hide everyone doing so.
I knew this one guy, let’s call him Rob (because he looked a little like Robert Downey Jr.). He was a true hick redneck if there ever was one: blasting loud heavy metal at all times, speeding around in his hot rod, swilling Busch beer as though it were nectar, donning an Ozzy t-shirt at least three days a week, and topped off with wolfish eyes and a devious underbite. All that, and the guy could golf. Once I watched him tee up a golf ball and drive it perfectly into an extremely crowded parking lot. Miraculously, it hit no cars.
So, you had courses full of types like that. Not that I was Mister Innocent, mind you. I simply preferred my own brand of mischief — less risky yet perhaps more exciting. One day at the public course, I noticed that a soda vending machine wasn’t locked in the traditional way. The traditional way, of course, is that the soda machine has a locking mechanism integral to the machine itself. On this particular machine, though, the “lock” was simply a thick chain wrapped snugly around the machine and a telephone pole behind it.
The door to this soda machine, I noticed, had a little bit of “give” to it. That is, you could push it in a little more tightly, which would cause the chain to go slack just a bit. Something about that started my wheels spinning. I estimated that, if someone wanted to, they could probably push the door closed really tight and shimmy the chain all the way up and over the top of the soda machine. If my theory was correct, the machine would then swing open allowing full access to all of the change and ice-cold canned soda inside.
Not to toot my own horn here, but the difference between myself and the mouth breathers who got themselves caught doing stupid things was in the execution. Many others, had they been blessed with enough of a criminal mind to discover the soda machine opportunity, would have probably tried their luck right there in broad daylight. Not me.
Seeking an accomplice, I confided in a friend, Jude (he sort of looked like Jude Law, I guess) — another delivery boy at the local Triomino’s Pizza. And, by the way, I have absolutely no good pizza delivery stories — no unusual tips, no horny women answering their door naked, not even (thankfully) any robberies or muggings. You’d think that being out and about as a delivery boy would simply inundate a person with fodder for a memoir such as this. I’m sure it’s true in other markets. For example, I’d once heard of an incident (well away from the Midwest) in which a gang kidnapped a pizza delivery guy and subjected him to untold cruelty involving a stolen taser. Hicktown criminals (thankfully) aren’t that technologically sophisticated. Anyway, back to my own low-tech criminal pursuit …
So, we were standing there doing a little “down time” duty (which consisted of hand-slicing the mushrooms, folding pizza boxes, and gluing coupons to box tops) when I broached the idea. We were both scheduled until around 2:00 a.m., which we agreed was the perfect time to attempt the big heist.
For a minute, I thought the owner overheard us talking because he walked over to supervise us. Mr. Triomino was a rather well-todo bastard — drove a fancy sports car and liked to brag about his annual income. He was a regular bruiser, physically-speaking (some kind of ex-football-jock, I heard), downright evangelical when it came to Triomino’s and, like many of the wealthy people I know, he was extremely cheap.
He stopped to lecture me about the coupon gluing process. “You’re doing it wrong,” he said.
“What do you mean, ‘doing it wrong’?”
“You’re doing a figure-eight with the glue instead of just one dollop. Here, let me show you.” He then did one properly. “Now, why did I use one dollop instead of a figure eight?”
“Uh, to save glue?”
He punched me on the arm for that smart-ass remark. “How about, so people can pull the god-damned coupon off?” he said.
Okay, so he was right … Lesson learned. As you’ll see in this entire series of “tales,” I had many basic lessons to learn yet. (And, I still do!) But, I had to agree with the guy: The beauty is in the details. And, that’s why my soda machine idea was so great.
Jogging a good half mile or so across a dewy golf course at 2:30 a.m. can really fill you with a sense of excitement. When you think about it, it was a perfect setup: Out in the middle of nowhere, no one to hear, and the prospect of free soda.
Well, what can I say … We reached the machine and, almost without any problems, the chain shimmied easily up the side as planned. Then, with a little “pop,” the heavy chain gently snapped over the top, and the door swung open like a bank vault. We marveled in awe for a moment, and then began to raid the contents. Ice-cold Sunkist, Coke, Grape Crush, Barq’s Root Beer, Mr. Pibb. And, the change bucket looked as though no one had emptied it in months.
Here again, the average idiot would have emptied the machine of all product and coinage. But, I proposed a different arrangement. “Sure, Jude, let’s each grab a 12-pack or so, and a shitload of quarters. But, look, let’s not take it all.”
My plan was to take exactly as much as we figured we could get away with without anyone at the golf course ever discovering the crime (and, no one ever did). That way, the mission could be carried out periodically in perpetuity. Jude agreed, and we closed the machine, snapped the chain back over the top, and lowered it back into place.
You see, this was really a “proof of concept” crime for me. I viewed it more as an intellectual challenge than a common burglary. After all, I’d invented the idea, planned the hit, and then pulled it off without a hitch. (Well, there was one small hitch, I guess: My father was absolutely fucking livid as I strolled in at 3:30 a.m. carrying a 12-pack of canned soda and sporting a pocket bulging with small change. But, he got over it.)
Having conquered this pursuit, I never felt much of an urge to repeat the heist. And, in fact, I never returned. From what I hear, though, the mission was indeed repeated many times by Jude, and then by others. As kids left the area for college or whatever, I presume the machine raid idea was passed down to other high school miscreants in the same was as, for example, some “secret keys” were passed on to me during my senior year (which I, in turn, passed on to others). It would warm my heart to learn that, even to this day, teenagers are still jogging across that dewy fairway at 2:30 a.m. in the moonlight toward a little bit of refreshment and pocket change.
An early reader of the above tale inquired about the “secret keys” I mentioned in that last paragraph. It’s true: That is the sort of legendary thing you seem to read about in fiction quite often, but that never happens to you personally. I’m sure there are loads of examples in literature. The only one that pops into my head from recent times is when Fred and George give Harry the Marauder’s Map. (Anyone with kids out there will know exactly what I’m talking about.)
Sometimes, believe it or not, when I begin writing these tales, I actually have some idea of where I’m going. For this, though, I’m just going to have to wing it. Obviously, I didn’t attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There weren’t any enchanted bits of parchment to reveal the whereabouts of everyone lurking on school grounds. But, we did in fact have Secret Keys, handed down each year to a select few from a select few.
The numerous classrooms, maintenance closets, storage nooks, and other various crannies within my high school were protected with a particular brand of padlock. I can’t recall the name… Masterlock, perhaps. Each lock had a number printed on the bottom that corresponded with a numbered key. I’m not sure how many different locks the school used, but over my final year, I painstakingly researched and recorded the lock numbers for most of the locked areas in the school.
Two important observations: (1) Most of the numbered keys opened multiple locks around the campus. This wasn’t a mistake — key number 852, for example, opened no other locks besides those marked 852. It’s just that there were many locks numbered 852. So, if you had an 852, you had access to a number of rooms, even if you didn’t realize this; (2) There didn’t seem to be any real methodology to the maintenance personnel’s assigning of specific locks to specific rooms. So, if you did acquire an 852, you might have access to a couple of classrooms and a storage room. If you were lucky enough to have a key in the first place, you really had to look around to figure out all of the places you could access.
I was a member of the student council during my senior year (via my status as president of the drama club — though I never acted in a play). I didn’t make much of a contribution to the governance of the student body, either. Mostly, I just sat in a weird room underneath one of the older buildings with Horatio Sanz (described in the “A Collector of Buses” chapter) eating Skittles and Wacky Wafers — all for free, courtesy of whatever idiot put us in charge of the supplies. (We once held a contest to see who could hold the most Wacky Wafers in his mouth. You had to stand over a trash can for this activity, though. Once you got a few packs stuffed in, you naturally started to salivate, and multicolored drool would ooze from your mouth into the trash can.) Anyway, we called this semi-secret sanctuary the “stuco store.” It was a blissfully boring getaway. Few students, other than a handful of our friends, ever stopped by. And, no teachers bothered with the place. But, getting the key to that room is what set my wheels spinning about obtaining other keys.
I’m going to take a quick break here and include a longish tangential thought. This is an excerpt from one of the Tales of the Midwest chapters that I wrote up but decided not to include in this book (as it was ultimately deemed by me to be a little boring). But, there is a bit of relevance to this discussion:
Begin excerpt from a deleted chapter…
[Note: This takes place just after I’ve been arrested for drunk driving at age 16. I’d been discussing in this entry my inability to stop getting myself into trouble for various legal infractions.]
Remember how in the pre-terrorism days in this country, a little run-in with the law involving, say, a blasting machine wasn’t really that big of a deal? [See the earlier chapter, “The Amusement Park Summer — Dynamite Under the Bed”.] Well, there was likewise an era when drunk driving also wasn’t quite as big of a deal as it is today. The police certainly always discouraged it, but the laws were much more relaxed prior to the late 1980s or so. That’s not to say that drunk driving was any less dangerous to the driver or to others on the road. And, yes, it certainly was always an inexcusable offense. But, the punishment for being caught doing it was nothing like it is today. So, after the pull-over, after the arrest, after the vomiting in the police station, after the release to my parents in the middle of the night, after the vomiting in the car on the way home, and after the dust settled, what was my punishment? Aside from being almost permanently grounded, I was forced to attend driving school for a weekend.
Now, for anyone who has ever attended such a class — and, this is the one specifically designed to deter drunk driving — you already know the routine. Basically, you gather in a room, they turn out the lights, and you watch actual film footage of terrible car accidents. These are some of the most gruesome scenes ever captured, I’m sure — the police’s version of the cult classic, Faces of Death.
My class was just a little different, though. Prior to the gory film festival, a police officer walked to the front of the class and said, “Thank you all for coming. I have one question… How many here are Catholic?”
Strangely, a majority of attendees raised their hands. “Um-hmm. That’s as I thought,” the officer said. “Because, as they say, where ever you find four Catholics, you usually find a fifth.” True story. No one there complained about such a comment as, once again, this was prior to the days of political correctness. After that, the officer launched the bloody footage for two days and dismissed us.
The officer’s comments didn’t bother me either, though at the time I considered myself a Catholic. If anything, I found his comments accurate. I’d already been exposed to a number of religions (or, more accurately, I should say denominations of Christianity), and my apathy and/or light amusement about his comment was probably an early indication of my future direction in the area of spirituality. In fact, it was a representative from yet another oddball branch of Christianity that proved to be my salvation that summer. My friend’s father (Mr. Baldwin) had recently become a Seventh Day Adventist, the branch of Christianity convinced, among other things, that Saturday is the true sabbath. (They also are the denomination responsible for spawning such geniuses as David Koresh.) Mr. Baldwin had also recently inherited a large chunk of cash and had decided to start his own construction company (joining the ranks of other famous carpenters like Jesus and David Koresh, interestingly enough). Project number one was to build and then sell a large home only a block away from my house.
Mr. Baldwin was one of those guys who believed a bit of honest hard labor would put me back on the right path. He offered me a job as a laborer, along with his son Alec, for the duration of the project. This turned out to be not such a bad deal, actually, since I could walk to the job site (having been grounded from the car after my lapse of judgment mentioned earlier). I’d written about this as a 16 year old (and, miraculously, still have the typed pages — freshly salvaged from the depths of a nearly forgotten closet for inclusion here):
… William Shakespeare once asked the question, “What’s more miserable than discontent?” Had he asked me during the course of last summer, I would have taken him out with me on a typical evening in our unbelievably small town — a town where spotlights shed radiance, every night at dusk, on the large concrete septic system that lies near a cornfield off the main highway. A friend of mine gave directions to a girl from out of town; he told her to turn left at the septic tank. That’s depressing!
The majority of my summer was spent traveling a good part of a million miles on our riding lawn mower, vacuuming the swimming pool, catching up on “As the World Turns,” and changing Sphinx’s litter box. I did have a job for a month or so. It broke up the monotony pretty well. I worked for a construction company and was the youngest one there (which brought me a lot of teasing and joking around about seniority). It all turned out okay. It kept me in halfway decent shape, and I did get a great tan.
I guess the best friends I had all summer were two guys named Alec and Hero. I worked with Alec. Every day, we would be suspended about twenty feet up or so, hammering plywood to wooden trusses or something like that, and the first thing he would say is, “Tonight after work WE ARE gonna go bag a few babes.” I would generally respond with an enthusiastic, “Yeah we are!” We very seldom did. [Ed. note: We never did.] We usually found Hero and went to the ball park to watch the girls’ softball games. Those nights would end with a trip to the donut shop to clean them out of the half-price day-olds, or waking up at Alec’s house from having fallen asleep watching his two-year-old brother’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and “Charlotte’s Web” movies on their VCR .
Another high-point was my annual 4th of July party where about 8,000 of my intoxicated friends run around the house throwing explosives at each other. The main attraction of that is my father’s bottle rocket display in which he usually manages to light off about 900 bottle rickets at the same time. That is almost indescribable. It is what I would imagine the actual taking place of the Book of Revelation looks like. …
Well, I may have exaggerated the number of drunken friends, but the bottle rocket display wasn’t so much of a stretch. The rockets came in packages of 144 (called a gross). If memory serves, you could fit almost two gross into a large Folger’s coffee can (with some sand and gravel in the bottom to steady the thing). You stood out in a field (or, as far from the house as you can get), and placed the coffee can on a table. Then, you’d put on a welding glove and hold a large fountain cone in your hand. These are the cone-shaped fireworks that spray sparks into the air. Most “non-fireworks” states have small, rather tame versions of these. But, these were sort of turbocharged versions. You’d normally not think of holding one in your hand. But, they worked great as a tool to spray sparks. The idea was to get the fountain cone going as you’re ducked down low next to the table and then manually spray all 250+ wicks at the same time. It’s a good trick. If you ever try it, keep your head down. And, safety glasses wouldn’t hurt.
… End excerpt from a deleted chapter.
Okay, there was quite a bit of extraneous material there. I left in the bottle rocket stuff just because that was fun to relive here for a moment. But, back to the Secret Keys…
Recall that part, above, where 16-year-old Alec Baldwin says to me, “tonight after work WE ARE gonna go bag a few babes”? Come to think of it, the whole Secret Key thing boiled down to similar unrealistic fantasies a few friends and I shared about girls. If we could, say, get our hands on a key to the little room above the football field where the announcer sat, we’d effectively have a private little sanctuary for our own, uh, entertaining. Not that any girls in the school would be interested in hanging out with me and/or some of my geeky pals. But, it was fun to dream, anyway. That’s what really set me off after the Magic Key. I think it was #856, but I’m sure that’s completely wrong.
I know it’s far too late to make a long story short, but I’ll skip ahead to the ending. I eventually found a copy of #856. However, I’ve long since forgotten the details involved in my acquiring it. But, I do recall obtaining a copy late into my senior year. I believe I passed it along to my friend Elijah, who was a year younger. And, if memory serves, he once told me that he’d in fact done a fair bit of entertaining in the announcer’s booth above the football field.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog, “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He also contributes to various Medium.com publications. Find him at JPDbooks.com, his Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or via email at Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest novel, CHROO, is available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy humorous literary tales, please grab a copy!