Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Short Life of Crime

   Confession is good for the soul. Today i am confessing to you all of my brush with crime. 
   I grew up in a bubble and only associated with children in my neighborhood. It was a nice upper middle class development with fathers that went to work everyday and stay-home mothers. there was no "criminal element" lurking in the shadows on my block, but I was about to change everything!
   When I was 12, I met a girl named Margaret at school. She was immediately fascinating. It wasn't because she was taller than the other girls, or because she wore a bra that she actually needed. It wasn't because she wore tight plaid Villager pencil skirts. She was interesting because she was from outside of my bubble. She went to our school, but she lived in an area that I had never been to before, although we passed it everyday. She lived in an apartment building. My bubble had NO apartments. She lived in a rundown garden apartment with her mother. There was no father and never any mention of him. Apparently, her parents were divorced....but there were all sorts of stories that swirled around this Mother-Daughter duo. Most were probably myth, but in her tight skirt and pointy bra, Margaret only encouraged the rumors. Her mother worked as a nurse and was never home. And...if that was't enough to prove what kind of woman she was, she drove a Mustang convertible! 

   Margaret walked to school all alone each day. Her mother left in the morning too early to drive her. Margaret went home to an empty apartment. As I write this, it sounds sad, but to my 12 year old self, this was the coolest thing i had ever heard of. Because her mother wasn't home, she could do whatever she wanted to do after school. The apartments were not just within easy walking distance of the school but also the shopping center. I jumped at making friends with this girl...i had to...it was as if she was in the fast-lane to adulthood and I wanted to go with her.
   After school, Margaret and i would walk from school to the Friendly Shopping Center. When i made these plans, my mother always assumed that Margaret's mother was driving us. She didn't know we were walking on the busy road from the school to the stores. Margaret seemed to always have spending money. I didn't. I only had change left from lunch money.  I usually had just enough change for an ice cream cone at the Guilford Dairy. (not to prove how very old I am, but ice cream was a nickel a scoop at that time) We would usually go there first, then meander up and down, looking in all the shops.
   Our favorite store was Eckerd's Drugstore on the corner. It had everything ...magazines, records, hair sprays and make-up.
The make-up counter had displays with samples and we would try on all the lipsticks and blushes and then we splashed Canoe cologne all over each other.
   After dowsing each other in cologne,
we would sit on the floor and grab the can of Frost and Tip hair spray and while sticking our heads deep into the shelves, we would spray silver streaks on the front of our bangs. Margaret and i would finally leave Eckerds, looking like clowns, thinking we looked so glamorous with a thick cloud of cheap men's cologne trailing after us.
   My mother would always pick me up at the dairy and she assumed Margaret was being picked up by her mother. It never crossed my mother's mind that she would be walking home on Benjamin Parkway. I certainly never told my mother where Margaret lived or her racy circumstances.

   One day after school, Margaret and I were on our first lap around the shopping center. I had exhausted my funds and thought she had too. We crossed through the parking lot, away from Eckard's and went into Woolworth's. There was a makeup display selling a rectangular compact of tri-color blush by Yardley. I stood in front of the display staring at the blush like the "Little Matchgirl" stared in at the diners at the banquet. I wasnt even allowed to wear makeup yet, but i knew these 3 pink circles of powder could alter the trajectory of my life. George Harrison would probably call me and invite me to go on tour with the Beatles if my cheeks had Yardley blush and Slicker lipstick on them. As i stared a hot beam of desire, i noticed Margaret palm a few of the blushes and slip them into her small bag from Eckerd's. I couldn't believe what i was seeing and when she gestured for us to leave. I left quickly. I felt like there was a neon sign with a finger pointing at me, signalling my guilt. 

   I might need to confess at this juncture, that I was not a "theft virgin", but up til this point, I had only stolen from people that I knew and loved....never from a store. Odds and ends around our house that were technically owned by other family members may have found their way into my room. Once in my room, it was easy to hide under the jumble. My mother had long given up trying to make me clean my room and found, simply closing the door was the best way to deal with my mess. So, there, under layers of clothes and debris, were many of the missing items my brothers has wrongly accused my mother of throwing away, all of the tiny Avon lipstick samples that my mother accused my sister of "borrowing", and my sister's Charles of the Ritz eye-shadow that she was sure that I had taken, but couldn't prove.
   All of my "in home" petty crime had not fully prepared me for Margaret and real life malfeasance. My heart was racing as we sat on a bench in front of the Guilford Dairy. It was getting dark early, and in the dusky light, Margaret opened her bag and she showed me her haul. She didn't just have an item or two, she had a bag full. My mother would be there to pick me up at any moment, but before she did, Margaret handed me the rectangular box with the blush, then she left to walk home. I slipped the box into my pocketbook and felt like i was smuggling weapon grade plutonium. 
   A few days later my mother walked into my bathroom and caught me sitting on the counter with my feet in the sink. I was busy applying layers of blush in large circles on my cheeks, removing and then reapplying. She asked me where i had gotten the makeup. I told her it was a gift from Margaret and promised it was just for play.... i knew i wasn't allowed to leave the bathroom with it on. She didn't press me, and it may have only been my guilt, but i was sure she didn't believe the "gift" story.....although, technically it had been.
   Once I saw how easy it was for Margaret to slip the makeup in her bags and not get caught, it wasn't long before I joined her in our "discount shopping sprees". My first "bargain was the 45 "Sunday Will Never be the Same" by Spanky and Our Gang,
then "Monday Monday" by the Mamas and Papas. 45's fit neatly into my coat. I held myself as if I was chilly and walked out of Woolworth's. I worked up from 45's to a full sized albums. One day,  my mother, without explanation decided that i could no longer hang out with Margaret. I don't know if she saw Margaret's mother in her nurse's uniform, driving her Mustang, or if she saw Margaret walking along Benjamin Parkway after dark....but those were the days when parents didn't explain to their children. They simply said NO- you can't...and that was that. My brief vacation from my bubble was over, I was guided out of the fast lane and directed back to the kiddie rides. 
   I can never listen to the Mamas and Papas without thinking about of my reckless days of crime.

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