Back in the late 1960’s, middle class white teens living in the Maryland suburbs enjoyed rich fantasy lives. We fantasized about playing professional baseball. We fantasized about having sex with actual girls, and theorized at length about what a female breast might feel like. We were the generation that first applied baseball metaphors to sex. Thus, I could boast of having been on the Ski Club bus coming home from a trip to southern Pennsylvania when Patrick let’s call him “Phillips” made it to third base with Kathy let’s say “Taggart.”
[Patrick, as you can probably guess, was a star pitcher on the high school baseball team who, as he proved that night, could also hit with power. Kathy was a budding slut a year younger than we were, getting an early start on her likely career. This was possibly the first instance of what could be called a sit-down triple.]
One of the other fantasies that occupied more of our frontal lobes than it probably should have was finding money, money that was just lying around, maybe in a paper bag, unclaimed. While it had been years since we went around collecting soda bottles for the 2 cent deposits, we were always looking for money—by the side of the road, in payphone change slots, Coke machines, etc. My friend Deke Kaiserski led the league in looking for money, and routinely could be found with his hand, wrist and forearm stuck up a vending machine of some kind.
None of us ever had any of what my dad referred to as “folding money.” Nor were we sufficiently enterprising to get dopey part-time jobs, as doing so would have interfered with our after-school routine of goofing off, three-on-three hoops, and shoplifting at the Kensington Pharmacy. All that would change, for awhile anyway, during the fall of our junior year.
There was a group of six or eight of us that were pretty tight. Included in our un-exclusive group—we were mostly dorks—was Bobby B, DK the pop machine bandit, Ike, and Pick.
Somehow, during that year, Bob and I and Maybe Barkdoll got involved with what had to be some kind of scam involving a classmate named Tom Moffitt*, Class of ’68, his father (a notorious lowlife), and the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. Back in the day, many of you recall, it was at least as easy as it is today to separate the federal government from its money in the ostensible pursuit of truth, justice, and the American Way. In our case, it involved delivering OEO press release packages to the various House and Senate offices of the then-current elected occupants, scallywags all.
*Tom Moffitt died in Viet Nam while he was still a teenager.
Not that these Representatives and Senators gave a rat’s ass about releases coming out of the OEO. Pols had far weightier concerns back in 1968—Ho Chi Minh, domino theories, military-industrial complexities, SNCC, Sino-Soviet tensions, Curt Flood, draft dodging commie pinko fags and the like. OEO was one of those hapless civilian agencies statutorily engaged in the systematic conversion of taxpayer dollars into Xerox copies.
Anyway, Moffitt’s dad was The Contractor, and Tom, Bob, Bobby and I were The Grunts. Mr. Moffitt would pick two of us up after school in this large, loud beater of his, and we would take off at startling speeds toward our designated appointments On The Hill. Mr. Moffitt claimed to believe the idiotic assertion that driving in traffic was dangerous, and that the best way to alleviate the danger was to minimize the time spent therein, which meant driving as fast as his car would freaking go getting us downtown. Those rides were terrifying, unless they occurred with Pick, who didn’t have the sense to be frightened and seemed to laugh the entire way.
Miraculously, we made it to the OEO every time, picked up our packets of Important Releases, hoofed over to the Hill, and delivered them in a conscientious and workmanlike manner to almost every office on the list. Given our overall levels of personal responsibility those days, surprisingly few of the packets got trashed prior to being delivered, probably because there were never that many to begin with on any one day.
One did tend to run into important people in the halls. I think I took a piss next to the young punk freshman Senator Ted Kennedy on one of those days. However, in that we, the Grunts, were grunts, the pols had better things to do than mess with us, or even acknowledge our existence. On the congressional food chain, we were even lower than the pages, who, when they weren’t being sexually harassed, were volunteers. At least we were getting paid. Generally we tossed the envelopes on the receptionists’ desks and beat feet.
By the time we were done, Mr. Moffitt was usually unavailable, likely in his cups somewhere. We would grab a bus to Chevy Chase Circle, and transfer there to one that would take us out Connecticut Avenue to our homes in Kensington, Maryland, [Motto: A Good Place to be From]. It was at the Chevy Chase Circle bus transfer station that I had Fun with Bob.
As we waited for the bus, I checked my pockets, and found that I had one bus transfer, one dollar and one cent to my name. It was early spring, maybe 6:30 in the evening, and I was, as usual, starving. There was a row of candy and cigarette machines in the shack, the old style mechanical ones, but, without even a nickel, there was nothing there for our BruAl. Vending machines didn’t accept dollar bills in 1967. Homework loomed, and Barbara had undoubtedly served and cleared dinner. Woe was BruAl. Pick, who, I suspect, also had an effective net worth of less than a nickel at that moment, brooded. We were the only two people in the station/shack.
For reasons known only to boys, I decided to see if I could get one of the candy machines to “bite” on my penny. My friend Deke, who was always doing this, as well as checking vending machine and pay phone change slots, would have been proud of me.
I dropped the penny in the slot, pulled the handle under a Snickers bar, felt the handle engage the latch, and pulled the handle out, CHING, at which point the Snickers bar fell into the whatchacallit, the poorly-designed slot you reach in to get your candy, often skinning a knuckle or wrist in the process. And when I pulled the handle again, this time without even bothering with the penny, once again it engaged, released, and dropped a second Snickers bar into the hamper CH-CHING! Another pull, another candy bar. CH-CH-CHING!!! I was in The Zone, and this was way before there even WAS a Zone. I was living the dream, facing the prospect of virtually Unlimited Chocolate and Corn Syrup, when Pick got into the act.
Bob starts in, frantically pulling handles, laughing his ass off, braying on the inhale, sounding more like a distressed mule than a euphoric teenager. Between us, we probably ended up with 50 candy bars. We were jamming them into our coats, shirts, pants, hats, wherever we had a place, when the thought occurred to us—what if someone should come into the station and see us, collapsed amidst a pile of ill-gotten confections? Were we subject to prosecution? Worse yet, could someone make us give the stuff back? Was this the seminal idea behind the 2000 Film Chocolat?
We had to split.
In the next scene, picture our two heroes, trying desperately not to drop their loot, half-running, half-staggering down the median strip on Connecticut Avenue, making for the next stop on the line. Crying, laughing, and cursing. After a brief wait, our bus arrived, and we clambered aboard, trying our best not to look felonious. We had just put one over on The Man, we had the spoils to prove it, and we were, for the moment, invincible. I believe we had also crossed a state line, rendering us Immune from Local Prosecution, although perhaps subject to some minor Federal statutes. We ate all the junk we couldn’t stash in our clothes, and grinned back at the commuters glaring at us.
Crime did pay! You could steal and get away with it. And if you ate the evidence, no jury on earth could convict you. So our experience, far from being a simple gastronomical orgy was, in fact, an important life lesson: If you’re going to steal, steal food. No one ever went to the slam over a Payday. Not even 50 Paydays.
And if you’re going to steal food, steal it with Pick. If Pick’s not available, call Louie or Showzie. Crime is more fun when your accomplice makes noises like a hyena and has stuff shooting out his nose.