Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Rock 'n' Roll Element

This has to do with the kids today and how they seem to be in more trouble with the cops than when I was a young miscreant.

It is also "the rock 'n' roll element," sadly missing in our society.

I spent some time in jail in New Hampshire a few years back, at about age 40, and all of my suite mates (five cells, two men per) were young enough to be my son, if I had one. One inmate was one of the Dartmouth professors' killers, and the rest were perps, or victims, of what I would term as "youthful exuberance." One kid, 19 years old, I believe, was just a knucklehead who had tried to rob a general store with a pellet gun and was beaten up and subdued by the one-armed counterman. The kid took constant ribbing for this and, in the New England tradition, was held in the fairly high regard of a likable stupid ass. I think the guards even thought so. It was like gym class or being on the high school baseball team in there. These kids were comfortable in a highly controlled situation, busting each others' balls. When I was released, I wanted to keep the "G___ County Correctional Facility" t-shirt that I was issued, but the staff said no.

Now my story, which is the difference, I think, of what fun kids are not allowed today:

When I was in high school, I looked too young to drink, and at 17 years-old, I surely was. Frustratingly, I had two girl friends who were younger than me but looked far older. Don't get me wrong, almost any male bartender will up a girl's age in his mind. We'll call one of my friends "Katie Silver." We had a great and platonic relationship and we liked to drink and smoke and take pills. I could rarely drink at bars with her, so, with a flair for the dramatic, we took to wearing costumes to bars, and we slayed 'em. I would spray my hair gray and pencil my eyebrows in silver, and on our first couple sojourns, I wore a priest's collar. When I showed up in the collar the first time at Katie's kitchen door, she was wearing a frosted wig and full makeup; I remember the hot flush that went up my neck when I was sure she was her mother. At the bars, anytime the cocktail waitress would come by, we would talk about how I thought Katie should leave her husband for me, Father Whomever. We did the costume thing several more times and even pulled it off on fairly close friends (with me sans collar as a college professor).

Among those times, I had a cousin who worked at Old Orchard Beach, operating a ride that turned people upside down. Wallets would fall out of their pockets, and he would generally take a "tip" for finding them. Grateful, the rubes would often not check for their drivers' licenses, which, back then, had only a vague physical description and no photo - and were no longer in their wallets. I got one with the right statistics, eye color and everything; that's what the people who sold you alcohol looked for. Finding a paper license for a guy with green eyes, 5' 10" and brown hair, in his early 20s was no daily deal. I used it with shameless enthusiasm.

Katie's sister was a bank teller, who one day got the bright idea to steal four cashier's checks from the middle of the stack of another teller, so they wouldn't be missed for several days. She made them out for nominal amounts (a lot in the 1970s) and proposed to us that we cash them to split three ways. Katie was the signature forger, and I would use my purloined DL.

I had a pair of Foster Grants that I had found on the street that altered my appearance but through which I could still make eye contact. I had a military dress-uniform jacket from Germany that I didn't like, and I wore a red bandanna around my forehead and tousled my hair. I looked like the guy who brings Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper to the commune in "Easy Rider."

We hit four banks in about an hour and a half, and I cashed all the checks. I do not play poker as well as I handled the tellers that afternoon. We finished the last bank, split up the money, and I changed my clothes in the car. I put the costume in a brown paper bag and walked the few hundred yards to one of my jobs as a cashier in a French restaurant, casually tossing the bag into a public trash receptacle on the way. I got drunk with the owner during my shift and added up the guest checks by hand, as he wanted a drinking buddy and couldn't really cover my wage.

So that was that, until about six moths later; I was at work in the hospital parking booth, which was my primary high school job, and Katie called, as she often did. The FBI had been at her home, and briefly, they had duped her sister into signing a confession by telling them both that they knew she was the teller who had stolen the checks. The agents made Katie sign a witness statement, and she realized afterward that there was a big, identifiable "K" on the checks as well as in her statement signature. I guess the FBI's handwriting experts never got around to that one.

Katie told me over the phone that the agents had said that they would probably never find the (person's name) who had cashed the checks... umm, me. I am certain that they went to the guy's house and questioned him. I tore that driver's license into tiny pieces, threw some down the sewer, burned some and ate the rest.
I was scared to hell, but I had few more exciting moments in my 17-year life than to know that I was pursued by, and had fooled the FBI.

I look back at those young kids in jail, and I know that they are looking for somewhat of the same thrill. At the time, it was a game and a REALLY elaborate and fun one. It beats the shit out of what I've watched of people playing "Grand Theft Auto" or "Rock Hero."

Poor kids.

More, baby!

The rock 'n' roll element


  1. Good story. Reminds me of when my friends got busted for stealing golf carts. Or when my friend got questioned by the FBI fro attending communist meetings.

  2. screw blogging, you need to write a book

  3. Sounds like youth alright. Your blog (the first post anyway) & I have the same birthday... but IT's got more youth.

  4. great stuff, chandler. evocative. sordid.

  5. Well written Chandler, and a delight to read. here's what some of the old guys had to say about it all........

    The Greek philosopher Plato studied under Socrates. Plato complained
    about the youth of the day, also. "What is happening to our young
    people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They
    ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions.
    Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?" I think this is
    a direct quote, but can't find the reference at the moment.

    Here's another one:
    "I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on
    frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond
    words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
    respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise
    [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint" (Hesiod, 8th century BC).

    "Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way. What's the matter with kids today?"
    Mr. MacAfee (Paul Lynde) Bye Bye Birdie

  6. "but I had few more exciting moments in my 17-year life than to know that I was pursued by, and had fooled the FBI."

  7. "I tore that driver's license into tiny pieces, threw some down the sewer, burned some and ate the rest."

    This is good stuff. You should write a book. Best, Rolf

  8. The editorial content of this fine blog suffers from the old english victorian wallpaper design. THis would be a better templet for Grannmas Doylie collection.

  9. A fine and well written story Chandler!! You should indeed write a book!

  10. Michelle in Michigan turned me onto your wonderful Blog Chandler. Great stuff and I hope it gets published as a book someday.