Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Partners in Crime, Watch out J Edgar

How It Happened (A Primary Source)

We came around the corner of Harvest and Allen in the late afternoon. As second-graders we were just two nondescript Mormon boys having some after-school exploration through the neighborhood.

But let's provide some context. The neighborhood was what our parents called "blessed." At the time that meant nothing to me. But I did know I had a lot of friends. And if I walked down my street my arm could possibly tire out from the number of waves made to passing neighbors and cars. Waves were reciprocated earnestly. So waving in our neighborhood was as common as the warm sun. Nothing big here other than the fact that everyone knew everyone and was on good terms all around. This was to be a terribly important setting for what we were about to do.

Around the corner...I spotted a newspaper in the Kleiner's yard. Late in the day I thought they didn't need it. So I grabbed it. We kept walking and two houses down another newspaper lay in the driveway. So my partner in crime went and grabbed it. Two boys. Two newspapers. No. Big. Deal.

But here is the deal. If you throw your mind back to when you were a young boy in the prime of youth with only a pencil box in your desk at school to your name, you liked things, especially free things. And you were competitive. If your best bud had one, you wanted one. And if your best bud didn't have one, you never though about having one. We both had one newspaper. But I wanted another one.

And so, a few houses down, I grabbed another newspaper I saw (apparently our neighbors were not well-informed of what happened the day before in Mesa). Well, my buddy grabbed the equalizer at the next available driveway.

So, we got home with newspapers. Nothing big, but it was an easy booty. I bid my friend good evening and walked home to dinner with the family, passing the "Return with Honor" plaque on our front door.

The next day at school, my buddy and I started talking about resuming our collection. But newspapers were boring. And each one said the same thing. What else could we collect out there in our world? The answer came on the way home from school. Another one of our buddies was out of town. So we knew he must have had uncollected mail in his mail box. I told my buddy to watch out for anyone watching us, and I quickly opened the mailbox, which was stuffed. My heart skipped with joy as I plunged my hand in for the easiest "free" stuff in the world. We ran around a fence and sat down with my buddy's mail. At this point you might wonder where our consciences were vacationing. To this day, I never know why they were AWOL, so I cannot answer that question, I really was otherwise a good kid.

Back to the mail, one of the envelopes was a birthday card for our mutual friend. We opened it. I know, terrible. And we read it. And laughed at the words, though it was nothing special. But our hearts were racing. This was cool. It was fun. It was exciting. We looked down the street at an entire line of mailboxes, standing there on their posts like prisoners in front of a firing squad, unmoving and silent.

We moved on and at the next house opened the mailbox. Nothing. But at the following house the mailbox was again full of mail. I grabbed it all. This one was lucrative, veritable booty, if you will. It had a brand new shiny penny inside the envelope. The face of Honest Abe staring right at me. I was pumped up about this new scheme of ours. Funny birthday cards. Free pennies. Why hadn't we done this earlier?

We moved on down the line of waiting mailboxes. At this point you have to realize we were feeling no remorse. Not only were we pre-baptismal age, we simply had no idea about the significance or consequence of taking people's mail. That's another thing, we truly felt we were "taking" not "stealing." If it comes everyday, why would they miss one day's worth? With my hands full, my buddy grabbed the next box's contents.

By this point in the afternoon our hands were full. We crossed the street to my partner's home. On the side yard was a large vine with big, flat leaves. It crept up from the ground to the roof and spread across half the side wall. It was a perfect treasure spot. We cleared away leaves and branches and placed all our mail on the cool, shaded ground. No one ever walked at this spot except potato bugs.

What happened that night I cannot recall. I'm sure I was looking forward to more mail. Because we got more mail. And more mail. Day after day. How many days this happened I also cannot remember. I just have vague episodic memories that haunt me to this day. After one illegal excursion my partner and I sat atop the fence dividing his home from the neighbor. We had scored an actual box in someones mail, as it turned out, the box of my future church Bishop. We opened it up - a box of pills. We gleefully threw each pill into our neighbor's pool. That was fun! I remember they were red and white pills.

Another episode nearly ruined our fun. We had opened an envelope with two bank cards! One for each of us. We played with these cards in the downstairs of my buddy's house. His dad walked by while we had them out. He asked to see one. We didn't sweat it or skip a beat at all, we simply said we found them on the street. Now, looking back, I realize our "Sherman's March" through the neighborhoods of our youth was widespread. Because my buddy's dad had no idea who the person was named on the card. We might be talking a full square mile. My memory suggests more like a half-square mile.

After a few days we had loads of mail under the ivy. Our treasure was our fun. And no one suspected. I can't believe we were not caught. We always took mail during the day in full view of front windows and living rooms. But I think people started noticing. How else would Mom have been tipped off?

One afternoon we were coming around the street north of Harvest, which is my street. Our hands were full of mail. And there was Mom, walking with a purpose, to us. We both turned around to face away from her and quickly stuffed the mail up our shirts. Great minds think alike. Apparently, authoritative minds think alike, because Mom asked, "what is up your shirts?" I distinctly remember saying, "nothing." By now you realize my IQ equaled my age at the time, so you can understand the response.

I don't remember the long walk home with Mom. I don't remember what happened to my loyal partner when he went home. But I do remember that evening we were returning loads of mail. I can only imagine what our parents thought when we uncovered the ivy. What they saw must have made their hearts drop. But, in the 1980s and in a good neighborhood, we were cushioned against reprisals from the victims.

One evening soon after our capture was devastating. We had to sit through a half-hour lecture from our neighbor across the street who was...a mailman. He told us what could happen to us and where we could end up. I walked out the door feeling all eyes, including the birds, were trained on me. The worst part of the evening was that they were showing Crocodile Dundee II on TV. Mom would not let me watch, as part of my punishment. I learned my lesson. I loved Dundee.

About a week later my partner in crime and I were playing in my back yard. When it was time for him to go home we walked out to the front. And there, right in front of his house were two cop cars! We knew we were in trouble, possibly headed to where the mailman said we would be going if we ever stole mail again. So we ran into my backyard and spent the next hour crouched under a table. We were spooked. Way after dark we emerged, peeked over the fence, and saw the cops had left. Whew! Close call.

Not much happened after that. But the episode, referenced often at family reunions, brings a few laughs. It could have been worse. It should have been worse. But then again, we grew up in the best neighborhood on earth! So if you decide to steal your neighbor's mail, try it in Mesa, AZ. Just avoid the half-square mile around 1336 E Harvest because they're on alert!


Jon said...

Sounds like you were able to correct this self-destructive path as a youth, but what's become of your "buddy"?

Spencer said...

good point. i'm sure he'll come out of the woodwork someday soon and reveal himself and his doings :)

NanaH said...

I never was tipped off. I just walked around the corner and saw two little boys with stuffed shirts who looked very suspicious. I hadn't realized at that time you had stolen from more than two mailboxes. It was during dinner that I mentioned a flyer in the mail and you commented on how everyone in the neighborhood received on too. How did you know that? Caught!