Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day 2010

I am about 8 years old. It is a hot weekend day and I'm on my way to Sherrie's candy store to get an Italian Ice. Sherrie's is on the corner of Avenue W and Knapp right near P.S. 194. My biggest concern in the world is whether it will be Cherry or Lemon today.

Just as I approach Sherrie's a truck drives by along Avenue W. As it reaches Knapp a bundle of newspapers roll out from the truck.

I figure the men in the truck lost their newspapers. There is a wire bundling the papers together and I try to yank the stack up. I shout out at the truck, "You dropped your newspapers?" There is a fellow riding shotgun in the truck who looks out the window at me strangely. The truck drives on.

Now what? The poor men have lost their newspapers. The stack sits at my feet. What to do?

I have an idea. What I will do is become a paper boy. I knew some big kids in the projects were paperboys. There were six floors in our apartment building, and maybe fifteen buildings between Avenues W and V alone. I wouldn't even have to cross the street to sell the papers. This way, I would never have to ask mom for money for italian ices again.

I forget about the Italian Ices, lug the newspapers two blocks back to the monkey bars near Avenue V that often served as a gathering spot for my cronies. Ronald wants to know what I'm carrying. I tell him what I have and that now I am a paper boy. Lenny wants to know where I got the newspapers. I tell him.

Gregory snorts. "They did not fall off the truck. The drivers threw them off. They were delivering the papers to Sherrie's."

"Don't tell me. I was there. They fell off the truck." I say this, but I am feeling a bit uneasy.

"Uh uh." says Gregory. "They delivered them. You stole Sherrie's newspapers."

It hits me that I am in big trouble.

Gregory has an idea. Lenny and Ronald agree that it is a terrific plan. I'm not convinced.

The plan is to put the papers in the basket of Lenny's tricycle. We would then ride to the vacant lot across Bragg Street that sits right in the middle of Bragg between Avenue V and W. Then when we get there we'd dump the papers into the vacant lot and scram.

I don't know if I want to compound the heavy duty problem I have by going to the vacant lot. The vacant lot is a place all we 8 year olds have been told never to go to. It is an overgrown weedy depressed area surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire at the top. According to the collective parents' lore, it is a spot where juvenile delinquents hang out. Besides we would have to jay walk to get there, another prohibition.

"I don't know if I want to go to the vacant lot."

"C'mon. Don't be a fool. Nobody will ever know."

They don't need to twist my arm. We toss the newspapers into Lenny's tricycle and start a career of crime. We jaywalk along with Lenny as he crosses Bragg and get to the vacant lot.

The four of us together can't weigh much more than 200 pounds so it takes all of our collective strength to bench press the newspapers high enough so that we can toss them over the barbed wire fence. After a number of comical tries where the stack nearly knocks us over as we drop it, we get the papers over the barbed wired and see them disappear into the weeds of the vacant lot.

We race away as if we just robbed a bank, running helter skelter in different directions. We are not cool crooks. I walk the last fifty yards to our apartment building dreading a confrontation. I take the elevator up to 5D. It's a weekend day, probably a Saturday, so both Dad and Mom are home. Dad wants to know where I've been. It's taken a lot longer than it usually does to get an Italian Ice.

"Where's the Italian Ice?"

"I ate it."

I probably am not particularly convincing. A few minutes later after a mild interrogation I know I am cooked. I spill. Everything.

I stole the papers.
I went to the vacant lot.
My pals and I dumped the papers into the vacant lot.

My mother and father huddle up and I sense that there will be major punishment. But not so. My father leaves the huddle and says that when I took the papers I made "an honest mistake".

If this is all the heat I'm going to take I feel terrific. I nod my head like a madman and repeat what is, I figure, the key exonerating phrase. "Yes, I made an honest mistake." That, apparently, is the ticket.

Dad continues. "Taking the newspapers was an honest mistake. But throwing them in the vacant lot, that was wrong."

Ok fine. I'll cop that plea. Yes. throwing them in the vacant lot was very wrong. I shake my head soberly.

"Okay pal" says dad "let's go to the vacant lot and get the papers."

The man has to be kidding me. Imagine going to the vacant lot with my father? And people thinking my father hung out there, smoked cigarettes, and was a juvenile delinquent.

I plead my case.

"Dad we can't go to the vacant lot. We'll never find the papers. It's where juvenile delinquents go."

"Let's go Al", he says.

We get to the vacant lot and in a move that is truly athletic he climbs the fence, vaults over the barbed wire, and disappears into the weeds. Then he reappears with the bundle of papers. Again, he impresses me despite my fear as he easily tosses the papers back over the barbed wire. Then he vaults back.

"Alright" he says "Let's go and return the papers to Sherrie's".

No! This day has been horrible. Just to think I had been on my way for an Italian Ice just a couple of hours ago. I take a stand. "No. I am not going to Sherrie's. They will never miss the papers. Today is a holiday." Please God make it be some minor holiday. "Not going."

"Let's go pal." He has to drag me to the corner of Knapp and Avenue W. I walk into the candy store behind him. He finds the owner, a sourpuss as always, hands over the papers and explains what happened. He makes sure to say that I made an honest mistake. Then he tells me to apologize.

Eight year old me walks around my dad and tells Mr. Sherrie or whatever his name was, that I am sorry. The proprietor is not magnanimous. He mutters something about the neighborhood going south. Dad repeats it's an honest mistake.

We leave Sherrie's and I am furious.

"I can't believe you made me do that. He never ever would have known."

"Look Alan" said Dad. "Sometimes people make mistakes, honest mistakes like this one. But sometimes people leave the mistake alone hoping it will go away and it hurts them, or they try to do something to get rid of the mistake that is worse than the mistake itself. Your friends thought they were helping you. But you can't just do what is easy or what people tell you to do. You have to do what is right, regardless of what is easy."

What is the man talking about? After this horrible day I have to listen to a speech?

I repeat my position furiously "I can't believe you made me do that."

"Come on, Alan, don't you feel better that you returned the newspapers."

"No!" I scream with unequivocal certainty. I stomp ahead in irrational child rage.

"You will" he called after me.

Thank you, Dad. I love you.

Happy Father's Day


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