Little Baby Caesar; The Early Crime Years

Go find yourself a boyfriend with a paper route.

When my Dad came back from seeing me for the first time in the hospital nursery, my mom asked what he thought.  His response was, “He looks like Edgar G. Robinson.”  True fact.  My mom said that it wasn’t what a new mother wanted to hear.  But today, we all agree, that I did, and that my dad saw something there.  There’s been some affinity alright.  I always liked Edgar G. Robinson better than J. Edgar Hoover.  Hands down.

As a kid I always rooted for the villain.  They always looked cooler, dressed better, and probably got laid more than the heroes.  I used to watch re-run episodes of Roy Rogers, with my buddy Dean.  I would be secretly rooting against Roy.  Not like I wanted him to get shot or anything, but maybe disarmed and tied up to a Saguaro cactus for Dale to rescue.  I’ve never told anyone this.  Maybe I should have saved it for my fifth step, but hey, too fucking late now.  It’s typed on the screen.  For all to see.

Coyote versus Roadrunner, same thing.  I wanted Acme’s products to work as intended.  Just once.  I pretty much liked Batman, but still wanted the big magnifying glass to burn through the rope and drop his ass into the pool of sharks.  The way I saw it, he wouldn’t be in that jam if he had slept with Catwoman and joined her criminal enterprise.  You turn that stuff down (especially the Julie Newmar version) and you don’t expect to be looking back on it and bumming hard?  I didn’t know back then that he was gay, and what the whole Robin, his young ward thing meant.  Now it all makes sense, but back then I thought there was something seriously wrong with him.

I’d watch old gangster films mesmerized.  I so wanted to have a scarred and cratered face, so I could poke a toothpick out of it.  I’d wear a black fedora and say things like, “It’s time to take a ride, Greasy Mike,” while keeping one hand menacingly in my pocket.  I wanted to shoot pool, grab loot, chase leg, break leg, take shots, dodge shots, skip town, make bail, shake down, rough up, take down, and come up,

I wanted to shoot up a rival’s speak-easy with a Tommy gun from a screeching car, even though I didn’t  know what a speak-easy was.  While other kids wanted to hit a home run to win the World Series, I wanted to make wise-cracks about the detective’s girlfriend while enduring a rubber truncheon interrogation.

My moral compass tended to point South.  Even way back then.

On on a flight back to California from New York, they played the movie, Dillinger.  It was the original, with Warren Oates.  I was so impressed, I decided I wanted to get serious about becoming a criminal.  I actually took an oath.

Years later, I found an entry in a little notebook I made days after I saw the film.  It said “Today I dedicate myself to a life of crime.”  It was signed, in cursive, to prove I really meant it.  “Oh shit,” I thought, “How binding an oath is this?  Can The Masters of Fate hold a nine-year-old to this kind of document?”

Let me tell you, they sure the fuck can.

The first thing I remember stealing was a balsa wood glider.  I loved those things, but they were always breaking on me.  I was never given an allowance and had to pay for my good times off the grandparent’s birthday dole.  Try stretching $30 dollars to last all year, even in 1970 dollars.  It could be done, but things were tight.  Never enough for candy, comics, soda, and toy guns.  Never enough to keep up the lifestyle.  Stealing seemed like a solution.

I carefully scoped the TG& Y and saw where all the clerks were.  I was looking intently at a bag of plastic soldiers I was holding, when I pretended to drop them.  I ducked down, pulled the glider off the rack and slid it up the sleeve of my jacket, picked up the bag of plastic soldiers and continued to act like I was debating the purchase.  Really going for an Oscar, the ponder, the tsk-tsk, the shrug of the shoulders, the aw-shucks of the fist, and then a very obvious putting them back.

So fucking slick.  I walked out holding my mom’s hand with the glider up the same sleeve.  I was covered solid.  The walk out the store was a total rush.  Not getting my 15 cents, goddamn TG & Y.  Who’s the sucker now?

The glider quickly broke, but I wasn’t pissed this time.  No big deal.  I’ll just pop on down to the five and dime and pick up another one, with my five-finger discount.  Ha-ha.  Get it?  Five finger discount?  Because I’m taking it with my hand, for free.

Getting stuff for free really is the best, isn’t it?  I understand these corporations hiding money all over the place from the tax man.  It must be like stealing a glider times 1.2 billion. It’s got a be a rush, and if it is, let me tell you there’s a good chance it’s going to be habit-forming.  Especially if you’ve gotten away with it before.  I know after I hijacked my first balsa wood plane, I resented having to pay 15 cents for one ever again, even when I had enough money.

So I get it.  I understand the corporate mind-set.  Like I said, my moral compass always dipped South.

Know where a guy can score a hot cinnamon toothpick around here?

My first arrest was in 8th grade.  I had been shoplifting for a while, but just as a hobbyist.  A cap gun, some Odd Rod stickers and bubble gum, the little plastic hot dog rings in that used to come in between Oscar Meyer wieners.  Just small time stuff.  One day, after reading a biography of Lucky Luciano from the Camarillo Public Library.  I decided to expand my empire.  In junior high some friends were already making money from boosting beef jerky and cinnamon toothpicks then selling them to the other school kids.  Okay, they had that market cornered, and I didn’t have the firepower to muscle in on their racket.

I had to find something else the kids wanted and were willing to pay retail for.  Cigarettes, beer, nudie magazines and racy paperbacks like The Happy Hooker and The Sensuous Women, rolling papers, No-Doz, condoms, huffing solvents, knives, chewing tobacco, road flares and corncob pipes to smoke Commercial-grade dirt weed.  I would open up a one-stop juvenile delinquency shop.

I got together a crew.  I recruited some buddies from my M.G.M. English class.  My friends Danny and Jimmy were also mentally-gifted bad boys, each a criminal genius in his own right.  It didn’t need any arm-twisting.  There were no bosses.  Each man was an equal partner in The Corporation.  Capital would be divided accordingly.  We would skulk  through Newbury’s, Sav-on Drugs, Builder’s Emporium, and Lucky’s grocery stores for inventory.  We were all working together the day the heat came down.

We had made a pretty good haul that afternoon, and we could have called it quits, but I had to make one more pass at the dirty magazines they kept in the rack behind the cashier’s counter.  The store employees were watching by then.  I got collared by a skinny assistant manager.  He grabbed me by the jacket and the Playboy magazine came flying out.  It landed open on the sidewalk, on a pictorial section that made it clear to every bystander just what kind of magazine this little boy was trying to steal.

I remember looking down and seeing  a huge pair of airbrushed boobs.  Holy Toledo.  Get a load of those.

I didn’t stay transfixed for too long as I was now engaged in wrestling away from some flunky assistant manager.  I started swinging.  He was trying to drag me down to the ground but I kept punching.  I was getting some clear shots into his ribs, windmilling desperately like a cornered tier snitch, but they weren’t having enough effect.  I should’ve taken P.E. more seriously.

I looked up at Danny and Jimmy who were on their bikes looking on in shock.  “Help me!”  I called to them.  They were backing up, shaking their heads.  They looked apologetic.  They rode off.  I never blamed them.  I was a goner.  A bigger guy, the actual manager came out, and they dragged me into the store and into a back room. They shook down all the swag on me.

And what telling swag it was.  This wasn’t some little boy trying to steal a balsa wood glider.  This was a pusher and a porn peddler.  By God, he’s a …a…walking one-stop juvenile delinquency shop!  They called the cops.  My friend Tom’s dad walked by and saw me sitting on the floor behind the counter, sized it up the situation and shook his head.  That felt bad.  The interesting fact is that his son, my friend Tom, would become a lawyer and help me beat my first felony rap many years later.  Ah, the tapestry of life!

Both managers kept me in the back room until the cops came.  A cop finally showed up.  After blubbering like a little bitch, I managed to pull myself together for the hand-cuffed perp walk to the police car.  I was sort of hoping that a girl like Michele Ripley would see it.  She’d see me and know what a tough hood I was, someone she knew better than to get involved with, but just couldn’t help herself.  Because I was all hard, and stuff, and had seen it all.

She’d beat her Keds across the parking lot and beg the cop to let me go.

“Kid,” I’d tell her, “Trust me, you don’t want to get mixed up with the likes of me.”

“But I think with enough of my wholesome love, I could turn you around!”

“See, that’s just it,” I’d break it to her,”Wholesome love is a great start, but it’s just a start, see?  I think you catch my drift.”

The cop would lower my head into the car.  I’d stop and turn at her.

“Look Tootsie Pop, go back to your Honor Roll, Flag Team and toy horse collection.  There’s no future here.”

The cop would close the door, and I’d see a tear forming in her eye.

“I could learn to be naughty!” she’d shout as the squad car pulled out of the parking lot.

I’d nod.  Sure sure, kid.  That’s what they all say.

My mom and dad were totally pissed when they had to pick me up from the police station.

I thought I’d lay low for a while until things cooled off, but I quickly got busted for smoking a lid of  ‘mirsh in a corn cob pipe with Danny in the drainage ditch by my house.  For my fairly strict Lithuanian immigrant parents this was crisis of unimaginable proportions.  What will our community think of us?   What kind of parents could raise such a hooligan?  Such a larcenous villian…and now a drug addict!

The belt came out of the closet.  I could hear the buckle clink down the hall, then my bedroom door opened.  It was time for my ass cheeks to ride the lightning.

After that, I was put on a really short leash with my folks.  Lithuanian lock-down is serious.  My American friends didn’t understand.  My parents lived in D.P. camps during the war. They knew how set up a detention camp.  Under their close supervision, and the persuasive influence of my father’s belt, I reformed a bit.  Compass went magnetic North for a while.  Goofus went Gallant.  My grades got better.  I became a pretty good kid who went back to playing with gliders, but now and then, soaking them in gasoline.  If I was going to do anything bad again, I would just make sure to never get caught.

Then I started high school and began my journey of adolescent angst.  I discovered the magic of mixing alcohol with weed, and the occasional pills discovered in medicine cabinets.  Somehow,  just the right mix removed all traces of angst, fear, pain and self-hatred.  Took me to The Zone.

Trying to stay in The Zone required certain lifestyle adaptations and a host of new acquaintances, wayward pilgrims also seeking The Zone.  The ever elusive, if not mythical, Zone.  The needle spun straight down, and stayed that way for a long time.

My last perp walk was filmed by a news crew.  I had made the big time, and it looked like I was going to go away for a nice bit of it, too.  I hoped Michele Ripley didn’t see it on TV.  That would have sucked.  I had pulled myself together for the walk out of the apartment, but I had just finished crying.  Like a baby.

.

St. Joseph’s Hospital gangster for life.

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24 responses to “Little Baby Caesar; The Early Crime Years

  1. It’s always the M.G.M kids who turn out like we—well, at least your M.G.M. friends and you, and my M.G.M mates and me, anyway… (Think there’s a correlation?) Your comment to Suebob was really sweet, I just have to mention that. You are lucky to have a friend like she…and vice versa. Great rest of the blog, too, by the way. You and your way with words! Peace, Marius.

    • M.G.M has turned out to be a lifetime organization. Blood in, blood out. Dudes from M.G.M. have bailed me out of jail, served as my attorney, let me hide out in their pads, and spotted me cash, and the women of M.G.M., well they’ve brought me much comfort in my times of great need. Thanks Mort, for the kind words, as always, and for hanging around. This joint needs people like you around.

      • La Eme-He-Eme. You’re the shot-caller in this joint…Thanks for your kind words, as well. Still aiming to join you, Alexa, Dave and all others bloggin away in this joint, still having trouble just fucking getting it together. I’ve heard that comparison is the thief of joy, but it’s difficult not to at least kinda compare what I’ve got with your extremely impressive output. I know: Think less, write more, post at least once! Again, you really have motivated, if not somewhat intimidated, me. And entertained,made laugh, cry, ache, cringe, understand, relate, etc. Goodnight.Or morning, now…Nice talkin’ to ya.

      • Hahaha. Shot-caller my ass. Anyway, stop being such a scaredy cat. Just blog, baby, blog. Have it started by the end of August or else! (hand points from pocket) Got it?

  2. Too funny, at first I thought you were describing my life story, but I started with matchbox toys.I always look forward to your stories. Enlightening.

    • Thanks Mike, I did the same Minor Theft Auto myself. Man, if I still had those matchbox cars, I’d be sitting pretty, selling off one on E-Bay whenever the car insurance bill arrives. Thanks for stopping by, and help yourself to some chewing tobacco, model glue and No-Doz. This party is just getting started.

  3. Yeah, I got it. Trust, believe, etc. And if you’re not the shot-caller here, who “fixed it”? That’s correct–you did. So there. Have a good one, and, well…why, thank you.

  4. Edgar, Edward…what’s the difference ! hahah! …and yeah, you were a dead ringer ! In the baby pic, it looks like you’re saying. “Arright, you guys !”

    • Thanks Shab, now I want you to picture J. Edgar Hoover in a cocktail dress, with long, white velvet evening gloves creeping into your bedroom as you sleep. He gently cups your cheek as you slowly open your eyes…

      • Woah what a creepy thought, I had an internal eeww. Great story as always. I loved the villains and underdogs myself which is just as well coz my dad was always playing them. When Mr. Slumber appeared in Diamonds are Forever I proudly shouted “That’s my daddy!” much to my mums dismay. I used to see how many Snoopy books I could heist in one go… crazy huh?

      • You are perfect moll material, Alexa. A real dame, with grit and guts and great gams. My only concern is letting you carry to heat for me in your purse. You tend to lose those.

  5. There’s no feeling more helpless than watching your pal get collared — for kiping a nudie mag — on the sidewalk outside the ol’ Sav-on-Drugs, and all we could do was sit there on our Sting-Rays and look on in horror. God that ride home was torturous. We did have quite the little ring going for a while. I remember we cozied up pretty well with the gal down at the Winchell’s Donuts and she give us free grub while we plotted our little crime wave. If memory serves me, my specialty was stealing books, which when I look back on it is pretty hilarious. Books!

    Even in my life of crime I was a geek.

    • Yaha, Jimmy, we were total geek gangsters and MGM was our Mafia. I remember still being handcuffed in my living room, and my phone going to the answer machine, with a message from Tom E. going “Hey Marius, this is your attorney, and I just heard what happened and I want to let you know that I’m on it.” My roommate, Spike, (another MGMer) when released called Tommy (also MGM) right away. The cops looked at each other in disbelief. Who is this guy? We don’t even have him out of his chair and his mouthpiece is calling on the horn. Those fuckers started treated me a lot nicer at that point. That’s right. I’m connected…to an lifetime organization of geeks, with reach. Sweet moment in an otherwise sour situation. Hope your birthday party was a ripper. Sorry again I couldn’t make the drive up. See you soon though. Your old partner in crime, Marius

      • IIRC, Didn’t we make some ID cards for our little group of wanna-be Dead End Kids? We were called “The Couchers” or some such thing, because we commandeered the big couch that Mrs. Foreman had in the corner of her room. All the other kids were in traditional desks and we’d just lounge over there making wise-cracks all the damn day long.

        That was a great idea wasn’t it? Make ID cards for each member of a juvy crime syndicate. Brilliant!

    • Hey,Jimmy, I gotta say, any guy who gets his adoloscent+ rocks off by stealing (and, I hope, reading) books and magazines is a man after my own heart. You say dork. I say,man of my dreams…

      • Oh believe you me Mort, I’m such a dork I still have a few of those books. It’s definitely how I first read “Jaws,” “The Exorcist” and [as Marius referenced above] “The Happy Hooker,” not to mention half a dozen or so totally lame joke books.

        I can still picture that assistant manager we were getting over on. He looked like a blonde version of that butler character in the old horror flick “Phantasm.” Probably should feel bad we betrayed his trust, but we were, after all, twelve years old.

      • Jimmy, you hit the nail right on the head with your description of the assistant manager. I was going to write that he was hunchbacked, but that wasn’t true. He was stooped though, just like…the dude from Phantasm! Speaking of memorable lit from that period, do you remember Bob D. bringing back “The Oral Sisters” by Carter Sprague?(yes, I remember the author’s name. He had shoplifted during his trip to Amsterdam with his parents. Trashy porn pulp of the lowest caliber and potent boner-producing fare for 12 year olds.

      • Jimmy! Dork, meet Dork. (Or budding thief/intellectual/autodidact.) I am proud to say that I’ve still got the original paperbacks of Jaws AND The Happy Hooker (stolen, not from Sav-On, but from my one of my parents’ bookcases) as well as The Story of O and The Diary of Anais Nin (Again, swiped from the folks. They’re still alive, still haven’t noticed, as far as I know!) The Kama Sutra is still on their shelves somewhere, but it’s hard-backed and didn’t really do it for me as a little kid….Anyway, pleased ta meetcha. Hope you guess my name..

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