Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Growing up J-Town #JT-070


y the 8th grade, I was old enough to be trusted to roam the city on my own. During the previous summer, a few classmates like Tatts and Rhubarb went to Disneyland on their own. They got bus fare and admission from their parents and they took the Greyhound bus to Anaheim. I told Mom about this, and she just shook her head. She couldn't believe that there were parents who would let their child go to D-Land on their own without supervision. She had certainly learned her lesson over the years.

Now I wouldn't call myself a wild kid. I didn't throw rocks at cars or peak under girls' dresses--at least not openly. And I certainly didn't talk with a filthy mouth. But I did enjoy doing new and different things and making friends. Sometimes the friends around the block weren't always upright citizens.

One summer day, John and Rickey and I went to a house that was partially burnt down and was scheduled for demolition soon, so my buddies thought it would be cool to rummage through the place. It was hazardous and Mom told me not to go near the place, but I couldn't tell that to my friends. I didn't know the word then, but peer pressure was in full force already. And like an idiot, I went in my rubber Jap-slaps. While walking through the ruble, I step full force on a nail. It didn't hurt right away, but I screamed bloody murder. The mere thought of a three inch nail in my foot--even partially--made me go hysterical. I limped home and my mother took me immediately to the doctor where I got a shot with a needle that looked as big as the nail I stepped on.

Of course, there were those incidents that escaped Mom's attention. Once, when I was about five years old, I went with C and a few of the other JA hoods from the neighborhood to the local supermarket called McDonald's. We went just to hang out and fool around in the air conditioned store. We went through the turnstile and entered the produce section. But besides the vegetable stands was a cart of Brach's candy in bulk.

"Let's take one," C told us.

"I don't have any money," we said in unison."Just swipe it," insisted C. And I did as I was told. I took a butterscotch and held it in my hand for a while. A couple of other kids took one as well, while C's brother refused. He just shook his head in disapproval. We went carousing around a few more aisles when I finally thought it was safe to eat the candy I was warming up in my hand. Besides, my palms began to feel sticky. As slickly as I could manage, I unwrapped the golden-yellow cellophane and slipped the butterscotch candy into my mouth. It was sweet and good and illicit.

After a few more rounds around the store, C said it was time to go and we went running out of the store into the parking lot. As we slowed down to a walk, we heard someone yelling at us to stop. It was a store person. I could tell by the apron.

"So you kids gonna pay for the candy you ate?"

I froze in fear. Was he going to call the police? Was I going to jail?

C patted his shirt and pants pockets with his hands, then flipped them over palms up to show the store man that he had nothing on him that belonged to the store, or that he had no money. I wasn't sure which but I followed suit in the universal what he said gesture. C's brother insisted that he didn't take one. Great, I thought. That's as good as saying that we did take one.

The store man glared at us for a few seconds one at a time, then said, "Next time bring money and pay for it like you should." He then turned around and returned to the store.

"Woah, that was a close one," C whispered with a grin. All I could do was listen silently to my heart beating.

For a few weeks, I would refuse to go to the store with Mom for fear of being seen by the same man. I didn't need him to tell Mom what I had done.

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