We’ve all committed sins, done many things for which we are not proud, some for which we still feel guilt and others we do not. We walk around with secrets that we try to bury within ourselves, act like they never really happened. No one really suspects we’ve done these wrongs to ourselves and others, but we know, don’t we.
All little boys and girls commit wrongs and get themselves into trouble. As Dr. Laura is fond of saying – great kids come from great families and bad kids come from great families. The boys and girls of the Prytania and Ridgelawn alley were no different. All 60 of us, (link), grew up in households that had two loving and well meaning parents. Most went to church on Sundays and most had decent jobs where all kids were well fed and clothed. But like most other kids, we had our share of getting ourselves into trouble.
My first exposure to the world of working for ‘the man’ came at a young age. I, like many other kids, was a paperboy. I wrote a couple of paperboy escapade stories that might entertain you and I offer them up here and here . Some of you readers are now scratching your heads, wondering what paper is and why someone would be called a paperboy or papergirl. Well, (believe it or not), there was a day when the internet was not around and to get our news feeds, we didn’t walk around writing stories on others’ walls, but stories were reported, then collected and printed on big sheets of paper, (thin sheets made from shredded and pulverized wood), which then little girls and boys would deliver to the adults who wanted to read the stories. (Oh, and by the way, reporters tended to keep their own biases out of their stories – totally unlike today).
I had three paper routes. Two were early morning, small routes of the Cincinnati Enquirer and a larger route of the smaller, more local paper, the Hamilton Journal. Back in the day, we had many small neighborhood bars. In fact, there was even one right across the street from one of my elementary schools, Lincoln. I had one of these bars on my morning route for Sunday. Its was owned by a single man whose house was directly in front of the bar. The house was a corner lot and the bar had once been a garage many years earlier.
I was maybe 13 or 14 at the time, delivering my normal Sunday papers. For cafe customer, I was asked to set the paper inside the back porch if it was raining. It was indeed raining that day. I walked in, set the paper down in front of the back door and turned around to walk out. As I did, I saw a key sitting on a ledge to the right.
Don’t ask me why because I don’t know why, but later that day I got to thinking about that key and wondering if it fit the door to the bar. I’ve written quite a number of stories here about hi-jinx that we kids of the Prytania alley got into and if you’re curious about those, just go to my homepage and click on the Category labeled “pranks”. We alley kids never did things alone. Good or bad, there were always several of us. There was no one person who was a ringleader. I told a few kids about what I saw that morning and several of us decided it would be fun to go check it out one night during a summer sleep out. I won’t mention who the mastermind was that night, (Tommy), but the culprits that evening were just Me, Joe and Tommy.
I’ve written a few stories highlighting Joe as he was my best friend at the time. Tommy was Joe’s age. He was a great kid, always fun to be around but he had a little deviant side to him. He was the kid who liked to cook ants with a magnifying glass and would rub his face with my cat if he wanted out of baseball practice (he was allergic to cats). Tommy was always quick with the ‘let’s get into trouble ideas’, just as quick as I was I guess. Tommy was what you might call a ‘card’.
And with that, the idea to ‘visit’ the bar that evening was largely due to the coaxing of Tommy. None of us really needed any prodding though, for as soon as he mentioned it, we all jumped in unison at the idea. It was to be yet another Alley Adventure, (albeit an illegal one).
We coordinated our sleep out night with the weather and a plan. There were not many security cameras in those days. I guess if I researched the topic, I might find they existed but certainly they would have been far too costly to put in any of our local establishments, so it was nothing we even considered. Our grand plan was simple – to sneak into the back porch, see if the key was there, take it if it was and then see if it fit the bar (such masterminds, we were).
It fit, of course it did. We didn’t really know what to do once in the bar. We sneaked around for a few seconds, exploring. We didn’t even think to try looking into the cash register. A couple of us sat at the bar and asked the bartender for a drink. We didn’t take anything, ‘that’ night. I guess you could say that this was just a reconnaissance mission for all we really did was to confirm we had access. From here though, it got much more slippery and dangerous.
The Alley plan was supposed to be that perhaps we’d sneak back again one night, just a few of us, but someone, (ahem, not mentioning any names), let it slip to a few other boys at school what we had in our possession. Having a key to adult elixir was a secret that was just too big to keep. So now, there were five of us – Me, Joe, Tommy, Kevin (from this story) and another kid named Andy.
Once again, we plotted another sleep out. Once again, we had a simple plan. The plan was to slip in, grab some booze and slip out. The plan did NOT include dropping and breaking one of the bottles outside – that was a last minute plan modification and if we weren’t in a hurry to get the hell out of there before, we sure as hell were after that bottle hit the ground. We looked like the Keystone Cops meets the Five Stooges, running around in circles, bumping into each other.
I don’t know how many bottles we scooped up that night but I seem to remember each of us had one bottle and maybe one or two of us had two bottles, (until jelly fingers lost one of his). We hid most of the bottles in a garbage bag at Wilson Woods and took a couple of them back to the Alley where we hid in Withrow’s garage. Nothing was really in Withrow’s garage and we thought they’d be safe there. A couple of nights later, a number of us ‘imbibed’. It was the first time for drinking alcohol for all of us. How and where we had obtained the booze, we villains kept secret from the others but many of us got our first taste of getting woozy from alcohol that night.
You might be wondering why one of the parents didn’t peek out their back windows, see us all acting goofy in the alley and then come outside to find out why the heck we were acting like idiots. Back in the day, the adults ignored us if we were all outside and besides – acting like idiots was our natural state so to the parents, everything was “normal”. Nothing really serious happened, I seem to recall one of us getting so sick that he vomited. (It might have something to do with yet another boy, named Kent, who had come equipped with cigars). We all stayed outside all day until the booze wore off. That night became another famous ‘Alley escapade’ we would talk and laugh about for years.
I kept the key, I’m not sure why but I did…..(there goes that value of an option thing again).
About a week or so later, Joe’s older brother Mike told me and Joe that a policeman had come by their house, asking about me. He had said that the police had a report of missing alcohol from the bar owner and that they suspected the paperboy so they came to the house to ask questions since Joe was my best friend at the time. We shared the story with Tommy then who got to join in with the fun of being afraid of being sent to kid prison. We were all a little scared to death but also, we didn’t really believe the story. Why hadn’t the police come to my house, why Joe’s. Mike had a response for that – he said the police knew I was a good student and had no previous trouble so they didn’t want to get me into trouble with my parents. Mike’s advice was to throw that key away.
There was a great part of us, (of me and Joe), that just thought Mike was looking out for his brother and had made that story up. It didn’t matter though. We talked about it a lot the next day or two. It scared us enough and besides, what were we going to do with the key anyway, keep stealing alcohol when none of us were really old enough to drink? Now with practically all of the Wilson Jr High School males in on our little escapade, it would just be a matter of time before the police came and hauled us all away. I could see it – they’d all get together and say that I conspired and was the mastermind and ringleader. They’d cut a deal and get off, leaving me holding the bag (of empty alcohol bottles and cigar ashes).
So I told Joe I was going to get rid of the key. One morning at the beginning of my morning route, instead of heading down Prytania, I headed up the street, past Monique’s house towards the wooded area that bordered C St and Champion Papers. I made a quick circle on my bike to make sure I wasn’t being watched, (as if the police was trailing a 14 year old paperboy), and I threw the key as hard as I could into a deep, discrete area of the woods. I rode off then and finished my route feeling a huge burden lifted from my shoulders.
So ended any further hi-jinx or any chance of getting ourselves into real trouble. Oh, and every person out there over the age of 40 reading this knows that we would have been much more afraid of our parents than the authorities. The authorities could only lock us up forever – our parents would kill us!
I always wondered if the owner knew of the missing bottles or if he really did report them. When I’d come by to deliver or collect for delivery, he never said anything or even gave me a quizzical look. I didn’t have that route very long but the following year when I had my larger Hamilton Journal route, I was making a little more money. I guess I felt guilty because one day after my Journal route, I snuck three five dollar bills underneath his rear porch door. I didn’t know if that covered the alcohol we kids stole that day, but it was all I felt I could afford and somehow it made me feel a little better about what we had done that night. Just because we all were guilty, it would not have occurred had I not come back with news of the key that one fateful morning.
As far as I know, none of us had ever stolen anything in our lives and I would guess none had ever stolen anything afterwards, (well ok, except for the occasional pen or pencil from the office). All of us ended up attending colleges, getting degrees, raising families and holding down decent jobs.
Getting ourselves into trouble is part of growing up for the majority of us. If we recognize what we did was wrong and feel remorse, then perhaps we learn from it. Those who do not feel remorse end up repeating their crimes. I don’t write this off as one of our innocent pranks – what we did was wrong.
My blog is my confessional so I guess that makes you, the readers, my priests and priestesses.