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I was always told to avoid trouble.
I had a ne'er-do-well father, a small time criminal to be honest, and a mother who tried to eke out whatever joy could be found in her hard and cynical life. Nice people really.
Dad had a love for larceny, but he nevertheless taught me many valuable life lessons. "Never give more information than asked for."
"Don't talk too much about yourself and if you do ...lie."
"No need to give a cop your real address".
And, he could be invisible when he wanted. He taught me to be invisible too. A certain slouch in the shoulder, timing your walk, controlling your breath, your pace, your vibration to the surrounding din or just to one other person so perfectly that you could walk in their slipstream unnoticed, unseen.
He could, and did, crash any party, or sidle up to a politician or celebrity for a photo op (had the pictures to prove it). An Andy Warhol notebook and JFK's tie pin were among the many things small and large he had pilfered or cajoled from the unwitting.
Yes, I learned a lot from him.
But the most important lesson I ever learned came from my stoic mother.
On my 16th birthday I came home from school to hear that dad was in jail. I was shocked and worried of course, but most of all, incredulous. I screamed and railed. How could this be!?
My mom, ever the pragmatist, was perfectly cool and steady. Her serene voice gave her words subtle emphasis: “Remember this son", she said, “sometimes in life, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, Trouble is going to find you.”
And of course, it did.
Trouble first found me on the second day of summer vacation. I had just got the job and was cracking a celebratory frosty in Rico’s backyard. It was unseasonably warm that day so Rico’s kids were outside running wild, climbing trees and hitting each other with sticks.
A devoted dad only having custody on weekends, Rico tried to assuage his guilt by feeding them sugary treats in a near constant stream. He loved those kids more than his gambling addiction, so he never disciplined them farther than denying the occasional dessert. They ran amok that day, distracting us so much that we didn’t even notice as his shadow cast over us.
There stood Marvin. His nonchalant swagger and disarming smile completely betrayed the brutal man I came to know him to be. To this day I can’t think of him without marveling at how severely I had misread him. But I’ll give him this - he was everything our parents ever warned us about.
Marvin had one of those ageless looks. Tender face, dog like really, loveable dog like but there the friendly mutt metaphor fell apart. Underneath it all, Marvin was a scowler, looking for all the world like nothing would ever go his way. And in point of fact, lots of people headed for the hills whenever Marvin put in an appearance.
I was ready to hightail it out of there when Rico interrupted my flight-never-fight mood and said, “Marv, buddy, have a brewski and give your haunches a rest.”
Marvin lumbered over to the ensemble of tinny lawn chairs and plopped himself down in the one next to me. Rico tossed him a cold one and he ripped it open. He pressed the can to his pink lips and chugalugged half the can. “Needed that,” he burped, looked at me like a man who’d just found an all you can eat buffet, and said, “Heard about your old man. That’s the pits.”
It was the pits but the last thing I wanted the world to know was that I was probably an object of pity. I wasn’t. Marvin to be sure was not a purveyor of pity. He had other anti-social charms. My father had mentioned a few weeks before he ended up in jail. If the old man was a petty thief, one of the reasons was because Marvin was a fence. And a junk dealer.
There was very little I could say to such an obvious platitude; Marvin only said it because he’d lost a regular source of pelf. So I shrugged, as if to ward off the potential pity from the others, while at the same time to show Marvin that I wasn’t about to fill my father’s shoes. I turned my back on him and made my way toward the kitchen to pick up something to occupy my hands.
After finishing off the second beer, I made a beeline for the scotch I knew Rico had next to the fridge. The ice tray was nearly empty, but I took the last two and dropped them in the cleanest tumbler I could find, splashing them with the scotch. Rico came up from behind me as I was about to take the first sip of what I hoped would be many more.
“Hey man, why don’t you come talk to Marv? He’s got a pretty good caper lined up. We both think you’d be perfect.”
“Jesus, Rico. I’m not my father. You know that. Marvin should know that already. Besides, how do you know it wasn’t Marvin who got my dad arrested?”
“C’mon man, you know better than that. Marv’s solid. No way he’d turn in your pops. Why would he want to lose a steady stream?”
I knew enough to know that just because you were in on some scam didn’t mean you wouldn’t turn on your partner if the cops were holding something over your head. Especially someone like Marvin, the scowler. He must have done so many illegal and nearly illegal things over the years that the cops had plenty to scare him with. More importantly, though, I didn’t need to get mixed up in someone else’s caper right now. I was working on my own. But the shitty thing was, when I finally agreed to hear him out, Marvin’s target was the same as mine.
Fuck, I thought, it really would be better to have someone else with me.
So here I was stuck in a predicament that I really could have used good old Dad’s guidance . Sadly and somewhat thankfully I wasn’t in that position. I had to decide on my own if the target collectively chosen was worth teaming up with Marvin , who most certainly was going to plan on stabbing me in the back , literally , figuratively or both.
I pulled every ounce of gumption I had and decided to lean into the vulnerability of sitting down with the darling Marv and come up with a plan. Now I just didn’t fall off the turnip truck , I knew that while I showed my vulnerability, it was in fact a ruse. I was planning and scheming an entirely different plan of attack. Outwardly I would make Marvin think I needed him , that I was indebted to his knowledge. Ma always said you get more flies with honey , oh I was going to catch a fly alright and get everything I wanted in the end.
Marvin may have everyone else fooled. But I knew you can’t shine shit.
I suppose that it really shouldn't have surprised me that Marv and I had the same mark in mind. Cooperstown was a small town in those days. And in a small town there's just one reliable source of big money, and that's booze.
Now I needed cash fast for my dad. I knew I couldn't buy his way out of jail, but I'd been approached and told that with a significant cash infusion I could buy him "easy time". Protection, in a word. But if I couldn't come up with the funds, and come up with them quick, he was going to do hard time indeed. Clearly, although I'd taken the first job I could find, a legitimate source of income was going to be far too slow.
Marvin on the other hand, wanted to pull this off for other reasons. Sure, it was about the dough. But it was more about his reputation. He was a fence, but he was small time. If he could pull this off then he'd be a one man black market - the only game in town. Marv may have been a sleazebag, but he was an ambitious sleazebag.
So as it developed, Marvin thought that he'd found a weak point. He'd been watching the comings and goings at the off license in town, and he'd realized that there was a security gap - the delivery truck was unattended for a minute after it arrived while the driver went into the store to announce his arrival. Marvin reckoned on exploiting this weakness. Since he wasn't much of a high level thinker, he was going to use brute force.
Now me, I'd noticed the same gap. But my plan was a little more, shall we say, elegant. Because I knew that the real weakness wasn't the actual minute or so where the booze wasn't being watched. The weakness was what it always is. It was the human element.
Humans being servile and simple creatures that more often than not will take orders from any authority figure, my plan involved a little acting and much more fun.
Unlike humans our family of hungry ghosts had all died together one day at the mall, in a tragic escalator accident that quickly became one the most viewed viral videos of the year. Instead of mindlessly accumulating money to buy countless consumer goods as we did in our non-ethereal lives, we woke up hungry ghosts obsessed with nothing other than thievery.
As the the Tao Te Ching says:
So the unwanting soul
sees what's hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.
Humans being servile and simple creatures that mo one day at the mall in a tragic escalator accident that quickly became one the most viewed viral videos of the year. Instead of mindlessly accumulating money to buy countless consumer goods as we did in our non-ethereal lives we woke up hungry ghosts obsessed with nothing other thievery. As the the Tao Te Ching says:
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.
Humans being servile and simple creatures that more often then not will take orders from any authority figure, my plan involved a little acting and much more
Unlike humans our family of hungry ghosts had all died together one day at the mall in a tragic escalator accident that quickly became one the most viewed viral videos of the year. Instead of mindlessly accumulating money to buy countless consumer goods as we did in our non-ethereal lives we woke up hungry ghosts obsessed with nothing other thievery. As the the Tao Te Ching says: