Can you picture a 14 year old boy getting stopped by the police, for suspicious behavior? What might he have been doing?
The boy had been riding his bike one-handed down a main road, with a large canvas sack perched on his shoulder. This was an ordinary routine for the boy, and so he was quite surprised when a cruiser pulled him over with its lights flashing.
The interruption - inconvenient - became amusing when the boy dumped out the contents of the sack, at the insistence of the officer. This revealed nothing more than piles of soiled socks, T-shirts, underpants, and the like.
"I told you it was just my laundry," the boy was telling the now bewildered cop.
The boy himself found nothing unusual in carrying his sack of laundry down to the local laundromat, for he was used to being a bit out of step with other boys his age, and I know this because the boy was myself. My mother was who knows where at the time, possibly off on one of her weekend jaunts with her acting troupe or perhaps just working late at her hat check job in the local night club.
I got used to not seeing my mom around, a lot of the time. Starting back when I was about twelve, I can remember my brother and I finding a note and some money on the kitchen table, and taking our bikes down to the food store and coming back with TV dinners and ice cream pops. It was all just routine to us.
It could lead to problems though; I once lost a friend due to my unusual circumstances, through a frustrating misunderstanding. I had met another student when I was a freshman in high school, and we hung around that day. We had a lot to talk about: music, guitars, visions of grandeur. He asked me for my phone number so we could get together after school. When I informed him sheepishly that we didn't have a phone, he found it so unbelievable that, in short, he didn't believe me. We had just met; he had no idea that my mother had a tendency to run up a large phone bill, and then be unable to pay, so that our phone service would be shut off. This happened periodically, and we were sometimes without the phone for extended periods of time.
I tried to explain it but he thought I was trying to trick him or fool him; his feelings were hurt and he was suspicious of me from then on. We drifted apart and never became friends. The thought still rankles me.
Probably most boys feel at some time or other that they have no one that they can tell their problems to. In my case, I developed some unusual leisure time activities, such as making large firecrackers, and pipe bombs. I used to set off explosions in a vacant lot near my house late at night, just to hide in the woods and watch all the lights in the houses go on, up and down the street. I just wanted people to know I was there, even if they didn't know who I was. It sounds kind of stupid to say it now, but I meant no harm.
Now, picture a boy getting stopped by the police, carrying, not a bag of laundry this time, but a thick chunk of iron pipe with a long section of red fuse sticking out the end. This time I was 15 years old, walking down the street with my friend Dave, in about the same place where the laundry incident happened. There was a large vacant gravel pit behind the the shopping center where I did my laundry, and that's where we were heading, Dave and I. We had not a care in the world, just joy of our newest pipe bomb and anticipation of the huge boom it was going to make when we got it out to the gravel pit.
Now, the cops in my town at that time during the early 60's were actually pretty suspicious. It was a time of national unrest and local crime, and I was not unused to being stopped and questioned. Sometimes it just happened when I was riding my bike late at night. Sometimes it was just because I looked like a hippie and they wanted to find drugs. But I never took it personally, and I never got busted for anything.
David, on the other hand, had a real grudge against the cops. For instance, one time we stopped to investigate a local disturbance where a man was raving and yelling, and it turns out he had been sniffing glue and was acting threatening. Dave and I were watching from some way off, having stopped our bikes by the road, and we got approached by two cops. Of all weird things, they searched Dave and confiscated his pocketknife, and he ended up never getting it back. They hardly looked at me. Stuff like that was always happening to Dave, and he was mad at all cops.
Me, I didn't mind 'em. Even when I was carrying a large explosive device, it never occurred to me to worry.
On this occasion, Dave said, "Len, could you please stick that thing up your sleeve? What'll you say about it if the cops stop us this time? 'Oh, nothing, officer. Just an ol' bomb.' "
Well, Dave was right, there. It couldn't hurt anything to stick it up the sleeve of my coat, so I did, and we had no trouble. We didn't get stopped at all, and we had a lovely time setting off the bomb, back in the gravel pit. It shook the ground with a profound thumping boom, accompanied by a plaintive whining hum of shards of iron spinning away into the distance. I thought, "I bet they heard that one!"
Unusual experience, perhaps, in the life of a young boy, but all just routine to me.
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