This episode is about thieves and rogues I have known and I have known a few, in Canada and in the United States.
Back in my hometown of Chatham our house had been built on the Veterans Land Act subdivision called Sprucedale. My dad was a veteran of both WWI and WWII. In 1950 the Veterans Land Act began to provide loans to veterans who wished to construct their own homes. This financial break included architect's plans for several house designs. We bought a corner lot and local contractors erected the building. Now, the fellow who did the foundation fudged on materials and used much too much sand. Some 30 years later my mother, in her retirement years, found herself living over crumbling foundations. The house had to be lifted up, demolition done underneath and a new foundation put in at a fairly steep price.
Dust from the foundation work covered everything with a gritty surface layer. My mother had a wonderful wool collection because she was a weaver. She had wool in bins upstairs. I guess she thought they would be okay because it was high up in the attic portion of the building but the dust got into everything and it ruined much of her wool which was a great shame.
There was a funeral parlour director in Chatham who, cheerfully, took prepaid funeral advances from little old ladies and skipped town when he had padded his bankroll sufficiently. He had a morning program on AM radio where he read saccharine poetry over sonorous organ music. I think it was called 'The Comfort Hour'. Cold comfort when they discovered he had run off with their widow's mite.
My husband moved up to the to a Cree Indian Reservation, north of High Prairie, Alberta to get work, teaching. This was 200 miles north of Edmonton in muskeg country. He got some work with local contractors, while he was waiting for the school year to start. For what would have been a good wage, if they'd paid him which they didn't. They disappeared into the bush just as the job was finished. He woke up one morning and they were gone.
In New York City, I lived for thirteen years on the Lower East Side in a tenement building on 2nd Street between Avenues A and B. We kept a starter's pistol to scare off thieves because heroin use was endemic. No bullets, just noise. A junkie, in order to support his habit, has to steal. One night we heard a fuss on the fire escape and found there was someone up there trying to break into the apartment above us. We knew the people who lived there and they were heavy set. This was a skinny guy. My better half, Kelly, got the starter's pistol and we went around to the back yard area where we could look up on the fire escape.
We said, “Stop, thief! This is the police.” which he wouldn't know because there was no light on us down below. He started scrabbling around . Kelly pulled out the starter's pistol and fired it. This made an awful bang and a flash, which is all a starter's pistol can do. It went Bang, Bang, Bang I think Kelly thought he was in a cowboy movie or something.
The thief cried, “Ay, Mamita! Dios bueno!" and disappeared upward into the night. No doubt he went up to the rooftop and jumped across to another building. They do that. Junkies have more lives that a cat.
More seriously, a lot more seriously – my daughter went to P.S. 63 in Lower Manhattan. The school neigbourhood was poor There were a lot of kids who had too little and a few kids who had a lot. My daughter brought her Barbie doll to Show and Tell. Her Barbie had fancy clothes which we had got at a discount, marked down, at a local store. She showed all this and one little girl in the class just went nuts in her mind, I think. She'd seen something on television in one of those cops and robbers series where they show violent techniques. The little girl really wanted those Barbie doll clothes and the Barbie, and the clothes more than anything in the world. Somehow, you knew that at home she had next to nothing and she really wanted that Barbie! Oh, God!
She went home in her lunch hour and she made up a concoction or red pepper and chili for a powder that she could throw. It was mostly powdered spices rather than liquid stuff. She put all this in a little bag and she brought it to school with malicious intent but Oh, those Barbie clothes!
When my daughter was coming home from school, carrying the bag with her Show and Tell in it this child ran up to her with a fist full of this stuff, these ground peppers, and flung it right into my daughter's eyes. She grabbed the sack with the Barbie and the Barbie clothes in it and took of like a bat out of hell.
My daughter, Cathy, couldn't see. The pain must have been pretty bad. She managed to get home. I think a passerby must have helped her. Our apartment was only about three blocks from the school. She appeared at the door with her eyes just streaming and in pain.
She kept crying, “I can't see! I can't see!”
We got the boracic acid and added lots of water and washed out her eyes as best we could until we saw that she was going to have some vision back. She was o.k., sort of. The next day after we'd got medical treatment and found everything was going to be fine, thanks God! I went to the school and told them about the kid who threw the pepper dust in my daughter's eyes. The culprit was found and, for Christ's sake, they found that darned Barbie and the Barbie clothes and they brought those back to us.
Thankfully, my daughter was alright but that poor kid! Heck of a way to find out that crime doesn't pay.
© Sonia Brock 2006