December 07, 2013

Burger Prank Foiled

 The preliminary version (pretty much as told, with some things I forgot) at last night's edition of "The Mouth" at the Mark Twain House.  Thanks to Chion Wolf and Jacques Lamarre for hosting. The theme of last night's story-telling was "I Fought the Law: Encounters with law Enforcement".

An ironic twist - as I sat down, the story-teller sitting next to me, leaned over and whispered "That would not happen to be Marian High School, would it?" - turns out he grew up in Framingham and graduated from North High School in 1978. Small world!

In February of 1979, the band A Taste of Honey won the Best New artist Grammy Award on the strength of their hit “Boogie Oogie Oogie”.

In March of that year, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant melted down. In April, my father passed away after many years of struggling with cardio-vascular disease.

In June, I graduated from high school, and in August of that year – I was arrested.

But it all started with the Grammy Awards. “A Taste of Honey” had won the Best New Artist award that year, grabbing it away from our beloved favorites “The Cars”.   My friend Jim, the bass player of our high school basement rock band, with aspirations of making radical art, concocted a bit of social and cultural protest for this offense. We’d spray paint a Rolling Stones tongue, along with the tag “CARS REVENGE” on the billboard of radio station KISS 108, the local disco station whose advertising featured a pair of lips. The billboard he had identified was up three stories, on a factory alongside, and clearly visible from, the Massachusetts Turnpike.

So one night, a hand-picked group of friends drove in to Boston. We were able to get into the factory parking lot easily enough, and the building was designed in such a way that the three stories could be climbed one floor at a time. We each had been assigned our jobs – Jim did the painting, football lineman Kevin hoisted Jim on his shoulders, Mike (with his 70’s era Dodge Charger that you could sit five across) drove, one of the local track stars climbed the building and threw down a rope for the others. I think my job was to be nervous about it all and keep an eye out for the cops.

A lot could have gone wrong (not the least of which was Jim or Kevin falling off the sign) but nothing did – and we succeeded that night in our mission. No cops.

That evening gave birth to “The Maneuvers” – our code word for going out at night with an eye to making some sort of mild vandalism or mischief. I don’t remember all of the things we did that year – some were I am sure directed at or designed to impress classmates or fast food coworkers - although I do remember breaking into the Framingham State College gymnasium, and stealing a large plywood hand painted sign that said “The Pit” - the nickname for their student section – in order to place it atop the covered patio of the smoking area of my catholic high school, known somewhat less officially as “The Pit”. 

Now, that summer, we had graduated from high school and were heading out for college, and decided to enjoy one more evening of mischief. The goal that night was street signs – so we set out in Jim’s family ranch wagon, a cooler full of beer in the “hole” in the way back. We grabbed a lot of signs that night – we got our names, the names of friends. We had it down to a science – a rubber mallet, one of us climbed up on another’s back and gave the sign a couple of whacks – and it was off. We stowed the signs in the “way back” hole, and continued on.

Jim had a bigger catch in mind that night – we were going to grab a “Now Entering Framingham” sign. And we did indeed – this time with the aid of a ratchet set (there were a lot of mounting bolts) and a bit more time. We put that in the back of the wagon and set off back for Jim’s house. En route, we passed an “A frame” sign outside of a local burger joint, and one of us (possibly me, although it might have been any of us) suggested we swipe that sign and put it in front of the local McDonald’s, where a couple of us worked that year.

So after dropping the big sign off (but still with the street signs and beer in the hole), we headed back for the burger sign. Should be a piece of cake, park, swipe, drive away.

Unbeknownst to us, the Framingham Police were staking out the bank nearby. And, as one of the cops later reported, they noticed us and said “what the BLEEP are those kids up to?” Within seconds, we were busted.

Now, we were all “good kids” from the local catholic high school, and we were scared to death – we answered the cops questions, we were polite and suitably cowed. Well, except for Jim, who started to get mouthy with the cops. When the cops asked for help pulling the sign out of the car, Jim resisted “get it out yourself”, but I hissed “get over there” thinking about the storage hole full of purloined street signs, and the cooler full of beer, that I did *not* want the cops finding. As I remember it, the cooler was an inch taller than the storage home, and the door did not close fully. Even though I was not driving and it was not my car, I was also the only 18 year old (the legal drinking age back then) in a car full of 17 year olds, and all I could think of was 5 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor charge.

But, the cops never checked the car, we put the sign back, and they let us park Jim’s car in the restaurant lot while they took us to the station.

Here’s what I remember from the arrest:

  1.  I was wearing a red I SURVIVED THREE MILE ISLAND tee shirt. The nuclear accident had happened that March; my father had died that April. So when my family went down to Lancaster PA to bury Dad, I somehow managed to pick up a tee shirt. Somewhere in the bowels of the Framingham PD is a booking photo of me with this dumb shirt.
  2. The cop taking my fingerprints was making small talk, and when he found out I was going to Worcester Polytechnic Institute that fall, was all excited because his brother went there, and I really ought to look him up if I need anything. Um, how about if you just let me go right now?
  3. Jim seemed to enjoy the experience, swinging on the bars in his cell, and castigating the cops for taking his shoelaces and belt “I’m gonna hang myself over a sign? Come on!?”

Amazingly, we did not have to call out parents - we called a friend who had gotten paid that day and had enough cash to bail us out; we had to go to court the next day. I remember standing at my mom’s bedside that next morning “Mom….I need to talk to you about something”. Here she is, a widow less than four months, and already her kids are starting the long slide towards juvenile delinquency, starting with her oldest.

And to our great fortune, one of our party that night (who I’ll call J. Worthington Smythe III, not his real name which was a hell of a lot more ostentatious) was destined for Holy Cross, ROTC, law school, the bar and with any luck a career in politics, and had a father who had taken the same route. An arrest record on J. Worthington’s permanent file would NOT do – so J. Worthington II got the charges dropped to a misdemeanor, gtot the case nolo’d and had the records sealed – we had to pay a fine but no conviction record. Although to be honest, I’ve told some version of the story in job interviews. It’s the sort of “show me you have character” story that works in the engineering field.
And that weekend, in small, page 16 news tidbit about 2 column inches long, we made the paper: BURGER PRANK FOILED, with all of our names (and our college destinations!)  Jim cut it out, and taped it up in his bedroom. I would not be surprised if he still has it…

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