It was simple.
Harold and Tom would walk into the convenience store, saunter to the back, to the coolers—where the beer was. Meanwhile, Dave, Brad and I would hang around the area by the cash register and, in no particular order, carry out these simple directives:
- Look at the car magazines
- Loudly weigh our beef jerky options
- Hover menacingly over the loose candy
Distraction and misdirection was the name of the game. This was going to be a simple operation—in and out. That was the plan.
Harold and Tom went in. After a few minutes, Dave, Brad and I followed. They were big guys, upperclassmen—Dave and Brad were football players—older than me in more ways than years. They moved into their positions like seasoned Broadway actors hitting their marks on a stage. I followed their lead.
“The new Charger is worth shit,” Dave said, manhandling a copy of Hot Rod magazine off the rack, knocking several other magazines to the floor. The cover featured a picture of Dodge’s new model. “Yeah, fuck that Mopar crap,” answered Brad.
“Watch your language, boys,” came the voice from a middle aged, grey-haired and potbellied man behind the counter. His hair was combed back and parted in a way that made me recall a Vitalis commercial. “And you wreck those magazines, you gotta pay for ‘em.”
“Sorry, sir,” Dave said obsequiously before shooting me a glance—I knew what to do. He picked up the magazines and put them gingerly back in the rack as I got into position. I was the decoy.
You see, Dave and Brad made a lot of noise at the magazine rack, but I was meant to hang around the loose items like candy bars and beef jerky and look suspicious, to draw the attention of the clerk.
Which I did. With ease.
Look, my buddies all looked like they came out of a casting call for some All-American coming of age movie from the early 1960s—short hair, square-jaws perfectly marred by the requisite patriotic and strategically placed god-fearing pimple. Dave even wore a varsity jacket. Me? I looked like I played guitar for The Faces. My hair was about shoulder length, I wore a tatty jean jacket, and I had the beginnings of a natural resting scowl that would, sadly, define my face for the rest of my adult life. Look, it’s simple: in 1979 I was a dead ringer for someone who would rob you.
I grabbed a couple of Snickers, some Almond Joys, and a Reggie! bar and went to the register. The clerk peered at me with suspicion—right to plan. Harold and Tom where, at this very moment, behind me, walking out the door, with large 40 ounce bottles of beers hidden in their coats.
I paid for the candy and, partly to be annoying, threw in a copy of Time magazine. “I love that Maggie, man. She’s hot stuff!” referring to that week’s cover featuring the dour British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. “It’s who Rod Stewart was talking about in Maggie May—the older woman he has an affair with? You know, The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age? That’s Maggie—Margaret Thatcher.” The clerk just handed me back my change, his expression still as a stone. I could feel his contemptuous gaze follow me out the door.
“Jeezuz, buy enough candy?” asked Dave as I got into the car, Van Halen blasting through the Craig car stereo system, its 6 inch speakers being pushed to their limits. “And what’s with the fucking magazine?” yelled Brad. “Time? ‘Least you could’ve done is get a Hustler or, at least, a Playboy.”
“I want to read about Thatcher,” I said, and I did. “Her election is bad news, man. She’s going to run the UK into the ground.”
“Fucking Henry Kissinger over here,” quipped Tom as he put his car, a souped up 1973 Pontiac, Le Mans into gear. “Who knew Hahn was such a Brainiac?” He pulled out onto the road and gunned it—the jolt pushing us all into the upholstery. “Hey, secretary of state, hand me one of those Almond Joys.”
With the refrains of Jamie’s Cryin’ blasting out our eardrums, we drove off into the night and towards oblivion…
To Be Continued…