Mild mannered Max – a juvenile delinquent? Not totally surprising. He committed a serious crime when we lived at Martini Cove. A plea bargain got him off but that story is revealed in my book PINOCCHIO ISLAND.
We sat in lounge chairs by the pool.
“Did you make America’s Most Wanted?” I asked.
When I came to the the toy section, I saw IT! – the ultimate toy, the most wondrous, creative, fun, game ever invented – Mr. Potato Head.
“Missed that photo shoot,” he said, sipping a tall glass of ginger tea with mint. “I was 8 and roaming the aisles of Woolworth’s Five and Dime. I had already spent my pocket money on a Snickers bar, a Mars bar and a bag of roasted peanuts. Do you remember when Woolworth’s first floor smelled like roasted peanuts?”
“I had already inspected the aisles of plastic flowers, dishware, enamel saucepans and fancy glassware.”
I chuckled. “Even then you were thinking like a caterer!”
With a jolt of realization, he said, “I suppose so, but when I came to the toy section, I saw IT! – the ultimate toy, the most wondrous, creative, fun, game ever invented – Mr. Potato Head.”
“Of course! It had something to do with decorating food.”
“You’re right. That was the first time I wanted to decorate vegetables.”
“So, what did you do?”
“I really, really wanted Mr. Potato Head but the only way to own it was to steal it. I hoped God had more important things to do that day than spy on me. Casually I glanced around, trying not to look guilty. I sidled over to the counter, swiped the box and jammed it under my jacket. If I could make it to the front door and out to the street, I was home free.
“At the street exit, I tensed up. I imagined burglar alarms clanging, six squad cars with flashing lights screeching to a stop in a semi circle, blocking my escape, a burly officer pointing at me shouting, ‘Drop to the ground! Take off your mittens and show your hands!’
“I saw myself in a line-up at the police station standing in front of a one way mirror with the store manager on the other side pointing a finger at me. ‘That’s him – the Mr. Potato Head thief!’
“None of this happened. I made it to the bus for home and would cross the state line from Missouri to Illinois with Mr. Potato Head under my jacket. I was sure Illinois didn’t have extradition. When I got off the bus on my street, I knew I was safe.
“I pulled it off, heady and empowered with the knowledge that I was the perfect criminal!
“My mind was racing. I was an expert. I could start a mob– the Mr. Potato Head Gang! We could steal hundreds of Mr. Potato Heads from Woolworth’s then sell them illegally in school playgrounds! The profits would be enormous! The gang would think big – steal Howdy Doody puppets! I could buy all the candy I wanted! I could buy a triple chocolate dipped Dairy Queen cone every day! Wow!
“Stopping on the sidewalk in front of my house, I said to myself – wait a minute. What if I were tracked down years later? What was I doing to those who loved me? I couldn’t tell my mother. She’d be an accessory doing time in the cell next to me. The guilt was too great. I couldn’t go through with it.
I had a solution. No Mr. Potato Head, no crime.
“I ran to the vacant lot nearby and emptied the Mr. Potato Head box and stomped on the plastic parts – noses, ears, eyes, lips – smashed to smithereens. My life of crime was over. Garnishing would become my passion and my apology to Mr. Potato Head.
“My dear Max, only you would apologize to a potato. Right now, I’m going to say ‘I’m sorry!” to a martini. Want one?”
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