Monday, August 12, 2013

No. 297 – Standin’ in the Rain

Performer: Electric Light Orchestra
Songwriter: Jeff Lynne
Original Release: Out of the Blue
Year: 1977
Definitive Version: None, although the one from Live at Wembley ’78 is pretty cool, and, no, it’s not the same one as the studio version despite claims to the contrary that ELO only mined their music.

My career as a shoplifter ended in 1976, as I mentioned, but my flirtation with juvenile deliquency just was getting started, as it turned out. This is my confession.

After my family moved to the Condo in 1977, Mom started hanging out with new friends in the complex behind ours. The gate to our back porch abutted the driveway to the next complex, so there was easy access between the two. No fences closed one off from another, although you had to go around the block if you wanted to drive over there.

One of Mom’s newfound friends had two boys—Scott and Bill. Scott was one year older than I was, but Bill, who was closer to Jin’s age, became a better friend when Scott started hanging out with an even rougher (read: smoker/drug-user) crowd.

From them, I learned how to make bottle rockets, which we’d shoot off around the corner behind the unattached garage on their side of the complex, to much consternation. That was merely a nuisance issue; another thing I learned from them was criminal.

The statue of limitations long has run out on my crimes, but make no mistake—they were criminal. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate this, although I wasn’t exactly under any pretenses about what I was doing.

Scott had a collection of hood ornaments, back when those were all the rage on cars. Of course, they had been acquired through nefarious means, but I thought they were extremely cool. One night, Scott showed me and Bill how he collected them.

We climbed over the fence to the larger Carriage Hill apartment complex late at night and staked out a carport that seemed to be far enough away from an apartment building where we could work. After finding a suitable car, let us say a Buick Regal, one of us would act as a lookout while the other pulled out the hood ornament far enough so the wire holding it into place could be snipped a pair of pliers. It was so easy I was hooked instantly.

So Bill and I soon became vandals and thieves in our own right, and before long, we brought Marty into our crew. We would go out and collect ornaments every once in a while. We knew what we were doing was wrong, but we did it anyway. Honestly, I gave it no real thought.

I got to be pretty good at making a quick and precise snip—the faster the better. My collection quickly grew to more than a dozen ornaments, all hidden in different places in my bedroom, so Mom wouldn’t find my illegally gotten booty or realize the scope of my operation.

I even got a Mercedes-Benz one night. This was notable, because it had a thick cable that required several excruciatingly long minutes and a few attempts before I could cut through the wire and claim my prize. As we were leaving, a car came down the street with its headlights shining us. OH CRAP!!

We bolted for the fence next to the carport. Luckily, this particular incident took place in the winter of 1978, when Columbus was buried with a huge snowstorm. The snow was piled up high enough that we cleared it with no trouble and flopped over on the other side, gasping. We looked through the wooden fence and saw the car pull into the carport next to the newly cropped Benz. OH CRAP!!

We sprinted as fast as we could through the snow to the end of the fence, turning around the corner and waiting—everyone’s heart audible to the other. After a while, after hearing nothing more, we headed home.

That should have ended my career as a hood-ornament-jacker, but it didn’t. In fact, I went out solo one night after that incident to take a prized Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which had a sweet knight’s helmet on it. I got away clean, but I was unnerved by seeing curtains moving in a nearby building, as though someone were watching me.

And then, just like that, I stopped doing it. Unlike my career as a shoplifter, my career as a vandal ended without incident. I say that as a matter of fact, not as a matter of pride. Since that time, my lawbreaking has consisted entirely of speeding on the highway—a criminal activity I’m not likely to stop anytime soon.

Interestingly, when I was clearing out Mom’s condominium after she died a few years ago, I found only one hood ornament remaining from my not-so-halcyon days of youth—that of a Pontiac Grand Prix. The rest had disappeared as mysteriously as they had from their respective vehicles decades before.

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