Naiveté can be benign, and it can be dangerous; bundled with mob mentality, it can be deadly. But how would I have known that. I’d never have considered myself naive.
It was supposed to be simple, and
that was most of the reason I’d gone along on the adventure. The girl
had recently escaped from a juvenile detention center, found her way to
our clubhouse and begged us to drive her 200 miles north so she could
collect her clothing and personals. Of course that would have gotten her
nowhere if she hadn’t sweetened the pot. Her foster family was in Vegas
on vacation she’d said, and so we could take whatever we pleased as
booty, including a large gun collection.
Had this been a few
decades later I might see the purpose in our stealing guns; but we still
lived in an age where punks used fists to make their points. Granted
there was an occasional tire iron thrown in, but rarely did anyone fell a
rival with a piece of lead smaller than a window bar. I suppose I was
titillated with the concept of participating in “big time crime”, even
though it was presumed to be effortless and nearly devoid of risk to
boot. Yet as always when staring serious sin in the face, I felt a
certain amount of dread; the dread that comes from knowing you’re about
to cross a line from which there may be no return.
came in right at the start of the story. I’d imagined the event to be a
calm and relatively clean affair, in spite of the obvious. The guys I
was grouped with were not bad people per se, just a band of
misunderstood, unloved youth like damn near any other collection of
similar creatures. Sure, they (we) had a tendency to think of thuggish
types of entertainment, as opposed to let’s say, playing strip scrabble.
But none of them to my knowledge had actually drawn blood or broken
bones. We were too young for all that really. We were more delinquents
than bikers, though we certainly saw ourselves as the latter. Still,
while I might have envisioned a little spray paint art, I never would
have guessed the actual outcome.
Once there, I was lost in the
shadiness of it all, and fascinated by the fact that I was actually
there, in a broken into house, as a common burglar, in spite of the
invitation given by a “member” of the family. I was less a bad guy even
than my friends. Drugs were my thing, self immolation, suicide risk,
walking on the edge of every cliff I could scramble atop. I was not into
violence, though I’d given that vibe since I’d been a youngster and
made a target for others’ abuse. Neither was I into vandalism, or petty
theft or anything else that required me to hurt another person. Hell,
I’d even turned down freely offered sex with a beautiful stranger
because I was condomless and so sure that my seed would buy my would be
partner and I a lifetime of financial obligation that I risked the
ruination of my reputation. I was a thug in name only. Yet, here I was,
in a strange kitchen, eying portable appliances and trying to justify
my stealing a toaster I didn’t want for the sake of criminal enterprise
and the all important layering of street credibility.
An explosion took
me from my daydream; incredibly loud and mingled with other sound
effects. Glass was smashing, liquid was splashing. My stomach
immediately slip knotted itself and I leapt up and threw myself through
the basement door and down the stairs.
Getty had found the guns
alright. “Just testing” he said as I entered the large cellar pantry and
stared at the sticky blanched quarts of fruit that had recently found
themselves propelled onto the walls, floor, shelving and furnishings of
the concrete room, once relieved of their glass enclosures.
This time I saw the smoke, smelled the powder as another buckshot round
flew from the 12 gauge muzzle and into the paneled facade sporting jars
of peaches and pitted bing cherries.
“Jesus man, what the hell
is wrong with you" I shouted as I stepped toward the fructose ninja and
reached for the gun. “Isn’t it enough we’re going to take the stuff? Do
you have to destroy the place too?”
“What’s wrong with you” he
said, spitting out the last word as if removing a bad taste from between
his teeth. “Pussy” he added with a grin.
I stepped closer and reached deeper. He turned toward me and pointed the barrel at my chest.
“It’s just fruit man, get out of my face.”
He was right. But he wasn’t.
mother would spend a good portion of our autumns canning fruit. Rhubarb
compote was a favorite, though she jarred up whatever we could afford
which was never enough to last the winter. I’d helped her now and then,
though I have to admit I was probably as far from “the good son” as one
can be without being a stranger. So I knew what was now oozing onto the
cheap rug beneath us was not “just fruit” but hours and hours of
preparation and labor. Besides, that leads into the other conversation;
the one about this being a family who had taken it upon themselves to
support wayward children rather than simply letting others do the more
difficult yet relevant work of society, about how it was beyond the pale
that we were at the address at all much less stealing from folks who
fostered the disadvantaged, much less attacking their goddamn FRUIT!
“Just gimme the gun” I said as I leaned forward.
“Fuck you” he said as he stepped back and raised the barrel toward my throat.
seen the look before, Getty’s “lost in space” look, the one he’d get
before going nuts on someone or something. Would he shoot me for
stopping his wild produce hunting expedition? He could, sure, but would
he. I was his brother, or so we liked to call each other. He’d had my
back, I’d had his, and all that what now amounts to claptrap. But it’s
an interesting thing about naiveté and mob mentality; almost everyone is
infected with it at the same rate, and almost everyone while under its
spell is capable of acts which they’d never have imagined themselves
Shame kept me rooted, shame demanded I risk whatever
was necessary to stop the carbohydrate carnage, and then to force the
group to make a hasty exit so as to minimize further incomprehensible
damage. Raw meat had been tasted, the smoke still drifted throughout the
house, the frenzy might be contagious. Someone needed to be the
zookeeper and since I suddenly felt anything but animalistic, the chore
fell to me.
It wasn’t courage that drove me to reach the last
twelve inches in order to grab the heated steel and yank the stock from
Getty’s hands. It was that same naiveté, like the idea that flying off a
ski jump on a bicycle will not result in massive injuries but rather
turn you into a chick magnet. I don’t imagine it was logical thinking that
kept him from pulling the trigger. I think it was simply instinct, the
laws of self preservation, his body refusing to do what his brain was
It wasn’t the only time I’d been that close, and it
wouldn’t be the last, but in all the dark experience I've walked
through, it had to be the dumbest; nearly dead, for want of the
destruction of a jar of peaches.