Coming Clean
by Richard Shereikis

Right now, I'm not in any legal trouble that I know of. My credit cards are pretty much paid up; I don't have any outstanding parking tickets or traffic citations; and I haven't kited a check for about 30 years, since I was in graduate school.

But you never know. I may soon be involved in a modest real estate transaction, and various lending institutions may be looking into my past. After some Starr-like zealot starts digging, I'll be hanging my whole sordid history out there to dry.

So, as a preemptive strike, I want to make a clean breast of it. I want to set the record straight about some of the sorry things I've done in the past and express my sincere regrets for any pain or harm I've caused anyone along the way.

It started a long time ago. A bunch of us sometimes used to make a night of it in our Chicago neighborhood, ravaging the fruit trees of innocent neighbors who had spent hours pruning and trimming their delicate plants. Tommy Tucker was the ring-leader, as I recall, and Buster Pierson had scouted the neighborhood for the most promising apple and pear trees.

But I was a willing follower, and I ate more than my share of the loot. Usually, we struck after dark but early in the summer, before things were really ripe (otherwise the owner would have harvested them), so we suffered our share of stomach cramps and other afflictions. But even though I could feel my own pain pretty sharply, it wasn't enough to compensate for those sneak attacks.

To be totally truthful, we just got worse after that. While we were still in late grade school, drive-in movies became hugely popular. One magical summer, the Star-Lite started operating just outside our neighborhood, past a bunch of then-empty lots. Too young to drive, we figured out how to get close to the last row of speakers on our bikes. On most nights there were no cars back there, so one or two guys would sneak in and turn up the volume on a bunch of speakers, and we'd just lay back and enjoy the movie.

We got even more depraved when we could drive. Three of us would stuff ourselves in the trunk while two guys paid the buck (it would have been too suspicious for a guy to go in alone). Once inside, we'd all be sprung, and we'd watch the movies for 20 cents a head. (We might also share some smokes that we'd stolen from our parents or bought from careless store-owners, but that was their crime, not ours. Besides, most of us didn't know how to inhale.)

It wasn't just outdoor movies and innocent gardeners who felt the sting of our criminality. We also victimized the neighborhood movie houses, the Colony in particular. Once again, it was a cooperative venture. We'd chip in the dime or so apiece it took to pay one admission, and we'd send one of our clean-cut guys in. The rest of us would then climb up the fire escape to the balcony fire door and wait for Jerry or Charley to bang that door open after they made sure no ushers were in the area. Then the rest of us, five or six or seven, would scatter as fast and as widely as we could. I've felt guilty ever since the Colony succumbed to urban blight, like the rest of the neighborhood movie houses that used to sprinkle the city.

There's more, blush as I may to admit it. Once, as a college undergraduate, I stole a hamburger from a now-defunct chain restaurant. It was down the block from the place where I roomed, and it used to put out these pre-wrapped burgers that you'd pick up in a cafeteria-like line.

It was a tough time. I was broke and hadn't even been able to round up enough bottles at my rooming house to get a dollar's worth of deposits. I had enough money for a shake, but not a burger. So I went through the line, slipped a burger under my jacket, and paid for a shake. My stomach was churning too much to let me enjoy the meal, and I've always felt responsible for the chain going belly-up (although, to tell the truth, their burgers never tasted very fresh or hot).

In any case, I did commit that despicable act, and while it's clearly a private matter, between me, Prince Castle, and my god, I do sincerely regret whatever contribution it may have made to the demise of a pioneering fast-food operation.

More than once I've double parked outside of post offices in American cities, and I have, on more than one occasion, exceeded 70mph on highways that were clearly marked with 65mph signs. I came to a rolling stop at a stop sign one time, but I got caught, of course, and the $90 fine I paid should absolve me of any guilt on that matter.

Beyond that, I can't recall any serious violations of law or decorum (except maybe for some rowdiness at social gatherings in my younger days). But if, in the course of subsequent events, it becomes necessary to reflect more carefully on my past, I will be happy to cooperate. I'm pretty sure I haven't left any bodily fluids in unseemly places, so I'm hopeful that my potential as a land-owner is not in question.

Thank you, and good night.


Shereikis is NBT's Movie Professor.

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Volume VI Number 34
August 27-September 2, 1998
New Bay Times

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