Joey and I were hanging out at the Sav-On plaza, like we did most days that summer. I was sitting on the small firetruck that jerked back and forth, while Joey straddled the silver pony that bounced up and down. But the rides were idle. Even if we had been flush, a quarter was too precious to waste on a few minutes of mechanical jostling. Instead, we killed time watching the shoppers come and go.
It seemed like the whole world was out spending money except for us. We had needs too, but once baby sister showed up on the scene, our allowances were a thing of the past. Room and board, that’s all we got anymore. For everything else, we were on our own.
Once school let out, we tried any way we could to make a buck. We hit up the neighbors, looking to do odd jobs. But what could we do? We were kids. We had no skills. Some people took pity on us. We swept a few driveways and weeded a couple gardens. The junkman hired us to haul that mysterious pile of bricks from the front of his house to the back. But when we were done, he wanted to look at porno mags with us in the garage, so we never went back to his place.
We tried collecting bottles for the deposit, thinking we’d make a fortune for sure. Bottles were worth three cents a pop, and people threw them away like they were trash. So one morning, we snagged a shopping cart and pushed it all around town, picking up the empties. But after scrounging through slop filled garbage cans for hours, we took our bounty to the grocery store and cashed out: a lousy seventy-five cents. Split down the middle. A total bust.
Then we discovered panhandling. Back when we were hanging out at the Alpha Beta I double-dared Joey to ask this lady walking into the store for a dime. Joey never turned down a dare. Especially a double dare. He walked right up to her and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, do you have a dime so I can call my mother?” The lady stopped, opened her change purse and placed a shiny coin in his palm.
It was like a miracle, that first taste of free money. We spent the rest of the day with our feet on the pad that opened the sliding doors and our hands held high. “Excuse me, do you have a dime?” When the manager chased us off, we moved on to the next place of business. We must have covered every grocery, restaurant, bar and liquor store in Rosemead, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Alhambra and parts of Temple City. We went anywhere we knew adults spent money. Worked like a charm too, until Mrs. Garcia spotted us outside the post office. She told mom, and that was the end of that racket.
So there we were, on the skids, sitting on the rides that never went anywhere as the world of commerce streamed passed, when Nick happened to walk by.
We joined him where he was standing at a row of newspaper boxes. “Whatcha doing, NickGyver?”
“Oh, nothing. Just a little experiment.”
“Experiment?” This was the best news we’d heard in days. “What kind of experiment?”
Nick looked over his shoulder. “Check it out.” He dropped a coin into the slot of a Herald Examiner and lifted up the door. “You ever thought about how a newspaper box works?”
We shook our heads. Only Nick thought about things like that.
“It’s quite simple, actually. You put a quarter in the slot and it slides through a mechanism that unlocks the door. Then it falls into this compartment right here under the handle under the handle.” Nick tapped the silver metal plate on the front of the box. “Must be tons of quarters in there.”
We shrugged. “So?”
“So, you probably think it’s impossible to get to them all, right?”
“Well, check it out...”
We leaned in real close.
“You see this hole right here.” He pointed to a hole inside the box, next to where the papers were stacked. “If my calculations are correct, this hole leads to that compartment.”
Joey and I looked at a hole too small for any hand. “Okay. Now what?”
“Lemme see your gum,” Nick told Joey, who spit out the wad of Juicy Fruit he’d been gnawing on since breakfast. “You can have your drool back.” Nick wiped his hand on Joey’s shirt. Then he pulled a straw out of his pocket and mashed the wad onto the end of it. We eagle-eyed his technique as he lowered the straw, gum-end, into the hole and circled it around slowly. He pulled the straw out and stuck to the ball of gum, like fish on a hook, three quarters sparkled in the sunlight.
“Fucking NickGyver! That was awesome!”
“Be cool.” Nick scanned the parking lot. “Don’t wanna attract attention. Now here’s the deal…”
Nick began issuing instructions. Joey went into the drug store to buy a pack of Bubblicious with one of the newly acquired quarters and I searched the ground for McDonald’s straws. “The thicker the better,” Nick said. Then, Joey kept watch while Nick and I went to work. First, we cleaned out the Examiner box, then moved on to the Times and then the Tribune.
Slowly, but surely, we extracted all the quarters, two and three at a time. We took turns on lookout, creating diversions in case any shoppers or the manager got nosey. When all the boxes were empty, we counted the loot in the alley behind the store. Seventeen bucks even. And two slugs. Split three ways, our pockets bulged and jangled as we headed over to Jim’s to celebrate.
We placed our orders and laid the stacks of quarters on the counter. The woman at the cash register said, “What did you boys do, break open your piggybanks?”
“That’s right!” I patted Nick on the back. “It’s his birthday and we’ve been saving up to treat him to a feast.”
“In that case, mijos,” the cashier said. “Here’s a sundae on the house.”
The next afternoon Joey and I were ready to hit the newspaper boxes at the Boy’s Market on Del Mar. “They got a whole bunch over there. Think of all the quarters we could score!”
But Nick was over it.
“That’s chump change. I got a better plan. You know the old junkman who lives up the street? Well, I got it on authority that he’s got this massive stash of silver dollars. I’m talking about pickle jars full of ‘em. Keeps ‘em in his closet. And get this, my source says that sometime this weekend he’s cruising out to San Bernardino, where his wife is planted. Think about it. This is the perfect time to make a move. I could use a couple lookouts. We’ll split the take three ways. Just like last time. What d’ya say? You guys down for a real heist?”
from güero chingón #2
zine cover by id.
illustrations by art mark.
Available from PILTDOWNLAD
Available from PILTDOWNLAD