Opinion

I Still Feel Like Myself: Early Experiments in Delinquency

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I Still Feel Like Myself: Early Experiments in Delinquency

In my youth I set a rather sorry record for delinquency. They are a shabby lot because of their naiveté, uniformly poor planning and execution. The earliest incident I can remember pointed the way for all that followed thereafter. I was in fourth or fifth grade and my grandmother was visiting for Thanksgiving. The dining room table was set with my mother’s finery. In a small crystal tray divided into two halves, separated by a levee of sorts, one side were green olives stuffed with pimentos, the other side were non-pitted black olives. Items were still being brought to the table and no one was yet seated. My grandmother was involved in the comings and goings of preparation. I ate a black olive, then with devil-may-care ease, tossed the pit into the pitcher of milk that was on the table, in plain view of my grandmother, who was understandably shocked. I still have no idea why I did this. I’m not proud of it, and can only surmise that I’d adopted some James Dean-like attitude that didn’t fit, making me come off not as a rebel, but an idiot.

Another idiotic act involved prank phone calls. I was over at my friends Bruce and Jim Johnstone’s house and we were taking turns making prank calls. On my turn, rather than pick a random number from the directory or just make one up, I dialed the one I’d known since kindergarten: Union 6-9312. My father answered the phone, I did my bit, whatever it was, and hung up. Upon returning home my father told me to not do that again. I was amazed he knew it was me.

While still in grade school and in that same neighborhood I heard about a new driveway being poured on a street nearby. Accompanied by a classmate’s younger brother we strolled over to check this out and I had a brilliant idea. I got a stick for each of us and we wrote our names in the wet cement. I was easy to trace; both the homeowners and my would-be protege’s parents called my father.

As I entered seventh grade, we moved to a bigger house in the suburbs. My new life as a junior high schooler was quite invigorating, moving from one room to another for different classes. There were also various clubs and activities. I joined the model car club, a vestigial interest of my childhood that drifted away over the course of the year, soon to be replaced by music and a bass guitar. I wasn’t in this club for long – it may have only been for one “meeting.” On that afternoon, another boy and I convened in a very small room outfitted with tables to work on our models. We had glue, paint and anything else that was needed. At some point I reached across the work surface and painted a car on the wall. The investigators had an easy time with this case: there was no painting on the wall before the club met, two were in attendance and one said he didn’t do it. That narrowed it down to me, the one who then cleaned the painting off the wall with turpentine.

One April Fool’s Day I was in the kitchen before anyone else (I had a morning paper route at the time) and mixed up a pitcher of frozen orange juice. Giving it a bit of a twist, in honor of the day’s trickery and fun, I added some green food coloring. Later, as my siblings were making their way down for breakfast I mentioned to my mother that for some reason the orange juice was green. It did not strike her as the hilarious joke that I thought it was. She poured it all down the drain before I could explain.

The final foolery of the era involved a few friends with whom I was playing in a band. We’d played at a birthday party for a disc jockey’s wife. None of us were old enough to drive. I remember the late night frolicking that followed, as we roamed about the post-midnight subdivision streets. Somewhere we’d found a man’s weather-beaten felt hat. Somehow we ended up with enough gasoline to douse the chapeau, setting it aflame in the middle of the street. Our reverie of gazing upon this hoodlum’s version of a campfire was interrupted by the lights of a police car turning a corner towards us. We all scattered, me into the darkness of the suburban shrubbery. The thrills vanished into fears as I huddled out of sight, later making my way home alone, wet and cold.

Upon reflection from this older vantage point I still see a litany of failed hijinks. But where formerly I pardoned them as childhood transgressions, I now embrace them as the nascent stirrings of a conceptual artist.

(Artist David Greenberger lives in Greenwich, NY www.davidgreenberger.com @davidbg)

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