The cold steel cuffs were cranked tightly around thin wrists. What would juvenile jail be like? Could you eat Sour Patch Kids in the slammer? Play video games? Make prank calls? The idea of prison was overwhelming.
“Please unlock these things,” begged my BF of the semester Topper Livingston. “They hurt.”
I had subdued Top with handcuffs that I had purchased, along with a BB gun and a complete toy cop accessory pack (fake shield and hat and billy club—my favorite) in the unused maid’s room of my parents’ apartment.
“You’re my prisoner. Busted dude. You’ll be un-cuffed when you post bail.” Bail was set at a mere $200, a bargain for his crime: stealing four stink bombs from my backpack.
“I don’t like guns,” Lourdes, our devoted housekeeper, announced in her thick Spanish accent, as she walked by again and saw the BB gun trained on Topper’s right temple, “guns aren’t nice.”
I finally removed Top’s handcuffs, setting him free for the discounted bond of $75 and a $75 IOU to be paid in cash or candy over the remaining term.
But maybe I was the one who should be in handcuffs—real handcuffs—and behind real bars? The cop action pack was just one of the many “birthday presents” I charged to my parents’ house account at Lexington Avenue’s famous fun palace Minnie Albert’s Toys. My scheme? Every other day I would waltz into Minnie Albert’s Toys and charge a birthday present, which Mrs. Albert, who was about 101 years old, would slowly wrap up in the shop’s signature paper decorated with colorful balloons. “There sure are a lot of birthdays this month,” Mrs. Albert gargled out in her dinosaur voice. “Yeah, March is a big birthday month at Barclay,” I quickly responded with a huge fake toothy smile. “And April is even bigger—I think in my class alone there are 15 birthdays.” Mrs. Albert finished wrapping the enormous toy warship, dropped it into a bag decorated with balloons and handed me a receipt that I signed “Mr. Campbell” and made for the exit.
Was I a thief? Whenever I asked my parents for necessities like a new BB gun or a water slide for the long hallway outside Lourdes’ room, they always responded with the two words I loathed the most: “We’ll see.” So I had no choice but to charge up a storm to their account at Minnie Albert’s Toys. How could I face every morning at Barclay without a BB pistol in my blue blazer?
A week later, after I had stuffed some jacked-up toy cars in my bag before I got to my room, I heard my mother screech “Charles Campbell, get in my room this instant.” Heart beating, I went and stood as my mother sat on her four-poster bed holding a slip of paper. “I just got the bill from Minnie Albert’s Toys,” she started, her pretty green eyes turning to angry slits. “$1, 200? Who do you think you are? That is not your charge account.” “There were a lot of birthday parties last month,” I began to plead in my most innocent voice. “Stop there, Charlie. Don’t you dare lie to me. I have called Mrs. Albert and the next time you charge there, she is calling the police, you will be arrested and end up at Grace Farm.” (Grace Farm was a boarding school in Maine for “troubled youth.”) I skulked out of her room feeling dizzy with fear of the dreaded Grace Farm.
A week later, I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked to Minnie Albert’s Toys and found the laser gun that was being advertised 24/7 on TV. I headed to the counter, toy in hand, and approached Mrs. Albert. Then suddenly from outside, I heard the most horrific sound. The loud wail of a police siren.