Today I was reminded of an old TV spot that used to air on local TV up until I was about 12 years old; it said very simply:
“It’s 8 o’clock , do you know where your children are?”
I don’t know if this was a public service announcement for alcoholic parents or a reminder to tell the kids to get in the house but it was a moot point in my house because I was always home by the time the announcement came on. I did a lot of bad things growing up, I smoked, stole, got into fights and worse but I never got home late. My family may have ignored things like health care, nutrition and the dentist but we respected curfews like they were handed down by god. In the Winter of 1987 I had to be home by 8 on school nights, 9 on weekends, no exceptions, not even for armed robbery.
That year I was in the 7th grade and I had recently made the transition from solid B+ student to aspiring criminal. Between 6th and 7th grade I traded playing Wiffle Ball in the driveway and riding my bike to Carvel for smoking and petty theft. I ditched my baseball loving friends for the local teenage hoodlums, this was partly because I thought they were cool but mostly because it meant they wouldn’t target me. Through the fall of 1986 we kept it simple, swiping things from local stores and riding the train without paying but by the winter of 1987 things escalating to bike theft and then a few of the older guys came up with a plan..we we’re going to rob the deli over by the train station.
On a Monday afternoon the plan was worked out, we would enter just before closing on Wednesday show our knives and take the cash. I didn’t have a knife so I was made lookout and one of the guys loaned me an alternate weapon: Chinese throwing stars. I was all set to rob a deli and fight ninjas except there was one catch, the deli we were going to rob closed at 8:30, and while I was an aspiring hoodlum I still respected my curfew. I asked if we could rob the deli at 7:30 or move it to Friday instead but the guys insisted it had to be closing time and had to be Wednesday. In my mind I could justify robbery but not missing curfew. I turned in my stars started to go home; when I was a block away I realized that the other kids were following me. It was made very clear to me, at knife point, that if I told anyone about the plan I’d be dead, as an added bonus they also beat me up. I was humiliated and bloodied but got home by 8; I went to my room unnoticed and cried. Worst. Criminal. Ever.
Actually I wasn’t the WORST criminal. As it turns out I wasn’t the only one to back out. In the end two kids entered the deli with knives and made off with less than $100. They were easily identified and picked up at school the next day. Because it wasn’t their first offense, both of them spent the rest of the school year in a youth detention center. A few months later I moved away but eventually all of the kids I hung out with that year did time, I feel lucky to have escaped the neighborhood with just a bloody nose and a black eye.