Chapter Two - Purloined Nickels and Stolen Dreams
"You know what your problem is, Tony? You always look on the bad side. Life has just as many good things as bad things. They balance out you know." I was talking to my little moon-faced, Mexican buddy Tony Coronado. I am pretty sure the words were a little less mature than this, but the idea I was trying to convey was the same. I had to wait several years for my language skills to develop before I could put it into the way it is written above.
"My dad is gonna get me." I could see in his eyes that was truly worried.
"There's a time to worry, Tony and a time to drink cold soda and eat candy." And with that, I held the door open for him to enter into Pop's Candy Store. I dropped the handle of the red wagon I was pulling and followed him in. Once inside, I reached into my jean's pocket and pulled out a small brown bag of nickels and shook it in his face.
His eyes lit up when he saw all the candy. Tony was bussed into our school from the west side of Concord. They didn't have a candy store in their neighborhood.
"It's wrong though, Danny. My mom said it's sinful."
I frowned, "What's so wrong about it? We are doing a good thing here. First, we'll drink us one them ice-cold Coca-Colas Pop has in that case over there. Then we'll load that wagon up with penny candy and take it back to school. We'll be heroes, man."
"It's wrong though."
I got kind of mad. Instead of arguing though, I walked over the red Coca-Cola cooler and fished about in the cold water and pulled out a sixteen ounce glass bottle, wiped it off with the towel hanging from the side, and opened it on the side of the box. I went into the bag and gave Pops three nickels. He gave me back three cents in change.
I took a long swig and passed bottle to Tony. "So good."
Tony took a small drink at first, then a larger one. When he was done, he handed me back a bottle that was less than half full. His eyes lit up. "You're right. That's good stuff."
We were sorting through the penny candy when the people from the school finally found us. Five minutes later Tony and I were two scared little boys sitting in the office waiting for the principal. We listened in as the secretary called my mom.
"Yes, Mrs. Wilson, that is what I'm saying. Danny and a friend took the milk money from their kindergarten class and went to the candy store down the street to buy candy. We saw the red milk wagon parked out in front of the store. No, they are perfectly fine. Danny is sitting right here."
Our teacher Miss Jones selected two kids every week to take money to the cafeteria and return with the milk. Tony and I were selected rather late in the year. I had already done it once with a girl named Shirley. Shirley liked milk and wouldn't have absconded with me, at least back then, later on while in high school, she would have probably robbed a bank with me had I been so inclined. Tony, on the other hand, was my buddy. He was always down for a bit craziness even though his dad was a strict disciplinarian and would spank him with a belt.
I had noticed the weakness in their method of milk delivery almost right away once I saw Miss Jones hand Peter Ybarra that small brown bag of nickels. The gate on the southside of the cafeteria was always open and there was nothing to prevent someone, who was willing, from taking the nickels and the milk wagon and rolling down to Pops.
It wasn't that I was naturally larcenous, my motivation were usually somewhat pure. I hated milk, yet every day I had to sit at the table by myself while the others kids got out all of their colorful towels and lay down and took a nap.
Miss Jones would look down at me over the catwoman glasses she perched on the end of her nose. "Please drink your milk, Danny."
"I hate milk." I hadn't heard the word fuck used in a sentence yet, and I wouldn't until I was in sixth grade, but it was the word I was searching for when I had to answer her admonitions for the third or fourth time. One day, at junior high school, I washing my hands in the restroom and the words, "BUT I HATE FUCKING MILK!" came bursting out of my mouth for no apparent reason. I looked in the mirror shocked but slowly the realization creeped into my consciousness, and I knew that that primal scream had been lost inside of my head for years and had finally managed to find its way out.
Everyday, I would sit there by myself plotting. All the other kids were asleep and dreaming about popsicles, kites, talking rabbits, mudholes, and unicorns, but not me, I was always planning my revenge.
The final straw came one day when I was commanded to go with Shirley Moore to go get the milk. I was coloring with Tony and didn't want to go.
Miss Jones bent over and snatched the coloring book off of the table. "You will go, Danny. It is your turn."
I wasn't being defiant. I was just expressing simple facts. "I'm coloring and I don't drink milk."
"Danny, we do things in this class for a reason. Now come along. She took me by the hand.
"I'll go with Tony."
"It's not Tony's turn to go. Shirley's waiting."
I looked up and Shirley was standing by the door rolling her eyes at me. Miss Jones gave her the nickels and told me that it was my job to pull the wagon. I went along and cased out the operation.
Tony was a sweet kid. He had somewhat of a tough life. His mom had already had six kids, and his dad had made it clear he wasn't done yet. They lived in a tiny house on the west side side of town out by the Projects. He had to stay home a lot and help his mom with the younger kids, so we didn't see each other much after school. Plus, like I said, he had to ride Bus #3 to get to school everyday. I lived around the corner about a half a block away from Samuel Clemens Elementary School. The Candy Store was the same distance distance from my house in the opposite direction.
When we got into fifth grade, Tony struggled with reading. He was always good with numbers but not so much with the written word. Hell, he never had no books in his house. One day we had to recite a poem, and it came to Tony's turn and Mrs. Gates told him to rise. He stood and delivered a little six line poem flawlessly. The whole class was happy for him, but Mrs. Gates was ecstatic. She got up from her desk and went over to where he was standing, grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him on the forehead. Afterwards, he stood there beaming like hundred watt bulb.
He looked pretty down though sitting in the office. I heard the secretary call his mom and speak to her in Spanish. Tony was almost crying, his head and shoulders slumped, "My dad's gonna to hit me. My mom just tole her, my dad will hit me."
I was pretty calm considering my mom just lived a half a block away. I was already planning to use the injustice of having to sit there everyday at the table while the others were napping away. I just come up with a "stolen dreams" option when I looked at him a single tear leaked out of the eye closest to me.
"Tony, you know what." He looked up at me curious but not talking. "You a good buddy. You the best friend a guy could have."
His mom got there first, walking in the office with one kid in a stroller and three kids trailing close behind her. I smiled at her, "Buenos Dias, Mrs. Coronado." She recognized me and smiled back. She even patted me on the top of my head.
When they emerged she had a slightly more solemn expression. I knew she had lot to deal with and felt bad for giving more problems. Tony trailed behind her holding his sister Sylvia's hand. He didn't look at me till he was standing right next to me while his mother negotiated the crib out the door.
I looked up at him and winked at me, then he leaned over and whispered, "I tole her it was your idea." Then he grinned again.
It made me laugh too. It was his way of saying it was okay if I played the same card.
My mom was mad when she got there. It turns out she was out having her hair done. Later, I thought that it was the best thing that could have happened. It divided her anger. She couldn't be 100% angry with me for the milk money if she was already angry about the hair appointment.
When the principal got done with his lecturing about right and wrong, I looked over at my mom and could tell that she was offended. He made out like me and Tony would wind up dead in a Police morgue with tags on our toes and crowds on curiosity seekers trying to dip their hankies in our blood.
She waited patiently until he had finished and then spoke cooly, "They're five years old, Mr. Grimsley. This is not the crime of the century."
When we walked outside, my mom gave me a quick chingaso upside my head, but not too hard. I started to well up, but she dropped down quickly to my level and placed her hands on my shoulders, "Danny, quit crying. You deserved that much and it wasn't hard besides. What am I going to do with you, Daniel Laws Wilson. You need to quit doing stuff like this. Look at the trouble you got Tony into if nothing else."
"She made me drink milk, mom." I said sullenly.
"That won't happen again. You should have told me a long time ago. That's no reason to take the milk money. It wasn't yours to take."
"I was going to buy candy for the kids. I wasn't going to eat it all myself." She didn't reply right away, so I went on, " Them kids don't want to eat stale graham crackers every day either."
I could tell she was trying to stay angry, but the curls at the corner of her lips betrayed her efforts. "Danny, I love you son. We are not going to tell your daddy about this, but you have to promise me to behave yourself in school."
I began to sniffle, "I'll try, Mom. I really will, but I got a big imagination."
She began to laugh in earnest.
When Tony and I went back to class the next day, all of our classmates looked at us like we were tropical flowers. We had failed in our plans to liberate our snack time, but our efforts had not gone unnoticed. We had instead gained our selves some street cred.
And those dreams I had during my naps were often wonderful.