by Tom Hallett
RTD continues with part two of ...
My Unwitting Crime Spree, Or, How I Nearly Spent Twenty Summer Vacations Behind Prison Bars
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "What I think society is mad about is they’re getting
old and very soon they’ll be gone, and they are wondering what these young
people are gonna do with this world, and they’re mad because they can’t
do what they used to do ... it’s jealousy against the young race, and it’s
not fair, because even the Bible said that the young would be weaker but wiser."
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Summer’s Killing Us”
—The Tragically Hip
... and I consciously ignored all the signs that Adam, the cheesy-looking
little dork who’d picked up the bundle of rags I was at the time on some
god-forsaken Montana highway, was anything less than exactly what he said he
was: A hardworking, socially conscious, generous, honest, young college kid
who came from a good, close-knit family and had nothing but the best of intentions
for myself and the world around him. What a larf. But man, I was tired,
bone tired from the ravages of the seedy, underworld life I’d been living,
and soul tired of the cruel modern world I’d found out on the road in
the mid-to-late ‘80s. I was happy to believe that I’d been lucky
enough to get a ride from the one decent guy left traveling the backwater burgs
Well, to make a long story just a tad shorter, Adam and I drove for the next
10 hours or so, straight on through North Dakota, across Minnesota, then straight
up towards Canada, until we reached my hometown. I gave him directions to my
friend’s place, a Native American cat who lived on the res and who, as
the dad of my best friend, had taken me in for a couple of semesters during
high school after I’d left home to live on my own. They were great people—the
salt of the earth—and I was looking forward to resting up from my travails
and doing some spiritual rebuilding on the res. I thought it was the perfect
oasis to take Adam for a good supper and a night of partying after he’d
been so kind to me on the road.
We were almost there—20 or so miles to go—when Adam cursed under
his breath. The car’s motor faltered, the lights dimmed once or twice,
and the red “Check Engine” light blasted into ugly glowing life
on the dark dashboard. Since my pals were mechanically inclined, I told him
not to worry about it, we’d look at it in the morning. After a great homecoming
greeting and feast—hot coffee, venison, wild rice, all the fixin’s—and
a few hours of gabbing, we hit the sack. My pals were fine with Adam crashing
there, and they promised to look at his car in the morning.
When I awoke, I immediately sensed that things were somehow different. There
was an edgy, paranoid vibe in the air. My pals were eyeing me strangely, as
if they knew something about me they hadn’t the night before. Adam acted
as if nothing was wrong, but I could swear I’d see him mock me with a
wicked half-grin from time to time as we stood around looking at the greasy
engine of his car. And then things really started to get weird. As I live and
breathe, I swear this really happened. A couple of days went by, and it started
to look as if Adam’s car was in worse shape than we’d suspected.
He’d need some parts that would either have to be shipped to us that far
north or someone would have to pick up in person in a far-off town like Bemidji
or Duluth. Of course, my friends volunteered to go, and Adam somehow convinced
them to put up the money for what was essentially a new motor for his car, that
he’d called his financial institution back home—wherever that was—and
had money on the way via a local bank.
I had a bad feeling about the whole thing, and took aside my friend’s
father to tell him so. He looked at me as if I were insane. “What? You
really are jealous of Adam, aren’t you?” He was tripping heavily.
“Yeah,” he continued, “He told us this morning that you’d
been talking badly about us and that you were really jealous of him.”
I was mortified. I’d done nothing but brag up my friends and how great
they were—why the hell else would I bring a stranger there to meet them?
I thought my intentions were obvious, but I couldn’t argue with the guy.
He was fucking rabid about the subject—strangest shit I’ve ever
seen, before or since. My shock was compounded by the fact that the man had
been around the block a few times himself—as a youngster in the ‘50s,
he’d rode the rails, eventually losing one arm and living the rest of
his life with a hook for a hand—and had spent nearly 20 years as a law
enforcement officer. You’d think that would’ve hepped him to this
cat’s rank intentions, but alas, that was not the case.
My guts sank as I realized what had happened. Adam had brainwashed them—used
a combination of that all-American charm and some of the seamier road tales
I’d related to him—to convince my pals that I had changed, turned
mean and petty, and that he was just a poor victim of my evil ways in bringing
him to their place, where his car had broken down. Now, just why Adam would
want to trip my friends out about something like that, why he’d want to
put a wedge between us, didn’t come clear until my friend’s dad
suggested that Adam continue to stay with them until his car was fixed, but
that I head out and stay with my grandparents until we “worked things
out.” Of course, I thought—Adam was planning on bilking them for
the cost of the engine parts- and probably a lot more—and he didn’t
want me in the way to warn them off. He was not only a criminal, he was righteously
Man, was I pissed. Both at myself for introducing Adam to my pals, and at them
for buying his bullshit story. But I knew I couldn’t argue with them—Adam
had them convinced—just like he had me a few days earlier—that he
was Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes. Not only that, but he’d made me out to be some
lunatic who had nothing but bad intentions for them—despite the fact that
they’d just met him and they’d known me for years, and we’d
never had any problems, and they were very intelligent people who normally wouldn’t
have taken the word of some college-bound, yuppie white boy about anything,
let alone a good friend. But that just goes to show the mighty powers that kid
had, and when I found out the truth it blew even my warped, addled mind.
My pal’s dad dropped me off at my gramp’s place, but not before
I’d pleaded with him again on the way there to be careful spending money
on Adam—I knew if the guy could turn on a dime and betray me with lies
to my friends, he’d have no second thoughts about robbing them blind or
worse. But my pleas fell on deaf ears, and the guy just looked at me like I
was nuts. He headed off to pick up the parts, leaving me at the old homestead
and Adam home alone at their place with the youngest kid in the family, 16-year-old
Alty. A true recipe for disaster, and there was nothing I could do about it.
What a fucking nightmare—like a bad USA made-for-TV movie—and I
couldn’t change a thing.
The phone calls came a couple of days later. The first was from a sheriff in
Duluth, who’d picked up Adam and Alty after they’d split for that
city in one of the old man’s trucks (without permission, the dad was still
on the parts-buying trip) and been collared for public intoxication and contributing
to a minor. Alty had given the police my number after they’d begun to
unravel the strange tale. He later told me that he’d felt like he was
living in some odd dream, and that he just couldn’t say no to any suggestion
Adam had made—from stealing the truck to the long-distance run, to drinking
like idiots in the streets. The sheriff wanted to know exactly how much I knew
about “Adam.” Turns out his name wasn’t really Adam—the
cops found at least a dozen different licenses and state IDs bearing his photo
in a tote bag he’d been carrying at the time of his arrest.
The story eventually came out that “Adam” was a severely mentally
disturbed criminal, a twisted young man who’d perpetuated horrible crimes
of violence and cruelty upon his family and friends back on the East Coast before
having a mental breakdown and splitting into several different personalities.
At that point, he’d began criss-crossing the country, robbing convenience
stores, shoplifting expensive items and returning them for the cash (yep, I
was nearly witness to several of those wacky jobs), scamming people he met along
the way (my friends were not the first who’d funded new cars, parts, places
to stay, meals, etc. for “Adam,” nor was I the first victim of his
bizarre psychological games), and generally causing as much mayhem as he could.
There wasn’t much I could tell the sheriff; he said he felt bad for me
that the guy had caused myself and my friends such grief, and told me he’d
call me if they needed me to testify about any of “Adam’s”
little misdeeds. They never did, so your guess is as good as mine as to what
actually happened to him—maybe he’s in a nut ward somewhere, or
jail, or more likely, he’s a rabid Bush supporter, living large and running
some highly successful but crooked internet company somewhere off the coast
of Jamaica. As far as I know, he never paid back a dime of the money he stole,
cadged and fleeced from the folks he met along the highways and byways of the
Midwest, my friends included, so he probably had quite a little nest egg put
aside once he talked his way out from behind bars.
I did get another call, though, from my friend’s dad, who felt like seven
different kinds of a fool once the police explained that the family had been
hoodwinked, right along with me. He tried to apologize, and I really did forgive
him, but things were never the same between us again. He (correctly) blamed
me for bringing the filthy little criminal into our lives in the first place,
inadvertently or not, and I could never quite bring myself to open up to the
family the way I had in years past. We never talked about “Adam”
or the troubles that year brought again, but to this day I wonder—and
shudder—when I think of the subliminal power one scrawny, grinning white
kid held over so many older, wiser, more experienced people.
Maybe he really was like a mini-Manson, a mass-hysteria-inducing Kid Koresh
of the type that only comes along (thankfully) every couple of generations to
hypnotize and ravage straights and fools and remind us all that true evil sometimes
comes wrapped in some bright, promising little packages. And that the old adage
about not judging a book by its cover works both ways. And that comfort and
safety are never worth trading your gut instincts and lifelong friendships for.
It’s terrifying enough to realize that there really are people like that
out there, and that some of them are in a position to affect millions of people
and the way they think, and act, and vote. Just a couple things to think about
as Election Day nears, kids—and now let’s take a left turn off of
Memory Lane and check out a different kinda crime...
San Francisco’s STILL Doomed
(Swami Records, 2004)
First of all, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to the long-suffering
members of obscure San Fran punkers Crime, who not only had to wait almost 30
years to get proper CD treatment of their rare recorded material, but were forced
to sit through my mindless ramblings and meanderings over the past couple of
weeks as I recounted my own brush with big-time crime. And to you, dear readers,
who no doubt are only now reawakening from that slumber-inducing tale yourselves.
(Yawn, stretch. I know whatcha mean—I could use a nap myself.) But hey,
we’re here to review Crime’s long-awaited album, so here we go.
Crime came together in the mid-’70s as the brainchild of former Space
Invaders Frankie Fix and Johnny Strike. The pair joined forces with Chosen Few
(that band eventually became the Flamin’ Groovies) bassist Ron “The
Ripper” and drummer Ricky Tractor (who went on to form Flipper) to shred
antiestablishment and rockabilly riffs with the best of early punk’s brightest.
They debuted at a gay political fundraiser on Halloween, 1976, and after playing
five horribly loud, off-key numbers, the plug was unabashedly pulled. From there,
it seemed the top was the next stop. Becoming a staple at Mabuhay Gardens (SF’s
answer to CBGB’s or L.A.’s Troubador, but way more underground and
nasty like a punk club should be), the band quickly became local faves in the
freak world. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, considering that their music
is still fresh and fun to hear), the band didn’t react well to their new-found
True punks, they took to canceling gigs with important headliners (a missed
show opening for The Damned may have changed everything for ‘em), beating
holy hell out of record store owners who were scared to hawk their wares, and
publicly slamming the approved anti-heroes of the time (Frankie Fix once mouthed
off to Sire Records head honcho Seymour Stein that The Ramones were “hippies
that should cut their hair”), eventually causing so many riffs and hurt
feelings in the music community that they were shunned like mongrels with the
plague. Now THAT’S underground, mofo.
Though they went out with their cred relatively intact (a Johnny Cash-like gig
at San Quentin was videotaped and recently released on Target Video, showing
the outfit at the height of their powers in front of just the kind of audience
they loved—criminals, social deviants and outcasts of the lowest degree—but
some cool people dig), the band broke up at the dawn of the ‘80s and would’ve
been a monument to lost punk history if it weren’t for the blessed rock
duo of Thurston and Kim—AKA Sonic Youth—covering their classic 45
“Hot Wire My Heart” on 1987’s Sister album.
That sparked an interest in the group, and now you can find all of their spit-fire,
punk-a-billy nuggets in one place, along with groovy alternate cuts of their
classic singles, the above as well as the blood-and-guts rawk spewage of “Baby,
You’re So Repulsive.” Excellent liner notes take the reader through
the band’s entire history and catalog, and the material is raw, exciting,
visceral guitar rock with all the mid-’70s gusto you could hope for. If
you’re into connecting the musical dots and putting the real story together,
you’d do well to pick up this package and find out just what you’ve
Me, I’m just glad I’ve gotten one vicious, near-crime spree off
of my chest and found another vicious (musical) Crime spree to gleefully throw
myself upon, and all in just a few installments! And now, like Frank James or
the Sundance Kid, I’ll happily hang up my six-shooters, recline in a wicker
rocker out on the porch with a little brown jug, and leave any future sprees
up to those younger, wilder, and less decrepit than myself. Check back next
week for more reviews, rock news an’ sticky stuff on yer shoes. Until
we meet again—make yer own damn news. ||
If you have local music news, gigs, CDs you’d like
to see mentioned in this column, or you’d just like to confess your own
harrowing almost-spree, send replies to: (temporary e-mail) email@example.com.