I grew up in Brooklyn, NY in the sixties and seventies.
My family was somewhat untraditional, but who knew? My mother was a compulsive gambler whose moral sense was somewhat, uh, disconnected. She raised me and my two younger brothers alone, and it's amazing that we are all socially acceptable men. Not necessarily good men, not mentally healthy men, but socially acceptable. It did take awhile to get even that far, though...
My mother drove Cadillacs. We were poor, but she was a big woman and needed a big car. She also had a number of male friends in the auto repair business, so she always got them old and cheap and drove them into the ground. “Oil change” was not part of her vocabulary.
I was about sixteen; it was around 1971. Evelyn had been complaining about having lost a hubcap from her car.
One night, she stood in the doorway of my room and said, "I just saw the same year and model as my car over on Ocean Parkway."
"So?" I said, not even looking up from my book.
"So, we can get a hubcap."
"Ma, you can BUY a hubcap on Pennsylvania Avenue for five bucks."
"You don't BUY hubcaps," she said, "that's purchasing stolen property."
"Ohhh," I answered, "it's better to steal one yourself."
"Cuts out the middleman," Mom shrugged, "and saves five dollars."
"Have fun. I'm not going with you." Of course I went with her.
Ocean Parkway is a broad boulevard with service roads on either side. Parking is permitted on the service drives, and the '65 Cadillac that matched my mother's car was parked in the southbound service road. We pulled up next to it. My heart pounded. I'd never stolen anything more than a penny caramel from a candy stand, and I’d been caught doing that.
"The tire iron's in the trunk," my mother said.
"You're kidding, right? I don't even know how to take off a hubcap!"
"Time you learned."
"Uh uh. I don't steal, Ma. I can't do it." We stared at each other for awhile.
She opened her door, looking away from me. "I can't believe I raised a coward," my mother said, somewhere between disappointment and a sneer. "Just keep your eyes open, okay?"
I watched the street for cops, or worse, the owner of the car. I heard my mother open the trunk and take out the tire iron, heard the scrape of the iron, the hubcap's pop as it came off the other car. No one was on the street, but I could still feel my heartbeat in the veins of my neck.
She got back in, throwing the hubcap into the backseat. "Do you think you could bring yourself to put this thing on the car in the morning?" she asked me.
"Sure, Ma. Be glad to," I answered.
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