July 18, 2009

Learning to Steal in the Boy Scouts of America

By Johnny Hughes © 2009

The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts taught me a great deal about character, self-reliance, small group leadership, outdoor activities, and stealing. However, being Boy Scouts, our stealing was constrained by our own West Texas moral code. Trustworthy, loyal, all of that. We would never steal while in our Boy Scout uniforms.

In the first grade, Niki Sullivan, one of the original Crickets with Buddy Holly, would distract the store clerk while I stole firecrackers. We shoplifted bubble gum, school supplies, and candy from drug stores and supermarkets. At a recent symposium, Jack Neal, Buddy Holly's original musical partner, shocked the crowd by telling how he and the Sainted Buddy Holly stole stop signs around Lubbock.

From the first grade all the way through high school, I stole soft-drink bottles, called coke bottles in my beloved Texas. The movies cost nine cents in the early 1950s. Coke bottles could be redeemed for two cents each. Our Cub Scout and Boy Scout group stole coke bottles from garages, filling stations, the girl's dorms at Texas Tech, public buildings, and any place we could find them. When we moved up to stealing from cars, we'd go to the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant and steal cases of bottles left behind the fence for Dr. Pepper. We'd go to the Dr. Pepper plant and steal the Coca-Cola bottles left out back. Sometimes we'd be all dressed up, with dates, scoring movie money. Always movie money.

My favorite part of Boy Scouts were the silent hand signals: spread out, follow me, take cover. My Patrol used these to prowl the neighborhoods at any time of night to steal watermelons, peaches, cherries, apples, and beer from garages. We stole ice cream products and bakery pastries from trucks. We'd hit a five and dime downtown and steal water guns, sunglasses, toys, and useless junk. Once a silent hand signal warned me a clerk was coming. I dumped all my loot into a giant gold-fish bowl. The guy was grilling me with all that stuff showing behind him, and fish swimming around.

The Boy Scouts of Troop Six observed the holidays with special stealing. We stole multi-colored Christmas trees to sell in the girl's dorms at Texas Tech. Our Scouting skills of stealth and hand signals would get us to the upper floors to see women in robes and pajamas.

A legendary Troop Six Scout was Bones, who had just moved into town from a farm. At varied times, he had a horse, fox, crow, prairie dogs, chickens, snakes, and a skunk in his backyard. He told me the skunk was totally fixed and sold it to me. It wasn't, and my daddy made him take it back. Bones' was a little careless with the Boy Scout Oath.

One Easter, we made it a contest to see how many live, dyed-bunny rabbits and chickens we could steal from backyards. This made the radio and newspaper, condemning us as cold-hearted thieves. I almost felt bad. We put all these critters in Bones' backyard, which was full of critters already.

We camped often at Camp Post, Johnson Ranch, and in backyards. We'd steal some Red Dot cigars for camping trips. Once at Johnson Ranch, we saw a couple parked in a car. Using the silent hand signals, Bones led us to a hill above their car, and we watched them have sex.

I was the scribe or treasurer for my Patrol. I accidentally stole all the Boy Scout money, thirteen dollars. I spent it on chili hot dogs at the A&W Root Beer joint. Luckily, they had this community event at Hubber Park, a baseball park. They had contests and gave cash prizes. They had a pie-eating contest. I won five bucks (like fifty bucks in today's money) as the dirtiest kid. I knew that was a prize, so I spread my whole cherry pie all over me. I won another five bucks for going into the grandstands and kissing my mother, who was not there. They had a flour blowing contest. You blow flour off this plate to seize a quarter between your teeth. Again, I just put the flour all over the cherry pie, and won five more bucks as dirtiest kid. I didn't do well in the greased pig chase, but I got a lot dirtier, hoping for a prize. I scored enough money to get slick with the Boy Scouts.

Once we broke into a truck at the South Plains Fair, and stole all the mid-size Teddy Bears we could carry. Giving these away to girls at school was our good deed of the day. The Boy Scout motto is Be Prepared. Troop Six was always prepared to steal anything that was not nailed down. We'd steal a hot stove or lay down beside it and claim it. Given out Scouting skills at stealth, and the hand signals, no one ever got caught.

We had a code similar to the Boy Scout code in some ways. There was no stealing from the mom and pop grocery stores that were on every other corner. No stealing from houses. No vandalism. And as I said, we did not steal while in our Boy Scout uniforms.

We broke into Carrol Thompson Junior High on a very regular basis at night. The gym was in the basement. We could turn on the lights and play basketball and dodge ball. Then we'd put everything back in its place. Going by our code, the only thing we would steal were some ice cream bars from the cafeteria. We'd roam the dark halls, and climb on the roof. Excellent Boy Scout training.

One guy took a dump on an unpopular teacher's desk, but he was not in Troop Six, from St. John's Methodist Church. One fellow from another Troop collected car radio aerials. He broke them off of cars. That would break our code. He went on to be a celebrated psychiatrist. That figures.

One night, we stole this motor scooter and rode it around the football field in the dark. My buddy wrecked it. It caught fire. We put out the blaze and returned it. We had our code. We stole a road grader and put it on this girl's lawn. That would pass for mild flirting in West Texas. We stole the school bus and left it on the school lawn.

We also used our Scouting skills to sneak into all manner of places. We'd slip in the movies. One guy would go in saying he was looking for someone. He'd open the emergency door behind the screen, and the ever-silent Scouts would slip in. We'd also climb in the bathroom window. We were regulars for the last feature of the night at the Midway Theatre. When the concession would close and the ticket taker would go in the office, we'd slip in while we could still steal hot pop corn. We'd put folks in the trunk to slip in at the drive-in movies. We'd also drive in the exit with the lights off. The back doors at Fair Park Coliseum were easy.

We slipped into swimming pools and swimming holes, public and private. A favorite was K.N. Clapp pool late at night. That same bad, non-Troop Six kid that took a dump on the teacher's desk, also took a dump on the diving board. I don't think a true Boy Scout would have done that.

Lubbock, Texas is the flatest city on earth, bar none. We were always climbing on buildings or going up to the top of large buildings to look out to the edge of the horizon. It is a spiritual, West Texas thing. My braver pals scaled water towers, and went up in the bell tower of the Texas Tech Administration building. We were always looking toward the edge.

I started dating a rich girl. I stole some wild game from their deep freeze, but could never cook it right. The Lubbock Country Club had a teenage dance room with a juke box. This guy would hand me quarters to play songs. I'd palm a few, putting the skim on. By the end of the night, my pockets were jingling like Santa's sleigh.

I was very serious about Boy Scouts around the age of thirteen. I got a job as janitor at the Boy Scout office. It paid $4.50 a week. I was inducted into Order of the Arrow, the honor society. I think they liked my leadership skills at stealing as a small group. When I was headed for Philmont Scout Ranch, I was caught climbing out of the window of the Boy Scout office. I was getting some merit badges for the trip. I only took the ones I was entitled to wear, and I left the money to pay for them. Still, it looked a little-bit bad.

One summer, another guy and I would steal watermelons from this store, Appleton's, on busy 19th Street. The watermelons were out front. It took all our Scouting skills to pull it off. We'd sell them door to door. The rich neighborhood was very used to the Troop Six Scouts, always raising money. Then we'd head for the swimming pool.

In Texas, you could get a driver's license at age fourteen. When some guys started driving, we stole booze from garages, Lubbock being a dry town. Lubbock just went wet in May of 2009. We'd bootleg this booze at the Cotton Club, Lubbock's legendary road house. That's the way I met Elvis Presley. With the dawn of rock and roll, and the movie Blackboard Jungle, teenagers in the mid-fifties were in open rebellion against the older generation and the blandness of Eisenhower's America. Once at a crowded party, at a popular girl's house, a couple of my pals came with the stolen safe from Luby's Cafeteria in their car trunk. The rear bumper was dragging the pavement, and all the teenagers were gossiping about it. None would consider snitching them off.

At the age of fourteen, my Boy Scout days were about over. I had already gotten my first tattoo at the South Plains Fair. My best pal and I were arrested inside the Lindsey Theatre during the New Year's midnight show for setting off a string of fire crackers near the stage. We lacked an exit plan. They put us on probation and made us go to the Boy's Club, where we met all the future, legendary criminals of Lubbock

I also lost my virginity in a whorehouse in Carlisle, Texas at age fourteen. This incredibly beautiful, intellectual woman with granny glasses was reading a large tome when I entered the room. It cost five bucks. I still wear granny glasses. These guys were yelling the Spanish word for virgin right outside the door. I lost my hand-carved Duncan Yo-Yo in her room, but was ashamed to go back and ask for it. At that time, the Duncan Yo-Yo Company sent experts to school yards to teach tricks and hand-carve Yo-Yos.

It was time to put away childish things, like Yo-Yos, Boy Scouts, and stealing. I was getting too nervous to steal. I was too lazy to work, so I started to run small pot-cut poker games and play in big poker games. That worked for years. I gave up the Boy Scout Oath for the Gambler's Oath.

Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom.

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