What better field trip could kindergarten offer the kids than a tour of the local fire station? I remember my trip fondly. One spring day in 1977, the teachers loaded us up in a big yellow bus with "Polish air conditioning." That's what the bus driver called opening the windows. I'm not making this up. Polish air conditioning -- ah the days before political correctness. Anyway, we rode to the fire station where we split into two groups. Both groups got the grand tour of the fire house, one after the other. My group entered first. The fireman tour guide showed us all the components of a fully functional fire station. Fascination struck the group of kids. We ooh-ed and ah-ed as if we were watching fireworks. I felt we could have skipped over the shower room, what account of several showing fireman winking and offering us a chance at "working the hose" and whatnot, but what would I know at the age of six? How dirty could we kids have been anyway?
I had a great day at the firehouse. I learned much. I found the firemen friendly and charming. The trucks, poles, radios and equipment together made one giant adult playground. Heck, one day when I grew up, I might become a fireman myself. It made that big an impression on me. But at the end of the tour came the grand finale: a bag of candy for each tourist! The fireman leading our group gave us kids the candy. What a hero! I found it a nice touch. Classy. Sure, the tour was entertaining. But being able to take something away from the experience, something tangible, delighted me. I love candy.
We dashed to the bus where we were to reconcile with the other group. My group arrived a few minutes early and boarded the bus first. The teacher for the absent group, Mrs. Thomas, boarded the bus and addressed us kids. Get this load of crap:
Come again. Share? Look lady, I'm sure in adult-land bags of candy fall in your lap all the time, but when you're a kid, it's a damn rare event. I regret learning that the other group didn't get any candy, but I fail to see how that's MY problem. The way I saw it, kindergarten was a ripe age to learn that life isn't always fair. And I was going to teach that lesson to whichever poor bastard child sat in my seat. There was only one problem.
I understand that nowadays the word "retarded" is offensive. So I didn't have a retarded kid sitting next to me. Instead, I had a "learning disabled" kid sitting next to me. His name was Jamie. And like me, he was lucky enough to have been in the candy group. I'm sure you see the problem. If a candy-less kid sits next to me and the retar... learning disabled kid offers his bag of candy for sharing, the new kid could surmise that I, too, had a bag of candy to share. I had to think fast. An idea hit me.
First, my story would be that I was one of the poor children who got gipped out of a bag of candy. Second, I had to make certain my booty was concealed. Third, I had to get the LD to go along with the story. This was a tall order for a kindergartner. I had to marshall all my wits and nerve. And I had to enlist the help of an "LD."
I was confident in my ability to hid my candy and lie convincingly to the Tiny Tim booger-eater begging me to share. But coaching Jamie to play along would require a small miracle. Everybody knows that the slower the kid, the more sincere he is and the more eager to please. God bless our learning disabled. They don't have the faculties for deception. Just the same, Jamie was going to get a crash course in chicanery.
Talking under my breath, I explained to Jamie that our bags of candy were going to lose weight unless we stuck together and cooked up a scam par excellence. We would have to assume the identities of children who were in the latter group, the ones who got screwed. In fact, we were hoping he had some candy to share with us. Of course, Jamie needed to conceal his candy on his person and keep it there until the coast was clear. This is no time to 'tard out on me, Jamie. Focus!
A minute later, sure as tomorrow, some Tiny Tim takes a seat in Jamie's and my booth. The boarding group had been briefed that candy awaited them from those inside the bus. I didn't even wait for this little douche bag to ask. I immediately addressed him: "So, do you have any candy? Because we didn't get any." I turned my head to Jamie and flashed him a look of encouragement. This is your cue, Jamie. I could only hope my instructions remained intact in his short-term memory long enough to pull off the caper. Come on, Jamie. Remember all those after-school specials? You can do it!
Whatever "learning disability" those teachers diagnosed Jamie with, they were full of crap. Jamie delivered. He shrugged his shoulders with all the dejection of a disappointed child and echoed my sentiments. "No candy." Yes! Move over, Al Pacino! You ain't got nothing on Jamie the LD. I studied the new kid for signs of doubt. If he voiced any suspicion, I'd have to snuff him out and blame Jamie. But the little bastard bought our performance. Not a trace of doubt crossed his disappointed face. Who's the slow kid now?
Prologue: Jamie did indeed keep his mouth shut for the duration of the trip. He and I enjoyed every sweet, delicious morsel in our bags. And I believe we both learned a valuable life lesson: if you have anything of value, keep it a secret, because there's always some asshole with a sob story who believes he's entitled to a piece of it.