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Newsletter Dated: 5/12/2012 5:08:47 AM
Subject: CRIME - May 12
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and my Mom always asked why I, as a novelist, did not write mysteries or detective stories in the common mold of the ubiquitous “who done it”, of which she was a devotee? I think she read every murder mystery ever written.
I avoided the genre for two reasons: #1, the mystery novel is not my thing.
And #2, as Ellery Queen told me many years ago, “Crime does not pay — enough.”
My mother, totally addicted to “who done its”, was certain Agatha Christie had written “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. Don’t feel bad, Momma; I once knew a gal who thought Francis Scott Key was the author of “Gone With the Wind”.
Also, I was once married to a woman who was not exactly an aficionado of American history. I had won a 6” glass replica of the Liberty Bell shooting hoops at an amusement park (3 out of 20), and the next day I found it in the trash. “They sure saw you coming,” she explained. “Damned thing’s cracked!”
Anyway, with the unending parade of crime shows, courtroom dramas, and police precincts on TV to which everyone is addicted, it’s a real mystery why any self-respecting bad guy would go about doing dastardly deeds in the first place.
Alicia Florrick, Harriet Korn, Mitch McDeere (John Grisham’s alter-ego on The Firm), Steve McGarrett on Hawaii 5-0, the Reagans on Blue Blood, the plethora of CSI and Law and Order spin-offs — are shows Mom didn’t lived long enough to enjoy. But it seems they always get their man in the end, and nobody can get away with a damn thing. Why bother? The fruit of crime (as Bernie Madoff might say) cannot be harvested profitably.
Of course, conscience doth make cowards of us all, or so they say. For example . . .
A longtime ago, as I was just breaking into the broadcasting dodge, I went to work for WNYR and was paid the staggering sum of $50 a week, hardly an amount to sustain a newly wed with a child enroute. About four weeks in, with the rent and car payment impending, not to mention medical bills and the installment on our used 12” Motorola b&w rental all coming due, I devised a clever plot to increase my weekly stipend from fifty to sixty dollars.
With the simple stroke of a pen, I altered the 4 on my paycheck to a 6 (the bank clerk would never notice that the machine printed portion was accurate; an auditor would merely assume the clerk had misread the amount and had dutifully handed over the 20 additional bucks.)
Being a super criminal, I cleverly went to the same bank and same teller who diligently serviced me each week, and within minutes I absconded with six tens rather than the four to which I was entitled ($50 minus, of course, the obligatory IRS, FICA et al deductions of the day).
The teller, by the way, was named Sophie Drews, a pale, drop-dead beauty with raven hair and an unbelievable figure, with whom I was madly in love and fantasized about on at least four hundred occasions per week. We more or less grew up together in the ‘50s (I saw her for about five minutes as often as once a week), and years later, when she became the paramour of a certain prominent acquaintance, I sometimes joined them for drinks and dinner.
Sophie, naturally, never knew of my life as a master embezzler.
This plot of legerdemain was short-lived, however (yes, I still say, correctly, short-lived with a long “i” rather than short-lived with, incorrectly, a short “i”, despite the surrender of lexiconists, dictionaries, and TV anchors; usage is all fine and good, but so also is tradition.)
Anyway, my criminal aspirations lasted barely through that first weekend. I tossed and turned against my damp pillow of guilt, hoping the sirens I heard off in the distance were for speeders and other malcontents, and not the gendarmes about to descend on me and drag me away to prison.
First thing Monday morning, I hastened to the local bank and told Sophie she had made an error with my last paycheck I gave her back the ill-gotten funds, for which she smiled so sweetly I thought my heart would break. Were it not for the two feet of marble and gilded ironwork between us, I know she would have rewarded my abject honesty with a wet and open kiss.
I never saw Sophie again for at least twenty years. I thought of her often, however, as she rose through the ranks and became the bank’s vice president, etc. You can imagine my surprise when I ran into her and her “boy friend” one night at the Top of the Plaza. I was with Wife No. 2 by then, and if Sophie had any memory of the incident in the ‘50s, she graciously made no mention of it.
“Do you remember . . .” I began. But I could tell by her blank expression that she did not and was not about to.
I have never knowingly broken the law since, my bouts with the IRS notwithstanding. During the Nixon years my place on his “enemies list” made my mother proud. I was audited four times by the Feds — but that hardly counts even though I was unjustly harassed on each occasion. Even the IRS examiner, a Mrs. Helen Doody, took no umbrage when I waltzed into her office and greeted: “Howdy, Doody!”
I don’t know if Sophie and her paramour ever got married, and in the general scheme of things, it no longer matters. But I hope they did, if only so she could have become a mother herself and have a bevy of youngsters to raise who — like me — would grow up to become honest, law-abiding citizens able to watch the Alicias, Harrets, Mitches, McGarretts and Reagans of TV and be glad when the jury said, “Guilty!”
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