Almost Thirteen by John Ottey
I’m turning thirteen in two weeks and I’ve never told a lie that I can remember or stolen a thing. It’s a fact not lost on anybody—not on my parents who consider me the greatest, most innocent kid in the world or my friends who think I’m a pussy and tell me that officially I’m not really part of their club. They’ll lie given the chance and they rob from Old Man Munster’s 7-11 on a regular basis. Only they don’t consider it stealing exactly because Munster is such a creep and only lets us in two at a time and on winter mornings when it is sleeting and slushy. There is a five minute limit even though the school bus comes right by here and he can see we’re all freezing to death.
But now it is summer and because we don’t have bikes to ride or
canoes to paddle or little league practice, we’re out behind the
Munster’s 7-11 on Dollar Hill Drive. The four of them—Jeff, Victor,
Timmy and Roger—are sitting in a pretty tight circle partially hidden
from the parking lot by a tangle of manzanita. I stand near the
dumpster. From the corner of one eye I can see them trading the loot
like Indians swapping beads. I see the flash of an orange wrapper and
know it’s a Reese’s. Roger goes for it when Timmy lets it hit the
ground; he studies it for a minute, then from inside his t-shirt pulls
something white and oblong. And I know it’s a Baby Ruth. He holds it in
both hands like it’s a frigging peace pipe or something, then offers it
over to Timmy. In the club they call this the right of first refusal.
It’ll go on like this for ten minutes or so. Next is Victor’s turn.
Then Jeff goes last because he’s sort of the leader. Then it starts all
over with Timmy. There’ll be Paydays, Big Hunks, Nestle Crunch and
Hundred Grands. Because I’m younger and have yet to steal, I’m the
lookout—and that’s all I am. I have to settle for penny candy. It
usually comes from one of their front pockets and on a hot summer day
like it is now, I know it’ll be covered with lint and they’ll all laugh
at me with big chocolaty grins as I peel off the fuzz and pop them into
mouth. Still I’m not stealing—not for anything—I know that’s a bad
thing to do. Let them eat their Hershey’s and Ho-Hos. I’ll settle for
the butterscotch or a Bazooka Joe just so I don’t have to lie—not to my
mom, not to my dad, not to anybody when I say, I’m innocent.
After fifteen minutes of watching customers come and go from the
parking lot, I start to get a little antsy when I see something I’ve
never seen before. Jeff stands up, shakes his leg and out drops a
magazine. This is a first. And even from where I’m standing, I know
what kind of magazine it is. If I’ve ever stolen anything, it’s only
glances at that cover—in the barbershop where my dad goes, on the racks
inside the store—but I’ve never been inside those pages, never looked
at them once. And for the last few months, since my voice started
cracking and I’ve been itching all over, I’ve been dying to see what’s
behind those glossy covers. But I don’t go over there. I know they
won’t let me look. They’ll say I haven’t earned it—not until I’ve
stolen something. They’ll flip me a butterscotch or a pack of Smarties
and tell me to get back to my post. So when Old Man Munster walks
toward me carrying the trash, I don’t whistle like I’m supposed to.
Instead I nod in the direction of the manzanita. It takes a second for
him to make them out, but when he does he drops the trash. I watch as
he storms over to the other boys. Tells them they’ll go to hell for
robbing him; they’ll go blind for wiggling their beans at the magazine.
Jeff, Victor, Roger and Timmy scatter their bounty—candy, the magazine,
Reese’s, the Paydays—it’s flying at old Munster’s head. They run in
circles as Munster tries to catch them, but he’s too old and fat and
only gets armfuls of summer air, and then they are gone over the fence
with Munster stumbling after them.
I know this means no more penny candy, but I don’t care. After all, in two weeks I’ll be thirteen. I think about what Munster said about stealing—about looking at the magazine. But I don’t know if I believe him. Besides, I’m almost thirteen. And as I walk down Dollar Hill Drive towards home eating a half-melted Hershey with the centerfold of Ms. July tucked neatly in my back pocket, both blindness and hell seem like tolerable risks.