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1. Stuffed goose on a chair (yep, there really was a stuffed goose on a chair)

2. Freedom

3. Between these walls


It wasn’t because of the money, really. I mean, the money was nice, of course, but I only did it all for the freedom it allowed me. If I didn’t have to go sit in an office all day and listen to a bunch of nincompoops expound about their prowess as financial wizards I could do what I really wanted, which was to paint. Not pictures—houses.

So, I figured that a quick bit of larceny was called for. I didn’t really have any experience along those lines but when I began to think seriously about it, I realized that there was a good chance that I might have inherited a wee bit of talent in that direction from my father, who spoke with pleasure of his various misdeeds during those periods that he was in my life. That is to say when he wasn’t locked up somewhere.

I’d first met my father when I was five or so, just beginning my 12-year stint as a student. He showed up about Christmas time, I think, and my kindergarten ego caused me to show off to him.

“Don’t get to thinking you’re somethin’ special, boy,” he told me. “I don’t say there’s anything wrong with book learnin’, and it’s nice that you can read a little bit. But there’s more to life, I can tell you. I’ve had some adventures you’ve never even thought of!”

I was intrigued, of course, by this strange, ugly man who wanted to be called “Jack”, not “Daddy”, although my mom scowled and tried to protest.

“Come on, Jack” she whined. “You’re the only father he has. Don’t you think it’s time for you to…”

He stopped her with a look. “The kid and I’ll be friends, okay? Give it a rest.”

He and I spent long hours together on that visit, just getting to know each other. We painted the barn together and went fishing at Connor Lake and did things just like normal people. I thought that we’d be together for always. Then one day he was gone.

My mother walked around tight-lipped and red-eyed. “Never you mind,” she said again and again. “He’s not worth missing. It’ll be just you and me from now on.

But by mid-summer he was back and she welcomed him with hugs and smiles. I didn’t understand it at all.

Jack would be around for months at a time, sharing stories of stupid people and accessible riches. I was entranced by the character he was and a little bit cautious about believing him. We’d grow close and then he’d disappear again.

“You might as well know he’s in jail,” Mom said one day when I was about nine “He just can’t seem to keep his thieving hands in his pockets. But, oh Lord, I do love that man!”

Well, so did I, although I wasn’t about to say so out loud. I grew up thinking he was good—at least he always was to me—and also bad, and so were we all.

The day I finished high school I left home for good. I found an apartment on 68th Street, not the very best neighborhood, but at least it offered me privacy and freedom and left a few bucks for grub and gas. The job I had was programming and trouble shooting the computers for a real estate office on the West Side. It wasn’t what I wanted, but the money came in handy, and I knew it would be for just a little while.

Somehow, while I wasn’t paying attention, “just a little while” turned into six years.