Grand Theft Auto
When I was in high school in the 1970s, my dad had an early 1960s-vintage Ford Falcon that he’d obtained from his sister’s husband. I wasn’t part of the discussions about it, but I’m pretty sure that he got it so that we could have a second family car (read: work car) after he’d given our 1950 Ford to my older brother Mike. The Ford had been our only car for a while, and then we got a 1960 or 1961 red Valiant station wagon (a beauty!) from one of Dad’s other sister’s husband; when Mike got his license, he got the Ford. At least that’s the chain of events as I recall them.
Fast forward to my Senior year in high school, either late 1972 or early 1973…
In art class, we were learning about painting with oils, and Sister Jane Mary had assigned us to complete a painting in that medium. At the time, I was fascinated with an all-night-into-morning talk show on WOHO — which happened to be less than a mile from school and which no longer exists— hosted by a fellow named Ken R. Deutsch. He was hip and cool and funny and much of his show was silliness, really… I recall lots of trivia. In fact, I once called in to inform him of something I’d read in Crawdaddy or Rolling Stone — that belching (or farting) cows was one of the primary sources of methane in the environment. So it was because of this fascination that I decided I would do a portrait of Deutsch, whom I’d never met.
In order to do the portrait, it was important that I take pictures of Deutsch in order to have references, right? Especially since I’d never seen a picture of him. So, late one night 1:00-ish AM, I snuck out our back door, which was conveniently close to my bedroom, and I stole my dad’s Falcon. (Remember the Falcon? This is a story about the Falcon.) I can’t recall how I’d absconded with his keys, but I got in the car and drove the approximately three-and-a-half miles and showed up at WOHO during Deutsch’s show. I also can’t recall how it came to be that I got permission to come to the studio. I must have suggested it during one of my phone calls and he said, “Sure.” Or something.
At this point, I might note a couple of important details: 1. I didn’t have a drivers license at the time; 2. I didn’t have a key to our back door, so I just pulled it shut and closed the storm door.
I took along my mom’s Kodak Colorburst Instant camera to take the photographs, and was at the station until the show went off the air at 5:00. It was pretty cool to watch a radio show in action. My memory is a tad foggy, but I think that there were maybe two other people in the studio.
So, with the show over — and with my mission accomplished — I left for home amidst a steadily falling snow which turned pretty heavy by the time I got there. I had to be especially careful since the last thing I needed was to get stopped by a cop or to crash the car. One thing I hadn’t considered in the least before taking the car was that — because we didn’t have a garage at the time — the car had been parked out on the street in front of the house, a spot which I’d left wide open for someone else to snatch up while I was off gallivanting. I would have been screwed if Dad were to get up for work only to find his car not where he’d left it. I was lucky, however, and the spot was still there when I got home.
BUT… when I got to the back door and tried to open it, it was locked. “Shit!” So, I went to the front door to use my key, then quietly make my way to my room without waking anyone, but as I opened the door and stepped in, my dad was in the kitchen getting his customary early morning glass of water. I quickly did the math: a draft in the storm door must have popped the unlocked back door open, and he’d noticed it while he was in the kitchen, so he locked it.
He asked me where I had been and I told him…
“at WOHO, taking pictures for an art project.”
“How did you get there?”
This was entirely believable, I suppose, since I hitchhiked pretty regularly at the time… in fact, almost every day to school. Earlier that school year, Dad had taken swings at me for coming home at 11:30 PM on a school night, so I was completely shocked that he not only didn’t knock me into the next time zone for this middle-of-the-night caper, but that nothing further was said about it. Ever.
I went to bed afraid that he would see the car’s tire tracks in the snow, not only alerting him that I’d been out on the roads illegally, but that I’d lied to him. So, I fell asleep hoping that it would keep snowing. I swear that I’d barely closed my eyes when my mom woke me up for school. I didn’t want to get up but I did, and much to my delighted surprise, I saw over a foot of snow on the ground. I’ll never know if he’d seen through the lie, but I lived to tell about it.
As I write this, I sort of can’t believe he didn’t know or at least suspect something. It’s very possible that I adjusted the seat in the car or left the defroster on high or… something that he would have recognized as out of the ordinary. I’m still puzzled as to how I got his keys and put them back without him knowing about it. I’m pretty sure that I’d make for a lousy criminal. Years later, after Dad had died, I owned up to my crime to my mom, but all she had to say about it was, “Your dad never owned a Falcon.”
By the way, the painting sucked. I disliked it so much that I didn’t even finish it. I don’t know whatever became of the photographs.
A side note… about ten years after my transgression, I was married to an artist, Penny. We lived in Toledo at the time, and as a freelancer, she got the opportunity to do courtroom sketches for one of the local television stations, WTOL, which — through connections and connections of connections — led her to getting work doing bump cards (“We’ll be right back”) for a brand new live local-access cable show, Limelight Tonight, starring a local radio personality, Paul W. Smith.
Penny became friends with the show’s make-up artist, Jeannie, and one fall afternoon, Penny and I went out on a double-date, of sorts, with Jeannie to an apple butter festival just south of Toledo. Her date for the afternoon: Ken R. Deutsch.