Lawrence - My Hometown
By Richard E. Noble
I was reading a book not too long ago by the infamous bank robber, Willie Sutton. Besides robbing banks and breaking out of prisons all over America, Willie had a famous quote attached to his legend. When asked why he robbed banks, his response was, “Because that’s where the money is.”
As I continued reading his autobiography, I noticed that Willie and I had a number of similar attitudes and opinions. Willie did not “rat” on his fellow riffraff. He didn’t like wealthy people very much. He justified his robbing banks by suggesting that it was only fair because, in his opinion, banks robbed regular people and on a regular basis. He was also not overly fond of policemen, politicians, or authority in general.
As I continued reading Willie Sutton, I wondered why an upstanding, righteous, asset to the community like myself was so sympathetic to the views of a professional bank robber.
One of the first books from the Lawrence Library that I read as a young man was the Great Impostor, written about the phenomenal life of Ferdinand Waldo Demara. I think the author was Robert Crichton. I picked the book because Mr. Demara was from Lawrence.
Ferdinand Waldo Demara gets drafted but goes AWOL. He then turns himself into a Harvard professor and gets a commission in the Marine Corps. He continues on a road of imaginative deception and assumes a number of other difficult and prestigious occupations.
They made a movie about him staring Tony Curtis, Karl Malden, Raymond Massey and an array of other big movie stars.
So why am I reading about criminals and enjoying it? Why do I have so many common criminal values? Could it have anything to do with being raised in poverty in the streets of Lawrence and being chased around every day, from corner to corner, by the local police?
Well whatever the sociological and psychological connections, us little guys hanging out on the street corners of Lawrence in the 50’s and 60’s did not have the healthiest attitude towards the local police. We weren’t criminals or impostors. We lived there. But wherever it is that we decided to hangout, the police would soon be there to protest our right to squat.
In the early days of our street corner lives whenever the cops would pull up we would immediately scatter. But as time went on we became immune. They would take out their pencils and pads and ask us our names. We would lie. They would ask us where we lived and we would lie.
One day this cop decides that he has taken all the guff that he is going to, he says; “If you guys don’t start answering me truthfully, you are all going to the station house.”
His next question was, “Are you the oldest in your family?”
Ray Dolan says, “No, my mother and father are both older.”
“That’s it,” the frustrated cop says. “Every one of you guys is under arrest and you are going with me down to the police station.”
“No foolin’?” says Billy Jackson.
“No! I ain’t foolin! Get over there and get into that cruiser.”
Jackson jumps off the steps at Nell’s Variety and runs towards the cruiser screaming, “Shot-gun. I got shot-gun. I yelled it first.”
He ran over to the cruiser and jumped into the front passenger seat. When the cop climbed into the driver’s seat, Jackson said, “Are you going to turn on the bubble machine and blast the siren?”
“Get the hell in the back seat, before I give you a crack.”
“Oh, come on, man? How can six of us crowd into that tiny back seat?”
Jackson reluctantly climbed into the back seat with the rest of us. We bugged the cop all the way to the police station to turn on the siren and the bubble machine but he wouldn’t do it.
They threw us into a room by ourselves. As I remember we pinched one pack of cigarettes and two brown bag lunches out of the desk in the room.
This guy came strolling in dressed in baggy pants and a holey T-shirt. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in a week and slept in a garbage can the night before. Jack Greco said, “There’s the Chief, now. Let’s ask him about all this bull.” We all laughed. Just then another officer stepped into the room, “Hey Chief, they need you downstairs.”
“Tell them I’ll be there in a minute,” the bum replied.
That hobo was the chief!
Rambo had picked us up at about six o’clock. By nine it started snowing heavy. We sat there until eleven or twelve o’clock. Finally the cop who arrested us came back into the room.
“What is it with you guys? Don’t any of you have any parents?”
“Sure we got parents. Everybody’s got parents.”
“Well, it’s midnight, and not one parent has called to find out where any of you juvenile delinquents are.”
“Did you ever figure that our parents might not have telephones? And where do you get off calling us delinquents?”
“Well then, why haven’t they showed up here at the station?”
“Why the heck would they look for us at the police station? They’re probably wandering around the corner where you picked us up.”
“Get the hell out of here and go home. I’m tired of looking at you guys.”
“Screw you. You have to take us back to where you got us. It’s been snowing for three hours. We’ll freeze,” said Jack Sheehy.
Believe it or not, the officer drove us back to the corner at Nell’s and dumped us off. And all the way back we ragged him about the siren and the bubble machine. He turned them both on as he drove away. What a bugger!
Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published five books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry -parts of it inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America, is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle.