Even when one has led an exemplary life — gone to church, loved his mother, befriended strangers with leprosy — one (me as an example) occasionally stares into the rear-view mirror of a life and feels a certain shame. Whether an unkind word, a cruel prank, or an armed robbery, sad regret can set in.
Yes, even I have done some things I’m not proud of, and the earliest one that stands out was at Bible school as a kid. I said a mean thing to a girl, who in truth probably had it coming since she was making fun of me for something or other — most likely my buck teeth.
Spiteful retribution is never acceptable in a house of worship, and I can still picture the ridiculous grin on the face of this girl I’d never seen before or since. Who knows what goes through a brilliant, young mind that leads to such an insightful comparison, but I looked her square in the face and said, “Very funny. You look like a jackal eating sour grapes.”
I had no idea what a jackal was, but for some reason it appeared as the perfect, descriptive comeback. I remember her hurt look, but in retrospect, maybe I taught her a more valuable lesson than anything in our worksheet that day. Realizing how it felt, she possibly never insulted anyone again. In that case, it was a noble thing I did.
Ten years later as a senior in high school, two shameful deeds stare back at me from that mirror. Little Eddie Jackson was a good friend of mine and of my best friend, Donnie Eash, but when I’d spend the night at Don’s house, we’d occasionally get bored. Prank calls were always a popular option, but one night I suggested we take it to a new level.
We called nearly every girl in our class, from the homeliest to the prettiest and most popular, identifying ourselves as Eddie Jackson. We took turns, and it went something like this: “Hi Pam, this is Eddie Jackson. I’m in love with you and I was wondering if you’d like to go out on a date some time?”
We varied the invitations, but the gist was the same, and every single one of the hot girls nervously declined and hung up quickly. A few of the jackal-looking ones expressed interest, but basically Eddie struck out swinging. Oh how we giggled the next day in school as the gals went out of their way to avoid a clueless and befuddled Eddie.
I don’t know what possessed us to such cruelty. Maybe it was our own insecurity since Don and I, both with pimples so bad it looked like our mothers fed us with slingshots, weren’t exactly in demand either.
Lester Stephenson was another best friend just before graduation, to whom I dealt an unfair hand one afternoon in the big shopping Mecca of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. We drove there to pick up our senior photos at Cover Studios and later stopped at George’s Song Shop to check out some of his latest 45 records.
My fingers were a little sticky during that period, and my pockets nearly empty after paying for my graduation photos. I bought a Beach Boys record and astutely noticed the bag was big enough to hold many more. Necessity being the mother of invention, as we browsed the shelves, I slipped several more 45s into the bag.
So as not to appear suspicious, I decided to pay for one more and, at the counter, handed Lester the bag as I made my second purchase. George, a large, hairy Italian man, said “No use wasting another bag,” and asked Les for the one he was holding. Appearing troubled, he glared at Lester and growled, “Hey, you didn’t pay for this one. Or this one, or this one! What do you think you’re trying to pull here?”
Les was nobody’s patsy and snapped right back at George, “Hey, they ain’t mine, man!” Now I bore the brunt of George’s glare and I somehow talked myself out of a shoplifting arrest. Sure, my good buddy Lester demonstrated a disturbing lack of loyalty that day, but hey … there’s enough blame to go around, I guess.
So to Les, Eddy, Jackal Face and a few others I didn’t mention, I sincerely regret and apologize all these years later. That’s just what a man of great honor and integrity does.