Yes, yours truly did get into a bit of mischief every now and then; some of it more sordid than others. When I was eleven or so I had a friend by the name of Bobby Harris, who lived in Phoenix.
It was quite an adventure when we’d go to Phoenix to visit them. The big city was a fascinating place to an eleven year old boy from a small town. Bobby and I were allowed to walk the few blocks to a nearby shopping mall, and though we never had much money, we’d sometimes have enough to get a coke, an ice cream cone, or maybe some candy. A piece of gum from one of the gum ball machines was always on our list of affordable items. They were only a penny back then, and some machines gave you two gum balls for one penny. Score!
One Saturday, Bobby walked to the mall, and when we arrived there, he went straight to one of the gum ball machines. After a nervous glance around the area, he took something out of his pocket and closed his fist over it. I watched curiously as he continued glancing around nervously. I sidled up next to him and quietly asked what he was doing.
He opened his closed fist, showing me a small piece of red wax about the size of a penny. After he showed it to me, he quickly closed his hand over it again. I found out later it was a piece of those wax candy lips that were popular back then. “Have to get it kinda warm,” he whispered, glancing around nervously again.
I didn’t know what he was about to do with the piece of wax, but his nervous excitement was contagious. I, too, began glancing around at all the people passing by us; nervous, but not sure why. Finally, Bobby said “it” was ready. I watched transfixed as he put the small piece of wax into the slot on the gumball machine where you normally put a penny. No way!
He turned the machine’s handle just like you would if you’d placed a penny in the slot. To my amazement, the handle rotated, and I heard the familiar rattle of a gum ball rolling down the chute and clicking into the little metal lid of the machine. Bobby lifted the lid, and my eyes were big as baseballs as he showed me the bright red gum. He handed it to me and I popped it into my mouth.
“Now,” he said, turning back to the gum machine, “watch this.” I looked back at the machine, and I was amazed to see the red piece of wax still in the penny slot. He turned the handle again, and another gum ball rattled down and clinked into the door. Grinning broadly, he proudly displayed the gum ball—a yellow one—then popped it into his mouth.
As he chewed, he told me to hold both my hands under the chute. I was on to his plan, and after a quick glance around us, I knelt and cupped my hands under the delivery chute. Bobby held the little door open with one hand and turned the crank with his other hand. Gum balls began to roll into my cupped hands, and before long I had all I could hold. I stood up, being careful not to drop any, and Bobby took some of them and shoved them into the pockets of his shorts. I let him take another handful then put the rest into my own pockets.
We shared a triumphant grin then ran like hell for the exit!
The infamous Gum Ball Gang was born.