First Person

They questioned some of the scholarship kids first, boys with cheap-cut shirts and shabby jackets—the ones who tied their neckties as if they meant it, not with the shrug of boys who’d been born with a tailor in the next room. This was at a boarding school in Pennsylvania, high on a hill overlooking a factory town where shoes were sold with metal tips, so if you dropped your hammer you wouldn’t break your toes.

Next they questioned the rougher kids, the ones who’d give the gym coach the finger while he was watching, ones who laughed in chapel and smirked during grace. 

There’d been a series of thefts. No one knew if it was while we were all in class or at meals or sports or when the hell it was. Someone had gone into the seniors’ rooms and one by one pilfered cartridges from turntables. They didn’t bother questioning the janitor or the groundkeepers. These were older, foreign men who listened to baseball on the radio or the Make Believe Ballroom. They weren’t likely to have stereos or Mitch Ryder records tucked away.

In the end, they found the loot stashed in the closet of the wealthiest boy in school, and it was a deeply embarrassing situation. His father owned half of Cuba and the nicer parts of New Jersey, and his grandfather had donated the swimming pool and the library to the school. It was kept very quiet; he was put on probation and had to put in six weeks community service before starting at Dartmouth in the fall.

They’d found the cartridges packed up tight in an old shoebox, ready to be shipped to someone who knew the owner of a stereo shop. Once caught, he was not only happy to explain the plan, he was proud of it. After paying for postage and giving his friend a commission, he was going to net more than three hundred and thirty dollars, he laughed, demonstrating a keenness for math that hadn’t previously been noted.

We’d all sit and talk about this after lights were out. Three hundred and thirty dollars was real money, but not for him. I’d seen him buy a seventy-five-cent hamburger with a fifty dollar bill. It was the first time I’d ever seen a fifty dollar bill. What was three hundred and thirty bucks when his uncle was in talks to buy the Mets?

“He doesn’t want more,” my friend Morgan said. “He simply wants everyone else to have less.”

It made perfect sense. His pockets were already full to bursting. There wasn’t a way he could have more. But the sweetness of his classmates having less, that was something he could taste, like honey on his tongue.


Brian Cullman is a writer and musician living in New York City.