Thursday, June 12, 2014

Life with Fred and Lucy, Episode 31: Street Smarts

How does one acquire street smarts? If you have parents with a bad case of OCD and paranoia, the answer is easy; trust no one. My father was a survivor of “The Great Depression” and my mother moved here from Naples, Italy right as Mussolini was in power and becoming chummy with Hitler, so they saw things that probably stayed with them for a long time.
My father could tell by a person’s body language if they were up to no good. Every once in a while, when a customer entered our store, Fred would say to us four kids, “Keep an eye on him or her. They’re going to steal something.”
Since I usually played the role of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ I would quickly counter with, “But…dad, they go to school with us. I don’t think they’re like that.”
“Just watch,” my father would snap back his reply, folding his arms in confirmation. Damn! He was right. I would watch from a hidden section of the story and see friends and neighbors that I knew or thought I knew, pocket candy or cakes, rolls, etc. into coat pockets or purses.
My father was a fountain of behavior profiling before it was ever a science or used by law enforcement agencies. These are just a few of his theories: Always check their eyes; If they won’t look you in the eye, they’re hiding something; If they keep glancing around as if nervous, they’re getting ready to do something bad; If they keep clearing their throats when speaking to you, they are in the act of lying.
                    The sisters practicing self-defense on each other                                          
Why were Fred and Lucy always on target? It was a gift. With my mom, I think it had to do with her psychic abilities and with Fred maybe it was the horror of growing up during very hard times. My father said he could usually tell if a person was ‘missing a few days of the week’ (the code for knuckleheads) by looking at their eyes. There were so many times that my father and I would argue because he didn’t like one of my friends. “Keep away from that kid! There’s something wrong with them.” Fred was usually right about the friends that he didn’t like, but at the time I was too angry to appreciate his attempts to protect me.
The behavior profiling didn’t stop in the store. My parents were always telling us kids how to be aware of your surroundings while away from home. Here is a list of Fred and Lucy’s truisms: Always keep looking behind you when walking on the street; if you’re suspicious about someone who is approaching you; cross the street and then walk quickly away; lock your car door as soon as you get into the car; hold your purse close to your body; if there is a group heading your way, and you’re afraid, then walk into the street.
I wondered if walking into oncoming traffic was wise, but Fred had an answer for that too. “If you have to get hit by a car to keep from getting dragged into the bushes; do it.” Since we did not have bushes in South Philly, I kind of ignored that bit of advice, but it did come in handy years later.                                                                     
We kids became street wise and there were dangerous situations that we were able to avoid or get away from because of the lessons learned from Fred and Lucy. I passed these lessons on to my daughter, and she to her children.

Recently, my youngest grandson was being followed by a white pick-up truck. It could have been innocent, but… he was nervous. It didn’t seem right that the truck would drive real slow as it followed him home for almost two weeks. ReRe notified the police who took down the information. Was that enough for my daughter and I? Hell no!

My daughter and I began our stake-out. We had coffee, cameras, and dark sunglasses. We were ready for the white pick-up.  We would watch as Nathan left the school to walk home; wait a few minutes to see if anyone followed and then we tailed Nathan until he reached home.
                          We were trying to be like Cagney and Lacey                                          
 We did this for several weeks and collected a few suspicious license plate numbers for the police. We may have scared the shit out of the men in that white pick-up, because Nathan hasn’t seen the truck since we began our stake-out.  The investigation is still on going, but to make sure Nathan was 'street smart ready', I re-stated my parent’s warnings.

Be Street Smart and pass it down.

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