Neverending Repentance

A Presbyterian Church sign in Boise recently showed these words:

Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.

-Lily Tomlin

An early version of this statement is attributed to William Faulkner. Later, Oprah Winfrey borrowed the idea and created another variant. Just for that, I’m almost ready to forgive her for promoting Barack Obama.

Regardless of who originated the thought, it struck a chord with my soul, as I seem to have tried a lot of re-living the past. One example of this was the second Yugo I purchased.

From a prior blog, you will learn about my first Yugo. That story partially sets the emotional stage for my second Yugo affair. Why would I set myself up for more heartbreak with another Yugo, of all things? You know the saying, better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all…. whatever.

I still remember what happened to each of my cars, in order: Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile Toronado, Chevrolet Impala, Ford Fiesta, Yugo GV, Chevrolet S10, and Honda Civic CRX. Every one of those automobile relationships ended badly.

In 2010 I purchased a used Jeep Grand Cherokee. It seems God blessed me with the Jeep, or perhaps he baited me into liquidating my 401K savings to pay for it – in order to drive up a certain mountain road in Emigrant, Montana. While the Jeep was a great ride, it was using too much fuel for my liking on the 45-mile round trip to work every day. I was not interested in getting rid of my Jeep, but I was looking for a cheaper way to commute. No buses or trains were available in that area, so another car was my only plan.

A certain wealthy retiree had a little red Yugo sitting on his property, with windows left open to the rain and snow. He was willed the car from a deceased friend, and obviously didn’t care much about maintaining it. The paint had faded, and there were many mechanical things wrong with it – some that he didn’t tell me. He wanted $1000 for the car. I told him if I could get it to run, I’d pay him the money.

What was I thinking? Nobody in my world wanted a Yugo that was twenty years old, and certainly would not pay that much money for one if it were in mint condition. Sure this car would run, after I rocked it out of the rut it was sitting in, but the windshield washer wouldn’t work, the speedometer/odometer wouldn’t work, the gasoline level sensor was bad, the fuel cap didn’t fit, the fuel spout hose was rotted apart, the muffler was missing, the windshield wipers worked only while a certain button was held down, the tire treads were cracked and peeling, the water pump leaked, the scissor jack was missing. This thing was a lemon among lemons. My plan was to fix most of these problems, and simultaneously work off some of my emotional baggage.

I got some car wax and tried to shine up what was left of the red paint. I cleaned and re-installed the rear bench seat, which had been temporarily missing. I decided I could live without a working fuel gage, if I just carried a small spare gasoline jug.

After purchasing new belts, new ignition parts, new fuel and air filters, a new muffler, new tires, a new water pump, a new odometer cable, a non-expiring Park County registration, a new fuel cap, and an oddball jack from a junkyard, I had spent over $1000 in addition to the original purchase price. And it still wasn’t quite right.

I spent the better part of a Saturday installing the new water pump. This was quite a challenge, because I had no repair manual. In order to get to the bad water pump, I had to remove several other items. And I had to guess where some of the bolts were, because I couldn’t see them.  I thought I had put together a fairly complete set of car repair tools, but I didn’t have a certain short wrench necessary for part of the procedure. Fortunately, my friend Dave Singleton happened to have it.

There was one thing I couldn’t fix on this car, and none of my friends could either.

Yugos, and other small cars from the previous century, were usually equipped with devices called carburetors. A vehicle with a well tuned carburetor is often more fuel efficient than a similar fuel-injected vehicle.  It’s a lot like rocket science, but it’s being replaced by fuel injection systems.

That Yugo carburetor had been abused, to the result that the engine would not idle. It ran fine at 65 mph with my foot on the accelerator, but as soon as I came to a stop, it died. This was not suitable for waiting at intersections, or in stop-and-go traffic.

A mechanic with carburetor expertise could supposedly get it idling perfectly, but those people were hard to find. A person like me would have better luck purchasing an expensive rebuilt, pre-adjusted carburetor, instead of fiddling with one by myself. After all the money I had already spent, and with so little benefit to show from it, I turned the vehicle over to a friend, to try his luck with it.


Loyalty To A Car

Before you can be old and wise, you must finish being young and stupid.

* * *

In the summer of 1992 I packed my valuables into my white Yugo GV, and drove her to Memphis, Tennessee for a new job. From there, I drove her into Southaven every day for work. I drove her to Utah to visit my mother. I drove her to Elora, in a heavy rainstorm, to meet a relative. For several months, I drove her into Millington for line-dancing. I drove her to singles activities in Talahassee, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Huntsville, Independence, St. Louis, Nashville, and Baton Rouge. I’d plan my vacation time around Thanksgiving and drive her to Branson, Missouri and hang out there for several days at a time; shopping, dining out, and watching various music shows.

There were a couple maintenance issues that came up with the car. The first was a worn-out clutch. The second, discovered during a routine tune-up at a shop in Southaven, was a ripped wheel bearing seal.

I didn’t see exactly what happened to that seal they were talking about, or why it was so important, but a mechanic explained that I didn’t want to allow the bearing grease to leak out or get contaminated, which might dry out the wheel bearing, and cause the wheel to seize. I took the bad advice of that mechanic, and purchased a whole new axle assembly. He could have re-packed the bearing with fresh grease and installed a new boot cover, but that wasn’t as profitable as convincing me to buy a new axle assembly.

I didn’t realize they were taking advantage of me until a year later, when the same mechanic told me again I had a ripped wheel bearing seal, and he had already checked on a price for a new axle assembly. It didn’t feel right. To borrow an old proverb…

Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.

I left that repair shop and never went back. I also examined the wheel bearing seal, and discovered that it was a flexible rubber boot with a clean straight cut in it. Someone could have sliced it with a knife. If I did nothing to it, the boot was probably sufficient to protect the bearings for another two or three years. No new axle was necessary. A friend from work, Brian Murrell, suggested that it was easy to replace that boot, and he would help me do it.

This emotional affair with my car began to decline when she was struck broadside by a United Parcel Service tractor truck on Millbranch Road in Memphis. The impact dented the driver side door, and knocked my eyeglasses off my face. No visible damage to the UPS truck.

You might wonder how I put myself into the path of a UPS truck. Okay, I’ll try to make this quick, so pay attention. I was trying to help a chaplain of some sort who had broken down on interstate 240, who needed to get to a hospital to provide ministerial service to a sick person but we were headed east which was the wrong direction, so I trusted the chaplain to navigate us to the hospital in question, which he seemed anxious to do, and after I exited 240 onto Millbranch, I glanced at the signs and was inclined to take the jughandle loop to get turned around, but the chaplain had a different plan: he directed me into an illegal left-hand turn at the Nonconnah intersection, where he seemed rather cautious, telling me to wait for northbound traffic, during the which we were sitting in the path of – and oblivious to – southbound traffic.

* * *
When you’re driving on a strange busy road, and you get a feeling that something isn’t right, it just might be too late already to avoid having the sense knocked out of you.
* * *

After that incident I was driving damaged goods. The white Yugo GV wasn’t a new car anymore. But things could get worse with her – and things did. I was asked by a member of my LDS Ward to give somebody a ride to church, one Sunday, during Sunday School. He handed me an address to an old section of Memphis, and I rushed off in my Yugo, thinking if I hurried I might make it back to church before the opening prayer of sacrament meeting.

I had no GPS device to help me find the place, and no cell phone to call ahead. But I did have paper maps in the car. While rounding a curve, my Yugo suddenly lurched sideways. Before I could think clearly my foot hit the brake pedal. Bad idea. Her rear end pivoted around over 180 degrees, into the direction I was headed, and her rear wheel crashed against a curb. It made a loud crashing noise, which at least one man heard a block away. He asked me if I had hit a road sign, before he directed me to the address I was looking for.

It was more aggravating, though not surprising to me, that nobody answered the door at the address I wanted. I went to the side and back doors, looking for a note, a word of gratitude. No joy.

I had plenty of winter driving experience, but I didn’t expect to hit black ice in Memphis. Upon close inspection, I learned I had bent my car’s suspension, and ruined a wheel. She would never drive smoothly again. However, I looked at my Yugo like a good husband might look at his marriage. Just because a spouse is getting older, and has a few bad bumps, doesn’t mean you divorce her. I was willing to work with my Yugo to keep her running as best I could. What better choice did I have?

I found a replacement wheel at a junkyard in West Memphis. For several months, I continued driving my Yugo, and she carried  grateful friends to church with me. Without warning, she gave me grief when starting up in the morning. After trying simple remedies like new spark plugs, new ignition coil, new spark plug wires, new air filter, new gasoline, I sought help from an auto repair shop.

The auto repair shop was supposedly operated by import car specialists. I’m not sure about that. These guys proved they were not Yugo specialists. I was told that I needed a new magneto-distributor assembly, which was not a cheap item. After the mechanic  received and installed the new distributor assembly, he decided he had received a faulty new distributor and ordered another one. Second new distributor, same diagnosis. He said he would have to order another one, a third one. But by then he said wasn’t really sure a new distributor would fix the car.

At that point, I lost faith in that mechanic, and sought help from another friend at work, Jim Sanders. Jim was a meticulous troubleshooter, almost to a fault. With the help of a Haynes repair manual, he figured out that the distributor was fine. It was sending sparks to the spark plugs, but the timing was somewhat tricky to adjust. We got it running, and I drove it home.

She ran fine for several more months, then the ignition problem showed up again. I tried making adjustments for several days, which didn’t seem to do much good. I got tired of the time wasted fiddling with the Yugo, and being late to work. I wanted a reliable car, or truck, and it was time to cut my losses. I sent that Yugo to a junkyard.

My Yugo Affair

The used Ford Fiesta I purchased in Queens, New York in 1989 was a lemon. The previous owner wasn’t trying to cheat me out of $600; neither of us know how worn-out the car really was.

Over several months, I purchased new rotors, brakes, a muffler, radiator, heater core, ignition parts. All my meager disposable earnings were spent in desperation to keep the car running. Why was having a car so important to me? I can’t really say. There were plenty of buses and trains to get me where I needed to go, and with a little planning, most were fairly reliable. Parking was a bit of a chore. Because I didn’t have a driveway at home, I had to hunt for parking spaces on the streets.

Maybe having that car was my trophy, evidence my declaration of  independence from public transportation. Or perhaps it was merely showing off – how I had something above and beyond what most of my peers in Queens had. It made me popular with other LDS singles, especially girls, who asked for rides to church activities.

The last day I drove the Ford Fiesta was on a trip to the LDS Temple in Silver Spring, Maryland – also known as the Washington DC Temple. I had two friends with me. One was a lovely single young lady from the LDS Uniondale Ward; the other, one of her married mentors.

Sure we prayed before we left New York. I hoped that God’s blessings would be sufficient for our needs, but it didn’t seem to turn out that way. I am grateful that there was no collision, and none of us were physically harmed; however, in spite of my tender loving care, that little Ford Fiesta had to die, and didn’t get us back to New York. We had no choice but to ride an Amtrack train, which was quite expensive. I get perturbed to think about that car, even today.

The hassles I experienced with that Ford Fiesta would be sufficient for a different blog. This blog is more about my next car.

It was early 1991. I was relying on my landlord and friend – Albert Tan – to drive me to work from Rosedale every day. I asked him to drive me to a certain Ford/Yugo dealership in Nassau County, to inquire about how I might purchase a new car. I had seen several small cars in their lot, and Yugo was the most affordable car on the market. A kind salesman answered a few questions I had, and said I could purchase a new white Yugo GV for less than $4000. That included a dealer-installed Radio/CD player.

I was already saving a few hundred each month toward a down-payment. The salesman had me fill out an application for an auto loan, which he then faxed to Ford Credit. There was no internet in those days. After about an hour, I was approved for a term loan of no longer than 18 months. If I could find an affordable auto insurance policy, I might be able to drive away with a new Yugo after a month or two when I had more cash on hand. The salesman offered me an additional incentive; if I didn’t need the Radio/CD player, he could reduce the price by about $300.  I liked this scenario, and was emotionally sold that very day.

When my co-workers heard I was looking at Yugos, they tried to dissuade me, saying “they are not good cars”. My idea of a good car was anything with a warranty, at a price I could afford. Yugo certainly seemed like a good car to me.

The annual auto insurance price quoted me, by an Allstate agent in Queens was $1995. She considered me a high risk driver, at the immature age of 28. Even if I managed to save up the money for her ridiculous auto insurance, I would not have any money left to buy a car.

The GEICO company offered me affordable insurance, but it was a phone and mail-order company.  I had to wait for US postal service to deliver my personal check to GEICO, then for GEICO to send me an insurance card, which was my proof of insurance on the exact white Yugo GV that was waiting for me.

After I cashed the critical paycheck from my employer in Little Neck, I returned to the Ford/Yugo dealership to complete my purchase. The salesman who had helped me before passed my contract to a different sales person, a Yugo specialist of sorts.

She was an attractive young caucasian woman with long straight hair, and ugly fake fingernails. I was sitting in front of her desk in a fairly quiet office, listening to her add-on offers. I politely refused them, knowing I could not afford anything more than just the basic car. Suddenly a menacing voice scowled at us from the doorway. I turned to see a buff black haired goonish dude standing there with a smug look on his face. I do not recall exactly what he said, because it didn’t even register to me. He was her main squeeze – I noticed him in a picture frame on the desk, where he was holding or embracing this sales lady – again with a smug look on his face.  Now why was her main squeeze interrupting my purchase experience? Maybe he was just guarding the door; trying to prevent me from escaping.

I was about ready for the part where I laid out my cash on the desk, but at that moment, her main squeeze was making me nervous. The sales lady seemed to ignore him, and asked for my money.

So I laid out the cash, which I had been saving for months. She counted it and decided it wasn’t enough. She said I had to come up with more. I wasn’t expecting this. I explained that my real salesman had already come to an agreement with me, which didn’t include the radio/CD player. The sales lady wasn’t sure about that. She would have to check with the real salesman, and she asked me to wait in the lobby for him to return and explain things to her.

Her main squeeze was still hanging out by the door, but he nodded and smiled at me as I walked past him. After waiting for another 30 minutes or so, the real salesman came back and explained the somewhat messy contract he had drawn up, so that I was allowed to drive away in a new 1990 Yugo GV – without a radio.

Driving a new car, for the first time in my life, was exhilarating. I placed great trust in this Yugo automobile. Great trust. It would take me to church, to work, to anywhere in North America I wanted to go. If it ever broke down, I had towing insurance, and a repair warranty to pay for repairs. Having no stereo radio or CD player was a blessing to me. Car stereos were the most common temptation for thieves to break into cars.

The only annoying problem I had with that Yugo was a faulty heater cable. It came loose from the clamp behind the dash, so I couldn’t control the heater while driving. I brought the car back to the dealership, and had to leave it there to be repaired. I picked up my car after work one day, and it seemed like the problem was fixed, but it really wasn’t. I moved the heater lever a few times, back and forth, and the cable was loose again.

I didn’t have the tools or the knowledge or the time to open up the dash or the console and try to fix it myself. I didn’t want to leave my car at the dealership again, and I didn’t want to have to hire a ride back to Queens. So I drove it home with very hot feet. Eventually I figured out a way to control the heater by opening the hood, and manually moving a lever next to the fresh air intake port.

Aside from the odd way of controlling the heater, I had virtually trouble-free driving with that Yugo for over three years. No unexpected car expenses. No getting stranded without a ride.

The Zastava (Yugo) factory was started with old Fiat tooling, and the cars were actually designed by Fiat in Italy. The Yugo cars were not too difficult to maintain, with the right parts, but the ecomomic design and low price fit more into American throw-away mentality. In other words, drive the car for a few years, then throw it away and buy a new one.

Yugo dealerships in America would soon stop importing Yugos. I’m sure it had something to do with the poor reputation of the brand. Another thing; civil war was brewing in Yugoslavia, which would tear that country apart.


Naomi Chipman

Often, I look back at my youth and wonder why I hated piano lessons so much. Part of it was probably because my mother made me practice for 30 minutes each day. I liked toying with the piano for fun, on my terms,  but I resented being forced into anything.

While attending LDS Seminary classes at Valley Junior High School, and later at Granger High School, I became the expected pianist. My instructors often expected me to sit at the piano bench and choose a hymn to start the class. If one of them asked politely, then how could a kid like me refuse, in front of 20 or more classmates who were expecting me to perform?

I was the usually the only one in my class who knew how to play any hymns on the piano. Some people praised me for having this talent. It never seemed to me that playing the piano was a talent; it was sitting on a hard wooden bench every day, trying to learn songs I did not particularly like.

My first piano teacher, Naomi Chipman, was a jewel. She was a plump, cheerful woman, who lived in a modest house in South Salt Lake City, not far from Stratford Avenue where I spent the first 9 years of my life. She taught dozens of children how to play the piano, including some of my schoolmates.

Naomi Chipman

Naomi Chipman, about 1971.

Naomi enjoyed her pet – a black poodle she named Midnight – and wanted to offer a similar opportunity to me. My mother must have agreed with Naomi in advance, because she was not surprised when we made a special visit to the Chipman home to pick up a small black mixed breed poodle pup. She was my dog, and I named her Betsy.

Naomi knew how to help me de-stress. If I was struggling with a classical tune, she might pause and bring out chocolate chip cookies from her freezer to share with me and my sisters.  I remember talking to her, in private, as she made another suggestion to me for dealing with stress, or traumatic events. I could write my feelings on paper, as a way of letting them go, or releasing stress. When I felt better, I could rip-up the paper, so nobody needed to read it. This was one thing that spawned my interest in writing.

She sometimes shared stories about people she met at her other job. When a certain man exclaimed, “Gee, you’re fat!” she replied, “Yes, but my husband likes me that way.”

Naomi’s health declined enough that she and her husband decided it would be best to discontinue her piano teaching. My mother didn’t let that stop me from rehearsing, or taking lessons. She sent my sister Joy and I to a different teacher who lived closer to us.

I visited Naomi a few times after that, with my dog Betsy, but we hardly ever talked about the piano. I don’t think I ever played her piano again.

In Livingston, Montana a member of the bishopric in my church met with me in private one day, and asked me to be the ward organist. I was almost overwhelmed with anxiety. While I had created a nice comfort zone there, playing piano for the primary children, I had never played a church organ.

I understand this happens to hundreds of pianists every year. Many of them don’t really want to learn the pedalboard, so they make due with two or three manual keyboards, which is similar to an ordinary piano. Some organs have a switch which will link or activate some bass notes from the manual keys alone. This can somewhat compensate for a musician who has no pedalboard skills.

In accepting this church calling, I decided it was a great opportunity to learn the pedalboard. In order to do this, I rehearsed footwork on the church organ, while resting my hands. I learned that there were special organ shoes to help people use the pedalboard more efficiently. Some organists prefer playing without shoes. I needed some extra help, so I ordered a pair of organ shoes.

SJB at organ

James Beall, in Livingston Ward Chapel

In the years since I left Montana, I have rarely been able to rehearse the organ, and only rehearse piano hymns at church, between meetings. You see, I do not own a piano, or organ. I would not know where to put a piano in my small home, if someone gave me one.

Southaven Blues

The day I drove into Memphis, there was a race car on a trailer with the name Memphis 501 Blues. Very cool. While Memphis is the home of Blues music, a city south of Memphis was where I experienced more than my share of blues.

I was working a good job at a manufacturing plant, in Southaven Mississippi. It would have been a better job if it was located in Memphis, because the state of Tennessee had no income tax. Just driving across the border into Mississippi for work every day cost me an extra 6% of my gross income.

As a youngster, I wanted to be a policeman, but as a 30-something professional, I wanted nothing of the sort. Close and personal encounters with uniformed policemen would diminish the admiration I once held for them. They usually had something negative to say to me, which often involved a traffic fine.

I became wary of Southaven uniforms when I was stuck in a New-York-City style traffic jam on Goodman Road early in the morning on my way to work. I didn’t usually take Goodman Road to work, but I had driven it enough to believe that such a traffic jam would never happen there so early in the morning.

Exceptions do happen. Was it a bad accident? Was there something spilled on the road? Had a tree fallen onto the road? None of that. Several police officers were standing at a forest-surrounded intersection, stopping everybody. I hope they were looking for an escaped felon, or a drug smuggler, or something important. They didn’t look like they were doing anything more than making people late for work – and more than a few minutes late, in my case. They weren’t even talking to every motorist. When I asked an officer, “What’s the holdup?” he ignored me.

I saw another officer strolling along the side of the road, with a cigarette flapping in his mouth as he suggested that a certain car should be pulled over for having too much stuff packed in the back.

There was a time when I walked to work, after I destroyed my pickup truck. There were no sidewalks or even bike lanes in Southaven in those days. I crossed Stateline Road at a convenient area where I had no problems before. I had seen a few other people also cross there at the same time. It was near the old Golden Corral building, far from the nearest traffic signal.

That day, the motorists all seemed to be in a hurry. I stood alone in the middle of the road, in the turn lane, waiting for a break in east-bound traffic. It seemed when people saw me there, they would accelerate to avoid having to wait for me to cross. Nobody slowed down for me. Maybe some of them even got a thrill from keeping me standing in the middle of the road. I was there long enough to get the attention of a police officer.

He was standing on the south side of the road, near Burger King, waiting for me to cross over. I was rather surprised when he said that the reason he stopped me was because I was jaywalking. He asked for identification, so I showed him my employee badge. It was the most convenient thing at the time. He wasn’t happy with that. He wanted a government issued identification, like a driver license.

When I hesitated, or perhaps protested – from his point of view – because I wasn’t driving anything, and didn’t see the need to show my driver license, he said, “I don’t need no attitude.” He was just having a friendly conversation, he said. Not trying to be mean.

This man actually was one of the most friendly police officers I have encountered, but friendliness notwithstanding, I was being detained. I pulled out my driver license and handed it to him. This made him happy.

He quizzed me about why didn’t I cross at the intersection with the traffic signal, and what I was carrying in my satchel. When I told him I was kind of anxious to get to work, he offered to take me to work, in his patrol car. He said he didn’t want to search my bag, and he wouldn’t search me if he could put the satchel in the trunk of his patrol car. I had nothing to hide, except my pride. So I agreed.

The officer tried to chit-chat a little more with me as he drove me to my work. I asked him to let me off by the guard shack. Just after I got out and retrieved my satchel, my boss came driving up, and offered me a lift. It was still quite a distance from the guard shack to the main entrance of the plant. It was an awkward moment, and I felt like I should say something. I stated the obvious: I got a ride with the Southaven police. Thankfully, my boss didn’t quiz me about it.

I once complained to my plant manager about potholes in the parking lot, which needed to be filled. They were hazardous, in my estimation, because you couldn’t see them after a heavy rain. That parking lot, through which at least 30 plant employees had to drive, would be covered with standing water. He said he would get to it when he had time. This man drove a Ford Expedition, by the way.

The very next day I drove my little car through that pond-covered parking lot, and hit a rather deep hole. It ripped a hole in the sidewall of my new tire. It wasn’t one of the old tires; it was the new tire that I had purchased the day before. And now it was ruined beyond repair. I complained to the plant manager about that, and got no satisfaction. The company would not reimburse me.

I mentioned this to a co-worker, who suggested I shouldn’t have been driving so fast. How fast can you drive through a pond? The speed wasn’t really the issue. I was looking for some sympathy, and instead got a pithy response. Like rubbing salt in my wound.

I was getting tired of working in Southaven, not because of the drive from Memphis, or the extra taxes, but rather because some of the people I associated with saw things very differently than I did. Especially the women.

There were many hispanic people working at the same plant where I worked. One of them was a cute girl who I had visited with on my breaks, over several weeks. The main problem betweeen us was communication. I did not know much Spanish and she did not know much English.

One day, while I was waiting for her in the breakroom, the plant manager happened to come in and gave me a boxed lunch. I had already eaten, wasn’t hungry, didn’t want a boxed lunch; he gave it to me anyway. Save it for later, he suggested. I decided to try using the lunch as an excuse to go find my hispanic friend, in one of the plant production areas. I also wanted to get a picture of her, so I borrowed a company camera, and carried it with me.

I found her working alone, where she normally worked. After presenting the boxed lunch, I asked her if I could take her picture. She refused. Not even one picture? Please? No, no and no. It was like I was trying to steal her soul. So I left with no pictures, and started working at my desk.

Meanwhile, the girl told her supervisor and co-workers about the incident. That supervisor complained to a production manager. The production manager complained to my supervisor. My supervisor called me into his office, and asked, “James, were you in the plant taking pictures?”

One unfortunate morning in 1999 , I left my apartment, located in midtown Memphis, to discover that a thief had broken out a passenger side window in my Honda CRX, and used my own tools (which I kept in the car) to remove my radio/cd player from the dash. This had happened without alerting anyone in the neighborhood.

That radio had a removable front control panel, which I should have taken out when I parked the car the prior evening. But I had been too tired to remember then.

The thief was probably a junkie, looking for a way to fund his next fix. The console was somewhat damaged from the operation. There was shattered glass strewn all over the inside of the car. The thief had used a cushion from a neighbor’s lawn chair to sit on, to protect his greedy tush from getting cut on the glass while removing my radio.

The thief had thrown out all my personal things onto the ground and sidewalk, looking for valuables I suppose. My accumulation of mail (ads, personal letters and bills) which I had intended to review during my lunch break, was also scattered on the sidewalk, and damp from the morning dew.

Of course I felt violated. I was angry about the radio, and the broken glass. I didn’t have time to make much sense of this, because I was due at work shortly. I gathered up my things from the ground, stuffed them into plastic shopping bags, brushed the glass off my seat, and drove to work.

After work, I drove to Jitney Premier, a grocery store on Stateline Road. It was near the old Walmart building. Not many cars were in that lot, and I chose a parking spot near a floodlight, where I could read better . The sun was going down. I didn’t want to go shopping; I just wanted to be alone, get my thoughts together, sort out my mail.

A fabric store employee was locking up her store for the night. She got into her car, and I heard the engine cranking but it wouldn’t start. I hardly paid any attention, because I was busy with my mail. Shortly a police patrol car drove up to her and some officer tried to get the woman’s car started. I thought, “That’s nice, a policeman actually helping someone.”

The officer approached me and asked me for identification. Sure. I rolled my window down, and handed him my driver license, which he took back to his patrol car. Another patrol car arrived.

The officer returned with my license, and asked what I was doing sitting there, without buying anything. I was starting to get agitated; he probably sensed it in my tone, when I said I was looking through my things, minding my own business. “Is that your garbage?” He assumed that my mail and papers were garbage, because they were in plastic bags. Yes, was my reply.

The officer told me to step out of the car. For some reason, I felt like I should take my key out of the ignition switch, and hold onto it. A different officer approached, and asked essentially the same questions as the previous. I wanted to know what the fuss was all about, and this officer claimed that they (the police) had a couple complaints about me being on the property. They did not use the term loitering but that was the implication. He wanted to know “my story”. Why was I there looking through my things without buying anything?

I wanted to retort that my story was none of their business, but I chose a response that was less inflammatory. “As a matter of fact”, I replied, “I am a customer of Jitney Premier, if that’s one you’re referring to … although I haven’t been in there tonight. Did another store complain about me?”

He replied that there was a complaint from the fabric store. Then I started to understand. That woman was afraid that a boogeyman (me) parked on the same lot as her troubled car, might try to rob her or kidnap her or rape her, or who knows what I might do to her. She called the police to protect her.

There were now several officers standing around watching me. They evidently didn’t like me sitting in my own car, looking through my own things, minding my own business, because the officer said, “Mr. Beall, I’m going to search you for weapons. Put your hands on the car.”

I turned my back on the officer, and slipped my key into my pants pocket. That made the officer freak. “What the hell are you thinking?!” He grabbed my arm, pulled it back, and kicked my ankles, shouting “Spread ’em!”

He searched everything I was wearing, from my jacket to my pants. Finding nothing but my keys, he yelled at me for reaching into my pocket. One of the other officers concluded, “Well Mr. Beall, if you don’t have any business here, you better hit the road.”

I got into my car, and drove home, with a sour attitude toward police, and a more sour attitude toward the fabric store woman. I wrote a letter expressing my displeasure, and personally delivered it to the manager of the fabric store. In part:

“I am a not a customer of your store. After the treatment I received from the Southaven Police on the tenth of March 1999, at the request of YOU or one of your employees, I never will be.”

I delivered a similar letter to a manager at Jitney Premier. That poor guy didn’t know anything about what happened to me, and even though he had nothing to do with it, he apologized in advance for what someone in his store might have said or done to cause it. It seems likely that nobody at Jitney Premier ever complained about me to the police.