I, SAFE CRACKER
This is one story I doubt I’ve told before. For obvious reasons…
It was 1969; the place, Fort Worth; the location, the Star-Telegram building in downtown Fort Worth, and I was a lowly janitor working for $1.60 an hour on the Midnight to 8 am shift.
You might wonder what a tall, good-looking 22-year-old was doing struggling at a no-future employment for slave wages.
Let me tell you.
The reason is this. I had just been paroled from the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, Texas. In case you’re puzzled--that was a prison and I was now an ex-con.
As losers go, things were worst still--I was in a religious cult, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and trying to hold down a job while simultaneously devoting 100 hours each month to neighborhood door knocking ministerial outreach known by JW’s as PIONEERING.
Living on $12.80 a day doesn’t sound like much preparation for a bright future, does it? Ha! I would have laughed back then at such a suggestion. What did I know that most other people didn’t know?
The END of 6,000 years of human history was only a few years away! My religious leaders (in Brooklyn New York) had been tipped off by none other than the Supreme Being--1975 was bringing down the curtain on humanity. Only we J-Dubs would survive. We had pity on the rest of humanity, of course, that’s why I was going door to door and warning my fellow Texans. First, they should ‘donate’ twenty-five cents for a little blue book called THE TRUTH THAT LEADS TO ETERNAL LIFE, then, they needed to agree to sit down with me for a weekly Bible study (really just a study of that little blue book) and follow that with regular meeting attendance at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
But this story is titled, I, Safe cracker--is it not?
I’m getting to that. Just be patient.
The majority of young JW’s had crappy employment because the “future” was six years away and our religious Governing Body assured us college and higher education and a career was a BIG waste of our time which was better spent saving lives.
Some toiled as truck drivers, some were shoe salesmen, some were window washers, and many were janitors. (Spoiler alert: 47 years later THEY STILL ARE.)
I secured employment from a big custodial business and the client building was the local newspaper. My duties were to empty trash cans and ashtrays in all the offices on whatever floor we were cleaning on any particular night.
My story officially begins on one particular Thursday night. It is significant because the following day would be a Friday (duh) and PAYDAY for Star Telegram employees. It was the custom at that time for many businesses to pass out pay envelopes with cash in them instead of printing checks. Banks were only open until 3 pm and many workers needed the cash. Banks weren’t open on the weekends and there was no such thing as an ATM money dispenser. Got the picture?
My assignment that Thursday night was the executive private offices of the Editor-in-Chief. Inside the office was a walk-in vestibule with one of those huge Excelsior Wells Fargo safes you see in old western movies. It was about 5 feet high with a large combination lock dial and handle.
(Before I continue, here is an authorial aside: In High School students were assigned lockers which were fastened securely with combination locks. We were admonished and mandated to keep those locks closed at all times. Owing to the shortness of time between classes, we clever youth would dial in ALL the numbers in advance except the last number. Why? All we had to do was make a slight turn of the dail and jerk the handle. Voila! It opened!)
Entering the Editor-in-Chief’s (Mr. Kuykendahl) executive office, I vacuumed his carpet, emptied the metal trash can, wiped the ashtrays, dusted and--uh-oh!--What’s THIS? A Wells Fargo safe??
This is the part where you will just have to take my word for it. Good luck with that!
I had never had direct access to one of those old safes before and I thought--on a lark--it would be sort of FUN if I pulled on the handle and rotated the dial S-L-O-W-L-Y on the outside possibility I had A. Chosen the right direction to rotate and B. Passed the correct last number on the C. Possibility Kuykendahl was just as lazy as any common High Schooler standing at a locker between classes.
I was flabbergasted! Gobsmacked! Thrilled!
I complimented myself on a brilliant guess.
Then, I realized I could technically be charged with SAFE CRACKING!!
The door was open and I could see stacks of cash right before my wondering eyes.
There was a bottle of Vodka, too.
In a split second, my subconscious mind was weighing the statistical odds of many permutations of happenings!
1. Getting caught (“Was your safe securely locked, Mr. Kuykendahl?” “Yes, of course, it was.” “Who else had the combination?”)
2. Fitting all that cash on my person without telltale bulges in my clothing. (Terry, are you feeling okay? You look bloated!”
3. Keeping a straight face for the next 8 hours as I vacuumed, swept, dusted, etc.
(Hey, why do you keep giggling like that? You drunk?”
4. A loud interior voice was screaming: “You are a Jehovah’s Witness entrusted with keeping the reputation of the ‘only true religion’ free of desecration!”
5. I wonder how many twenties would fit inside my underwear and socks?
Before you judge me too harshly…
What I tell myself today, all these years later, is that the decision I made in pretty much less than 3 seconds, was a BIG MISTAKE. I was earning slave wages, newly married, had no prospects for buying a car or a house or anything else.
But THE WORLD WOULD SHORTLY END and people who steal cash would NOT survive Armageddon (the war of the Great Day of God Almighty in which evil people are hacked to death by avenging angels.).
Therefore, in view of the fact I was morally locked into a very character-testing situation and all eyes in heaven were on me…
Like I told you before, that was 47 years ago.
Would you believe me if I told you, in all that time, no matter where I was or what I was doing, not a week has gone by that I haven’t thought back to that moment of decision where all that cash was just lying there and the chances of anybody figuring out how a lowly janitor could crack a safe without a torch or dynamite…
Well--you get what I’m saying. Don’t you?
In real time, I slammed that Wells Fargo door and spun the dial as quickly as humanly possible BEFORE the intelligent part of my brain made me reach for the cash! I save myself FROM myself.
Now here is my final confession. Are you ready?
I regret slamming the door on that safe.
I DO--I think I acted quite foolishly.
I keep trying to figure out how good or how stupid I was back then AND how bad and how stupid I am at this moment.
I just don’t know.