This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
“Grand larceny. The judge pinned the whole mess down with two words. Night after night I keep rolling on my cot, trying to figure it out. I go back twenty-six, twenty-seven years, thinking...”
This episode of Toward a Return to Society—a show produced for WNYC with the New York Department of Corrections—focuses on Bob, a middle aged man convicted of grand larceny. It begins with the judge, delivering his sentence. Then Rod Serling, playing the character of Bob, reflects on his life. He traces the root of his problem back to a time when he was six years old and wanted to watch Charlie Chaplin’s “Shoulder Arms.” The drama flashes back to the boy Bob, sniffling on the street. A man sees his distress and gives him money to purchase a movie ticket.
Bob quickly learns to take advantage of people. We listen as he pretends to lose a dime down a grate and tells an elderly man he’s afraid he’ll be beaten for losing the milk money. He uses the dime he’s given to go back to the movies.
He explains to the listening audience that he couldn’t get the money at home. His father was a grocery clerk working to support six kids. His father was rough, he says—and then we hear his father’s voice, explaining, “Education. That’s what I never had. I want you to go to school. Pick something you like and learn how to do it. Now, if you don’t mind what I say, I’ll take a stick to you.”
The show cuts to the panel of experts reviewing Bob’s case, the Classification Board. (Made up of Hilda G. Schwartz, Secretary of the Board of Estimate, and attorney; Dr. Bertram Pollens, Executive Secretary, New York Consultation Center; Herman K. Spector, Director of Education and Recreation, Department of Correction; George E. Mears, Probation Officer, Kings County; Norman M. Stone, Correction Department Executive Secretary) Each week, the board reviews the medical, psychological, and social records of the offender in question to make recommendations for his rehabilitation in penitentiary.
The board agrees that the relationship between the father and the son in the source of all of the problems.
“I think we can only understand it in the light of the father’s repression and inability to express himself,” Dr. Pollens suggests, “ which later led to overcompensation in the field of conniving and getting things the easy way.”
Hilda Schwarz agrees, “There lurks the foreboding of trouble. On Bob’s childhood and adolescence lay the shadow of insecurity and lack of affection.” She adds that the pattern is familiar in American homes, but ignored.
Mr. Mears and Mr. Spector add their views. Then the dramatization of Bob’s life resumes.
Bob narrates his high school career, and his aptitude for mathematics. In his first job as a bookkeeper, however, we hear a man with a heavy immigrant accent steer him astray, convincing his to cook the books for a bonus.
He leaves for New York at 19, and works as a bookkeeper for an insurance firm, enthusing about the adding machine. “I liked that adding machine,” he says, “ I liked the smooth feel of the keys, and the way the numbers popped. And I liked the burr of the totalizer. And I never made a mistake. The supervisor, he got to like me.“
Things seem to be looking up for Bob. He gets a raise—thirty-two dollars—marries a woman, and then goes into sales. But he can’t sell well, and is forced to return to bookkeeping at the same salary. Ten years later, he tells us, he is still working for the same salary, but now with a wife and two children. In the dramatization of their interactions, she is worried, and he snaps at her.
He seeks refuge, first at the bar, but when he can’t afford that, he moves to the movie theater. There, he meets Lucille, from the local beauty parlor. They agree to meet again.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 8472
Municipal archives id: LT449
Transcript of the dramatized portion of the broadcast:
JUDGE: For the crime of grand larceny, I sentence you to one year’s imprisonment in the city penitentiary.
BOB: Grand larceny. The judge pinned the whole mess down with two words. Grand larceny. Night after night I keep rolling on my cot, trying to figure it out. I go back twenty-six, twenty-seven years, thinking and rolling all night. Remember Charlie Chaplin in Shoulder Arms? I must have been six or seven years old at the time. All week, I wanted to see the picture. All the kids were talking about it. Charlie Chaplin! I remember Sunday was the last day, and, and I didn’t have the six cents. So I stood outside the movies looking at the poster. Charlie Chaplin was dressed up like a tree and he was hitting the German soldier on the head with a limb. All the other kids were going inside, and I began to get choked up. I was going to miss Charlie Chaplin. Then I heard the kids laughing and the piano begin to play, and I began to crime.
(sounds of sniffling)
Inside the piano was playing and outside, I was crying. Then a man came along and-
MAN: What’re you crying for, kid?
YOUNG BOB: Nothing.
MAN: Aw, you want to see the picture, eh?
YOUNG BOB: Yeah.
MAN: And you’ve got no money, so you’re crying. Here, here, now, now. Stop crying. Here. Buy yourself some popcorn, too. Here. Haha.
BOY: My father would have beaten the life out of me for taking that money. And my mother, well, my mother would have cried like she always did when dad got mad. But that’s how it happened after the first time, the accident. I didn’t have to worry about movie money after that. I had a way.
YOUNG BOB: Help me with this grating, will you mister?
OLD MAN: What for?
YOUNG BOB: I dropped a dime down there, and I’ve gotta get it!
OLD MAN: I don’t see why?
YOUNG BOB: It’s way down there. See it shining?
OLD MAN: No. No, I don’t.
YOUNG BOB: You’ve gotta help me, mister. Help me lift it.
OLD MAN: I don’t see the dime, young man, but, eh. All right. I’ll help you. (grunts) Say, this grating’s cemented down.
YOUNG BOB: I gotta get my dime! I was running for milk and I dropped it. My mother’s gonna hit me. Gee.
OLD MAN: Well, now, I-
YOUNG BOB: You gotta help me, mister!
OLD MAN: Well, alright, son. Here. Here’s another dime. Now, hold onto it. Don’t lose it again.
BOY: I worked that pretty racket all over town. You couldn’t ask for movie money in our house. There were six of us kids and we just about had enough to eat. My father worked hard. He was a grocery clerk, and he’d be gone before we got up and come home after we were asleep. We saw him on Sundays though, and he was always worked out, and mad.
FATHER: When I was your age, I was earning my own bread. Now, I’m not asking you to do that, but I do want you to grow up and make a good living. Education. That’s what I never had. I want you to go to school. Pick something you like and learn how to do it. Now, if you don’t mind what I say, I’ll take a stick to you.
BOY: I didn’t like my father very much. I guess I was, I was always scared of him. He used to sock us around and my mother cried a lot. But he kept me in school and I was got at arithmetic. Pop thought I had a good head for business. So, I studied bookkeeping and shorthand, and did pretty well in high school. Didn’t do anything wrong, except once. Well, I—I took some stuff out of a guy’s gym locker. I didn’t break the lock and he was a rich guy. I found the lock open and I took some change and a fountain pen. And, and a watch. But I didn’t break the lock! And I didn’t get caught.
BOB: After highschool, I got my first full-time job. With a man in town who owned a fleet of trucks. I was his bookkeeper. It was the days of prohibition and nobody was supposed to ask what the trucks carried. And I didn’t either. I was just minding my own business, and I was a good bookkeeper, I thought, until the boss showed me a couple of things.
BOSS (with accent): You keep a good set of books, Bob.
BOB: Well, thanks.
BOSS: Maybe even a little to good, heh?
BOSS: You know, I’d like to give you little Christmas bonus. Little check.
BOB: Thanks a lot!
BOSS: But, uh, it depend how much I get nicked for income tax. It depends, eh?
BOB: Yeah, I guess so.
BOSS: Let’s take another squint at the books, eh?
BOB: I got that check and boy a nice suit, a ticket to New York, one way. I figured if I hooked my way into a big outfit I could make my way to the top. I got a job at an insurance company. Big one. I was a bookkeeper and I worked an adding machine. (machine sounds) I liked that adding machine. I liked the smooth feel of the keys, and the way the numbers popped. And I liked the burr of the totalizer. And I never made a mistake. The supervisor, he got to like me.
SUPERVISOR: How long you been with us, Bob?
BOB: Two years now.
SUPERVISOR: You like it hear?
BOB:: Yes, sir.
SUPERVISOR: Good. Well, I think you’re going to like it a little more from now on. I’m giving you a raise. Yes, you’ll be getting 32 dollars a week from now on.
BOB: Gee, thanks! Thanks very much!
BOB: I was 21. Making 32 bucks a week, and happy. Happy enough to go dancing that night with Johanna.
JOHANNA: I’m very glad for you, Bob.
BOB: For me? For you, too, Johanna! I don’t want to go places by myself. I’m getting to know the business. Maybe I’ll go out selling insurance. Some of the guys make real good money. N-not that I’m doing so bad. Am I, Johanna?
JOHANNA: I think you’re doing swell.
BOB: Am I?
BOB: We married, Johanna and I, and first chance I got, I went out selling insurance. I kissed that adding machine goodbye and went out to sell a million dollars’ worth of policies. I don’t know what it was. Maybe I, maybe I didn’t know enough people in town. Maybe I went after the wrong people. But I just couldn’t clinch a sale. I’d do okay up to the part where the guy had to sign on the dotted line, and then I’d sort of blow up and lose him. I couldn’t clinch a sale. I just couldn’t. It made me disgusted and sick.
JOHANNA: Well, don’t feel so bad about it, Bob.
BOB: The other guys at the office do okay.
JOHANNA: Well, maybe you’re just not the salesman type, Bob.
BOB: Maybe. I’ll, I’ll give it another month. If I don’t click, I-I’m going back to the adding machine. We’ve gotta eat.
BOB: I didn’t like that adding machine anymore. Yeah, I was a part of something big. A little part. Just too little. A 32 dollar cog in a billion dollar works. We had one child, and then another. And day after day I pushed the keys on that adding machine. The years slipped by—10 years—and I was 32 years old and making 32 dollars a week. I had little calluses on my fingertips, and my palms were hard and shiny from hitting the totalizer. That click burned under my skin. And Jo? Well, she was a good wife. She had to be to keep a family with the money I made.
JOHANNA: If things keep going up, I just don’t see how we’ll manage.
BOB: Ah, let me alone.
JOHANNA: I’m not complaining, but Bob, don’t you see-
BOB: Ah, let me alone, will you? Can’t you see I’m trying to read the paper.
JOHANNA: But Bob, I’m only trying to say-
BOB: (mimics her) I’m only trying to say. I know all about it! What do you want me to do, rob a bank?
JOHANNA: Why do you snap at me, Bob? It’s getting so that I can’t talk to you anymore.
BOB: Ah, goodbye!
JOHANNA: Bob! Where are you going? Bob! Bob!
BOB: Where was I going? At first, I used to go to a bar. No, I didn’t like to drink. It was just to get out of the house. Then I stopped going there. I had to buy drinks around once in a while just to be sociable, and I didn’t have the money. And the other guys got under my skin. Mechanics, drivers, carpenters. Guys who made a good wage and liked their work and took their fun with noise. So I began going to the movies. Almost every night I went alone, to get away from Jo and the cabbage smell in the house. It was dark in the movies, and I could lose myself in the picture. I always stayed to the very end of the show. Saw it twice sometimes. One night, the lights came up and there was a lady, sleeping a couple of seats away. I woke her up.
BOB: Hey, uh. Lady? The show’s over, lady.
BOB: The show’s over.
LADY: Oh! (yawns) Some picture. I fell asleep. Thanks mister.
BOB: No problem. Say, lady! You left your bag!
LADY: Oh gosh! My bag. Oh, thanks, mister. You’re a real gentleman.
BOB: You’re welcome. Very welcome, I’m sure.
BOB: I walked out with her, talking about the picture. She told me her name was Lucille, and she ran the beauty parlor around the corner. She was kind of pretty and I walked her home and said maybe I’d see her again.
LUCILLE: Oh, I doubt you. Just drop around the store any evening. I’m not too busy in the evenings.
BOB: I came home and I couldn’t sleep. I’d show those wise guys at the bar. And Johanna? Well, what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt her. So the next day, I walked by the beauty parlor, slow like, and made out like something in the window caught my eye. She came to the doorway and smiled. She was kind of pretty. She had dark hair with little curls around her forehead, and up close she had little lines under her eyes. But that didn’t matter.
LUCILLE: Hello there.
BOB: Hi. I was just taking a little walk.
LUCILLE: Where are you going?
BOB: Well, I was just thinking of going to the movies, but I- I’ve already seen the picture, so I was just taking a little walk.
LUCILLE: This ain’t the only picture-house in the world, you know.