In the town where I grew up there used to be a large K-Mart-style store, called Murphy’s Mart. It was quite a place in its era, at the forefront of the super-center concept where a person could theoretically purchase underwear, a club sandwich, an oil change, and bullets. Along with millions of other improbable combinations…
And when I was a youngling my friends and I used that place like our own personal giant and incredibly cool playground.
I don’t know how we got away with all the stuff we did, but can’t recall being hassled too much by the employees. We ran free inside Murphy’s for years and, with only a few exceptions, were left to our own devices.
And what were they thinking?!
I do remember getting an earful when we were playing hide & seek one day. Some kid went rampaging around a corner and knocked an “expensive” vase off a shelf. It shattered loudly, and shards of glass went flying in every direction. It looked cool as hell, like a fireworks display. But the assistant manager (or whatever) didn’t share our enthusiasm, and we were told to “git.”
Also, my friend Mike and I set off a firecracker in the men’s room one afternoon, and they weren’t overly amused by that episode either.
There was a man in the corner boof, taking a crap. He had the place all funked-up, and was humming and rattling a newspaper, like he was in the comfort of his own home. Mike and I had our pockets full of fireworks, and one of us came up with a fine idea…
A firecracker was placed on the sink, with the fuse hanging over the edge, then lit with a butane lighter. We took off, walking briskly toward the exit on the other side of the garden center, but didn’t make it very far.
The explosion was impossibly loud. It sounded like a stick of dynamite had gone off, like the entire front of the store must now be missing. Holy shit!
The guy inside the crapatorium started howling like he’d been stabbed, and there was pandemonium everywhere. Customers were taking cover behind displays, and I think one old dude had his WWII training kick-in, and completely hit the deck.
As soon as we passed through the doors, security grabbed us. They shoved us around, and man-handled us into the bowels of the operation. One of them had me by the top of my right arm, and kept “accidentally” ramming me into walls and doors.
They wanted our names, and telephone numbers. I went first, and told them the truth. But Mike believed he could outsmart the men, and gave them fake information. And I can’t remember the exact name he used, but it was something ridiculous, like “Snappy McGee.”
Yeah, that didn’t work in our favor. Those dudes weren’t in the mood for fun ‘n’ games, and I think they made a bigger deal about it because of Mike’s pen name. Both of us experienced substantial parental heat later in the day.
Besides detonating explosives in Murphy’s, we also liked to occasionally wind-up all the alarm clocks, and set them to go off at roughly the same time. Good fun. The workers would always come running, and we thought that was an absolute riot.
And in the electronics department was a demonstration tape, on a chain, which could be shoved into any of the tape players on display. We’d crank the volume on one of the stereos as high as it would go, ram in the tape, and start that brisk walking again.
Then this would be heard within a full half-mile radius: KRACO! EIGHT-TRACK STEREO!! BWOW WOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!!! That would be followed by sirens, helicopter sounds, machine guns, a guitar solo, etc. etc.
And we’d be over in the book department, buckled-over at the waist, laughing a wide streak in our shorts.
A kid named Danny removed a fire extinguisher from a pole one day, and sprayed some woman in the side of the face with it. But we didn’t usually hang out with him, and most of us agreed he’d taken things too far. I mean, seriously. That kind of stuff could get us banned for life. Then where would we be?
He also shoved over a rack of winter coats once. Again: too much. It felt like we had an unwritten agreement with the staff, and Danny wasn’t interested in holding up our end of the bargain.
Of course, all of us flirted with the limits, on occasion. I remember being with Steve one night, bursting large rubber balls in the toy department with hammers. We’d scrape the claw side of it across the surface, which would cause a loud squalling sound, then: WHOOSH! For some reason we thought that was the absolute pinnacle of comedy.
And we’d occasionally change the prices on albums, something that was possible during that pre-computer era. Once I bought a copy of Exile on Main St. (a double album) for $2.99, using the price tag off a bottle of shampoo, or something.
There was a large effeminate man who managed the record department at Murphy’s, and he actually caught Rocky and me changing prices one day. We tore out of there, and didn’t stop running until we were practically in the next town. We were running like the hounds of hell were on our heels.
Yeah, like that poofter would’ve chased us… I can see him now, sprinting across the parking lot with his wrists pressed high against his chest.
In any case, we had to lay-low for a while, after our encounter with “the dancing bear.” Heh. That dude liked to pretend he was a music expert, but stocked Elvis Costello in the humor section, and the Lords of the New Church in gospel.
But of all the shenanigans we pulled in that place, my favorite was the tennis balls. We’d go into the sporting goods department, and hurl tennis balls, or handballs (who in 1970s West Virginia played handball??), in random directions.
In the rear of the store was a snack bar, or diner, or whatever you want to call it. And we’d often fling balls into it, from a great distance.
After a while we began sending a scout, to see what actually happened when the projectile returned to Earth. One time I was the watcher, and Mike was the thrower. And an old man was sitting there with a BLT and fries in front of him, and the ball landed right in the middle of his lunch.
Food jumped three feet in the air, and the old guy almost went over backwards in his chair. And I’m not joking, I thought someone might have to call 911 for me. My lungs nearly collapsed from laughter. It doesn’t seem quite so funny now (wotta grand gang of assholes we were!), but it sure did then…
So, there you go. Those are my main memories of the late, great Murphy’s Mart. Did you guys ever pull similar stunts inside a local store growing up? If so, we need to hear about ’em. Use the comments link below.
And I’ll be back on Monday, if not sooner.
See ya then.