The Undoing of Johnny Jingles

Quarters are a dying breed.

No one carries quarters around as much as they used to in the city due to the new technology that basically has taken over the parking meters.

Those who use it love it.

I still use the quarters or sometimes the credit card, but I understand the convenience of the phone stuff too.

I can figure it must be a joy not to have to scrounge through the bottoms of the seats, under the rugs or in the darkest corners of the side panels for that single 25-cent ray of hope. If you found one, you were gold. Otherwise, it was time for a round of risk it/ticket.

I used to carry a $10 roll of quarters in the car at all times to pay the meters exclusively. Those were the days.

Last week I saw one of the quarter collectors going down Tremont Street emptying the quarters.

“How’s business?” I asked.

He just looked at me puzzled. He wasn’t even old enough to remember the huge haul of quarters a meter collector would tote around on the streets. They used to keep them in a padlocked box as they went down to prevent stickups.

But the lock didn’t prevent corrupt collectors, because they didn’t have those security cannisters for the quarters back then.

It makes me recall a man we called “Johnny Jingles.”

His name wasn’t even John. I think it was Harold, or Harry.

But a nickname in Boston needn’t be accurate.

The important part was the jingles.

Johnny Jingles got his name because whenever he got off of work, when he’d walk down the street to his house by all the wiseguys and corner hangers, his pants pockets would jingle with the sound of pilfered two-bits.

He wasn’t fooling anyone on the streets. They all got a kick out of it, in fact.

But no one at the city seemed to be wise to his caper.

He seemed to get away with it, and he probably would have made it clean had he not gotten bold, such as most petty thieves do.

One Friday, we were all sitting in one of the dive bars that used to dot Tremont and Columbus and the other streets around the area. It was the kind of place with very little light, only the small slits for windows – with the windows covered by bars.

In walked Johnny Jingles around 3 p.m.

In those days, quitting time for a City job was whenever the boss skipped out. It worked like a hierarchy. When the big boss skipped out on a Friday at noon, the next guy in line hit the bricks at 1. And then on down the line until Johnny Jingles made his last collection around 3.

Before that day, he always went right home real fast, but that day, he went to the old watering hole with his pants full of looted loot.

“A round for everybody!” he yelled, which meant the five of us deadbeats in that dump got a free drink.

But when the time came to pony up, Johnny Jingles paid the man all in quarters.

Everyone wailed.

Seems he did it next Friday too, and the one after that as well.

Each time paying in quarters.

But what he forgot to do was take care of the bartender. Johnny Jingles wasn’t just thief, but he was a cheap thief.

Lesson Learned:  If everyone knows you’re stealing from the City, and you get stingy with the proceeds, ya’ ain’t gonna be stealing very long.

The next week around 2:30 p.m., the Parking Clerk came in, spoke to the bartender quietly and we were all told to keep our mouths shut.

In walked Johnny Jingles at 3, like clockwork.

“Drinks for everyone!” he exclaimed, and then sat down and started counting out his quarters. When the time came to pay up, over walked the Parking Clerk.

Johnny’s face fell flat.

The quarters were put in a brown paper bag and Johnny Jingles was no more.

I never really saw him again. He seemed to fall off the map.

But in those days, guys like that never got fired. He probably got stuck in the basement of the old City Hall doing maintenance on the circular files.

Who knows, by now he’s probably a department head!

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