Paul V. Coates -- Confidential File, May 15, 1959
May 15, 2009 | 2:00 pm
A Borderline Case That IS BorderlineThe keepers of the keys at Tijuana jail have finally pulled a blunder of major significance.
In the past they've confined their harassment of tourists to arresting hapless crapshooters, traffic victims and bullfight aficionados.
But last week they committed the serious diplomatic blunder of tossing Benny Stone into the clink. And Benny is no man to trifle with.
This whole thing, believe me, will cause international reprisals even more devastating than the time we beat the pantalones off Leo Carrillo's great-grandfather at the Battle of Cahuenga Pass.
My friend Benny is a gentle-hearted but volatile sidewalk pitchman, dealing in penny balloons, nylons, candy bars, razor blades and badges with funny sayings on them.
Maybe you remember Benny. He made headlines one day back in 1947 when he set up his suitcase department store at the corner of 6th and Main. Suddenly overwhelmed by the sight of so many sad-looking people walking by, Benny began tossing them candy bars and rolls of nickels. It started a small riot in which one lady was briefly hospitalized for cuts and bruises, and Benny Stone was briefly hospitalized for observation.
"They said they wanted to find out how nuts I was," Benny told me later. "What's nuts? Because I like to make sad people happy? Rockefeller gave away money. They called him nuts?"
Benny shrugged. "Rockefeller gave away dimes. Stone gives away nickels. You got to start somewhere."
After that bitter taste of fame, my friend Benny was able to stay out of the headlines. But he continued his relentless pursuit of making the sad people happy.
The last I heard, he had become the self-appointed protector of Casa de Cuna, an impoverished little orphanage on the outskirts of Tijuana. Each week he'd go around from store to store in L.A. begging food and clothes. And each weekend he'd bring what he collected down to his orphans.
But yesterday, Benny, the Patron Saint of the Sad People, came storming into my office. He blew two blasts on a thin whistle from his stock of merchandise to make sure he had my complete attention. "Look at me." he commanded. "You're lucky I'm alive. I was seven days in the Tijuana jail and I lost seven pounds. I'm like a bag of skin and bones."
Benny did a furious pirouette for my inspection. "What'd they arrest you for?" I asked.
"Who knows what'd they arrest me for?" he shouted. "I brought the food to my orphans and I was on my way home. I was standing on a street corner looking in a window when a cop came over and asked who I am. So I told him. So he starts questioning me what am I doing in Tijuana. So I told him I'm not doing nothing. I'm just standing. Is something wrong with that? It's a free country. So he tells me I'm arrested for having in my possession lewd literature."
"Benny", I said, "you?"
He waved his hand impatiently. "I had a copy of Playboy magazine in my back pocket."
Not Eating Can Be Fatal
Benny sat down for a moment, then jumped up. "I told him I had important friends, if he tried anything on me, he'd wind up pounding a beat in Staten Island somewhere. But they put me in jail. Seven days, I almost starved to death from not eating."
He began pacing up and down. "They won't get away with it," he cried. "I'm gonna close that border once and for all."
Benny thrust a soiled piece of notebook paper in front of me. "Look at this," he said. "I got 15 signatures from people who want to join my committee."
"What committee?" I asked.
"The committee," my friend Benny said, "of volunteers to stand at the border and keep everybody from getting in or out."