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Moments of misspent youth are confessed

The merry pranksters of St. Petersburg confessed decades of tomfoolery Friday night at the Museum of History, some writing their stories in a journal for the ages.

At A Wine Tasting With a Twist, residents were invited to recall "things you'd never tell your parents about growing up in St. Petersburg."

Denny Rusinow, 72, who later was a Rhodes Scholar, recalled that around 1942, he and the late Allen Rudolph "got possessed of the idea" that the folks who owned the German bakery at 30th Avenue N and Seventh Street "must be Nazi spies."

Next to the bakery was the ice house, from where ice for home ice boxes was delivered. The boys went around with flashlights and eventually broke into the bakery.

"Needless to say," Rusinow said, "we found no evidence that they were Nazi spies." They did make a discovery, however: a bread slicing machine, the first in St. Petersburg.

Youngsters dumped enormous boxes of laundry detergent into the fountain at the old Sunset Country Club. They drag-raced and lost cars in the bay. Girls with cars teased boys into following them into labyrinthine neighborhoods, then drove off as their prey drove around, lost, for hours.

Trolley car conductors were favorite targets: People liked to use axle grease on the tracks near Thrill Hill on Third Street S and watch the trains slide backward. Later, the conductors got wise and brought sand to pour onto the tracks to ensure traction.

Tom Miller recalled using "chemicals you could buy in the drugstore" _ he wouldn't explain further _ to make "bombs" that exploded along the streetcar lines. "When the conductor got out to see what happened, we'd disconnect him," Miller said.

During the early to middle '40s, he said, he and a group of youthful co-conspirators went through Snell Isle and Shore Acres on dark nights and set fire to the Washingtonian palms. They were doing the owners a favor, in a way, burning the spent fronds, and "you could see the torch for miles."

Their shenanigans also included hosing the lovers' lane near the Vinoy Fill, directing a pencil-sized stream of water into open car windows.

At 72, Miller said, "I'm old enough to know better than what I did when all that went on."

Tracey Gross, now 34, was student council president at St. Petersburg High School when she took her first job, at Bakers Shoe Store in Tyrone Square Mall.

The trouble was, "they wanted me to sell shoes, but I wanted to meet boys. I was not the prize employee they had hoped for. I did not even know how to run the cash register.

"I'm very bubbly and silly and totally outgoing, but there was no chance I would ever get down and handle people's stinky feet."

The 16-year-old feigned going to look for shoes in the right sizes.

"We'd have size 8{ black shoes stacked all the way to the ceiling," she said. "I'd say, "I'm sorry, I don't have a size 8{; I only have it in a 6 or 11."

She lasted three weeks.

"I never sold a single pair of shoes," she said, although she attained her goal. "It was worth it, because I think I got to go to a formal at Admiral Farragut" Academy.