LIKE A CHILD hiding a caramel from a playmate, Jim Cryer conceals the plastic key chain with puckish delight. He is about to tell what he calls a nasty joke." ²In his native Tennessean twang, he begins with what seems like a well-rehearsed question: Have you ever been on Mission Impossible?"

Then Cryer opens his calloused, work-worn hand, revealing the key chain. Dangling from it is a piece of plastic on which is a cartoon of a naked, obese man and woman with their big bellies touching. They're obviously frustrated. Mission Impossible!" says the caption beneath the drawing.

Jim Cryer giggles.
The portly, 62-year-old retired contractor and father of five grown children thinks jokes like this are very, very funny. You can tell right away by looking around the makeshift office in his northwest Phoenix home. There is a Jokes for the John paperback on a table, and, on a bookshelf, a little carving of a man with an erection. On a desk are stacks of photocopied, crudely drawn, risque cartoons-the sort of soft-core porn that gets passed around in offices and factories. Near the door is a small mountain of girlie magazines.

On one wall of the cluttered room hangs a portrait of Cryer's father, who stares sternly at the opposite wall, where there's a calendar picture of a sexy cover girl caressing a power tool.

Cryer built this room many years ago for his aged parents to live in, but they stayed only a month because they couldn't take the desert heat, he says. Now it's his hideaway, a place where he can relax without being pestered by police officers, prosecutors and angry parents.

Practically the entire neighborhood in this pocket of quiet streets near 43rd Avenue and Thunderbird contends that Jim Cryer is dangerously obsessed with children.

Cryer denies this. I don't know what they're trying to do," he says of his neighbors. Get me out of my house, maybe."

At least 75 neighbors are so upset with Cryer that they signed a petition last November saying, essentially, that police don't take them seriously when they complain that Cryer is a threat to kids.

Among those who signed the petition were mothers and a school crossing guard. They say Cryer regularly cruises in his car past the school and park, always when school gets out, as though trolling for children to show his off-color treasures to. And when the kids mock Jim Cryer-the mothers admit the kids call Cryer pervert" and ol' faggot" to his face-Cryer can sometimes get violent, parents and Phoenix police reports both say.

On two occasions in the past year, according to police reports, Cryer chased youngsters with an open pocketknife and threatened to castrate them after they taunted him when he showed them some of his racy trinkets.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has charged Cryer with aggravated assault for one of the alleged castration threats.

Jim Cryer has pleaded innocent. He awaits a February trial.
According to police reports, Cryer admitted pulling a knife on the kids and making the threat, but told investigators that he was only kidding." In an interview with New Times, however, Cryer says the whole business with the pocketknife never occurred. But he casually admits to spanking" one youngster with a board after the foul-mouthed" child hit him in the forehead with a pickle. He says he also has turned a garden hose on other children who were foul-mouthed."

They called me an `MF' and `SOB' and `faggot,'" he says. I told them, `Shut up, don't talk like that, there are little children around.'"

The boy involved in the pickle incident says Cryer invites neighborhood kids to his business room" to look at the dirty stuff." Parents say the same thing.

Cryer denies ever sharing his nasty jokes" with any neighborhood child younger than the age of 18. Maybe I told some jokes to some of the older kids," he says, but he insists he always asks youngsters their age before letting them peek at the cartoons or the famous ball-point pen that shows a picture of a naked lady when he turns it upside down.

Jim Cryer calls the situation with his neighbors unreal." He says some of his neighbors like him, and he offers the name of one who he says is a particularly good friend.

But that neighbor, who asked for anonymity, seems ambivalent about Cryer. The neighbor says he feels sorry for Cryer, who he thinks may be nothing more than a lonely man who is being persecuted by parents of spoiled, rude children. But even this neighbor is cautious about Cryer when it comes to the neighbor's own children, saying, I don't permit my kids to go into his house." I don't bother children," says Jim Cryer. Nice children like me. Their families like me." WHEN VANESSA FULLER moved into this northwest Phoenix neighborhood last August, she figured she and her husband had found a perfect place to raise their three children, ages 13, 8 and 4. The neighborhood was full of kids the same ages. Plus, nearby Acoma Park looked like an ideal place for the children to play. And it was only a short walk to Ironwood Elementary School from the new house.

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Terry Greene