After a twenty-five year hiatus, I’m shoplifting again. Like many kids growing up in a boring midwestern town, my friends and I sought adrenaline through thievery. We started with simple things like Charleston Chews, but quickly built up a tolerance and graduated to VHS tapes and clothing. It culminated when our friend Mark disappeared into the dressing room of the local department store, only to resurface donning an ascot, vest, hat and sportscoat which he wore confidently as we all walked past the cashier without paying. A few blocks away after we’d caught our breath, Mark yelled “Yo! My real clothes are still in that dressing room.” He ran back, looking like a 1920’s banker who’d forgotten to lock up, and was never seen again. I’m kidding. He changed back into his regular clothes, but stuffed the ascot down his pants because it was hilarious. It was over after that; none of us stole anything again because Mark had provided a buzz that none of us could top.
Now, as a father of two, I’m back at it. Twice in the last week, Arlo (2.5 yrs-old) has snuck something into the shopping cart at the grocery store that I failed to see at checkout. Yesterday, after putting all the bags into the car, Arlo indicated (by screaming) that I’d forgotten something. I looked back into the cart, and saw that what I’d thought was a random piece of left-over cardboard from a prior shopper was actually a package of Silly Putty. We’d stolen it. I’d stolen it. Arlo doesn’t pay for anything because he’s a freeloader, so whatever’s in the cart is my responsibility. If the cops came, I couldn’t say “Arrest my kid. Don’t let his looks fool you. He’s the goddam kleptomaniac here. He steals his brother’s stuff constantly and honestly I think it’s time he suffered some actual repercussions.” I’d be better off making a fart noise and running away.
There was no thrill or buzz, only the exasperated feeling that I had a moral decision to make. I was hot and tired, and had been forced to park the car a good distance from the store. Plus, we had guests, it was late, everyone was hungry, and I had the food. I could have left the Silly Putty in the cart, thereby providing some plausible deniability, but Arlo really wanted this Silly Putty and the popsicles I bought were melting. I could have thrown seventy-five cents in the direction of the store, or maybe folded a dollar bill into a paper airplane, and yelled, “Keep the change!” but the chance that the store would actually receive airmail payment was non existent. Plus, any such action might have given Arlo a twisted concept of how we pay for things, and he’s been throwing stuff lately, so I didn’t want to set a bad example. Enough? I agree. I took the Silly Putty and gave it to my accomplice as I placed him in his car seat. We stole that shit, and I don’t feel bad at all. When I unpacked the groceries, I saw that the grapes I bought were rotten. As I see it, they owe me a dollar and seventeen cents, which I’ll redeem by stealing a Charleston Chew next time I’m there.