To the best of my recollection, I have stolen things three times in my entire life. Mathematically, that breaks down to one theft every twenty-three years, which, although perhaps higher than the national average – or perhaps lower – does not, in its sum total, seem to be an egregious amount of pilfering.
I recall a childrearing expert discussing the issue of spanking saying, “If you make a decision never to spank your children, you will spank them just the right amount.” Similarly, having personally determined never to steal, three deviations from that pledge seem to me to be “just the right amount.” (Although that rationale is unlikely to hold up in a court of law, where in California at least, until recently, if you committed three criminal infractions – and not necessarily big ones – they shipped you off to the calaboose for life.)
I come by this inclination towards unlawfully taking stuff hereditarily. My mother – albeit extremely rarely – also took stuff. Once, while I watching.
We were shopping at Macy’s Department Store in Manhattan, my mother replenishing my London-acquired wardrobe, which she – inexplicably to me – found sartorially unacceptable. Mom picked up a belt, and we got in line to pay for it. Suddenly, I saw her veer away from the queue and head straight for the door.
“Mom,” I inquired anxiously, “did you pay for that belt?”
“Not yet,” she replied, and casually exited into the street.
Okay? So that’s where I got it from.
Back in London not long afterwards, I found myself at a similar criminatorial crossroads.
At a bookstand in the “Underground” waiting for a train, I picked up a paperback copy of what would become my favorite book of all time, Catch-22, and, as in the “belt situation”, I lined up to pay for it. The line, however, was taking forever to move forward, and an electronic sign indicated that my subway was about to arrive.
So – just like Mom – I stepped away from the line, and when my train pulled into the station and the doors opened, purloined paperback in hand, I stepped into the nearest car, I found myself a seat, and I began reading. (Believing, arguably incorrectly, that once you start reading a book, no matter how it arrived into your hands, it was yours.)
My second act of inappropriate appropriation also took place in London, during the same extended visit. (Another possibly inaccurate belief: If you “nick” something away from home, it doesn’t count.)
I have written about this before. There’s this historic bookstore in London called Foyles, selling books, plays, possibly a stuffed Pooh bear. I was in drama school at the time, and had virtually no money. (Which is also, at least legally, no excuse for the behavior I am about to confess to.)
I selected five plays, slipping three of them into my large raincoat pocket and paying only for two of them. (Believing they were too expensive and that the price of two plays equaled the legitimate value of five. Well now, aren’t I the hotbed of parenthetical excuses! None of which admittedly hold water.)
When I originally wrote about this, consequent to some technological wizardry I do not come close to understanding, my simple mentioning the name Foyles triggered an electronic reaction that led to somebody named “Foyle”, presumably a scion of the original owner, e-mailing me in response, calling me a “naughty boy” and inviting me to coffee on any subsequent visit to London.
So hey… if the scion didn’t care…
Maybe I should not even count that one.
Lastly, approximately fifteen years later, when I was living in Los Angeles – so you see, I have an unblemished record in Canada – being an extremely slow writer, I was required to work on the weekend, searching for ways of making some Best of the West episode or other funnier.
My boss, Ed. Weinberger, as far as I knew, never worked on the weekends. Ed. had fun on the weekends. Partly because he was in charge, and partly because he was a considerably speedier writer. My resentment bubbled up regardless. The man was enjoying himself, and I was stuck there in the office.
During a break in my onerous sweatshop drudgery, I put down my pen, climbed the stairs to Ed.’s office, stepped surreptitiously inside, went over to the hand-carved humidor where he stored his prodigious stash…
And I took a cigar.
I must confess that this “cigar rustling” took place on more than one occasion. But I bunch those experiences together, the way, when I purchase three small bottles of Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice (because they do not have the big bottles in stock), I count them as a single item when I am patronizing the “Six Items Or Less” “check-out” line.
I have – I swear – stolen nothing since the early 1980’s. So I appear to be cured of my affliction. My hand will occasionally dart out for things – shiny trinkets and colorful souvenirs – but that’s more like a reflex. Or an effort to stay sharp. Only time will tell which.
Still, those three inexcusable misbehaviors (if you consider the bunched-together cigar-nabbings one misbehavior) continued to weigh heavily on my conscience. An unburdening was undeniably overdue.
At this “fresh start” juncture of a brand new year…
I kind of thought to myself,
“Why not today?”