First of all, let me say that I’ve never stolen anything before. Well, that was what I truly thought until I started to write and then I began to remember my dishonest and theiving past. I was astonished, really. It’s funny what we forget and what we remember once we start writing. Forgive me and my mother, dear readers, forgive us.
I was probably around 10 years old, my brother 7. My mom would take us fishing somewhere past Wahiawa, but before the North Shore on Oahu. I found the whole process mysterious because she would drive our gray Isuzu Impulse through Dole’s pineapple fields until she hit a line of trees. Then we would grab our fishing gear and walk out to the edge of Lake Wilson.
One day as we were leaving, our little car driving fast and furiously over the red dirt roads, my mom stopped the car. The engine was still running.
She looked over at me, “Take a pineapple.”
“What? That’s stealing!”
She gave me one of her notorious dirty looks, “Do you think anyone is going to miss it?”
I reluctantly opened the car door and peered out at the sea of pineapples. There were fields of them – golden pineapples sitting on top of the dirt in haphazard positions ripe for the picking.
“Do you wanna get caught?” She hissed. “Take one!” My mom quickly scanned the area for an imaginary policeman.
I was confused by the many pineapples sitting before me, “Which one?” I cried.
“Any one!” She cried back.
I grabbed the ripest-looking one and shut the car door. From the backseat my younger brother Larry admired our latest catch of the day. A cloud of red smoke followed us until the car hit the pavement. My mom started laughing.
The PX (Post Exchange) are department stores located on military bases. And because my father died while serving in the US Air Force, we were able to enjoy base privileges. My mom would have them for the rest of her life, while Larry and I would have them until we turned 18. It was in the PX that this particular incident occurred.
My mom and I were looking at dresses for me. She never wore dresses. I saw her in traditional Thai skirts at Buddhist celebrations or parties from time to time. Somehow after we arrived at our destination she would magically reappear in one. The strangest thing. I guess she borrowed them from friends.
We were able to narrow down our search to two dresses. This was when baby doll dresses were in fashion. I couldn’t decide between the two. Well, actually I liked the more expensive one – the pink one.
I bit my lower lip. Held the dresses against me, “What do you think mom?”
She tilted her head. “I like the black one.”
Since my mom’s wardrobe consisted primarily of the color I was disappointed in myself for asking. I sighed. These were difficult moments for a teenage girl.
My mom started looking through the clothing racks again when a price tag hanging off one of the dresses ended up in her hand. The rectangular shaped tag was torn right where the plastic fastener previously held it in place. The rip was hardly noticeable. She could have easily put the tag back on the plastic. Like a three hole punched page – when one of the holes rip, but you can still slide it back into your three ring binder? The tag was like that.
As soon as the price tag ended up in her hand she made a surprised sound, “Hmmp.” Then she read the amount $6.99. A tiny smile appeared on my mom’s face. Swiftly she ripped off the price tag off of the pink dress. The $6.99 tag found itself dangling from a pink dress. The $19.99 tag magically made its way to the dress on the rack.
“Mom!” I scolded as quietly as possible. I scanned for surveillance cameras or people watching us.
Her grin was wide now and she was giggling, “Come on. Let’s get both dresses.” She patted the dresses in my arms.
“What if we get caught?” I couldn’t believe she was doing this.
We continued to walk to the cashier.
“How will they know?”
I gently placed the dresses on the conveyer belt.
“Hello,” the cashier said, “How are you?”
“Fine.” My mom replied with a smile. Then she gave me a slight nod.
I realized I must have been wearing the fright on my face like a Halloween mask so I tried to act calm as she scanned the first dress through.
When the pink dress’ tag fell off the plastic loop I felt like Winona Rider when she got caught for shoplifting. I waited for the cashier’s reaction. My mom’s face a picture of serenity. No one would ever suspect this sweet-faced Thai woman who barely was 5 feet tall with short black (dyed) curly (permed) hair.
“Oh!” The cashier exclaimed. She ran the price tag through and gave us a smile. “$26.89”
My mom handed her cash. She gave us change and I grabbed the plastic bag. As soon as we walked outside I breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn’t believe we got away with that. I couldn’t believe my mother.
When I was about 9 or 10 years old I started to steal money from my mom’s purse so I could buy candy. Whenever she took a nap on the couch or in her bedroom I would tiptoe around her and open her purse. She always kept her purse near her during these nap times. Perhaps it is an old school way of thinking. Perhaps this is just poor people’s version of an alarm system.
When my mom is exhausted, tuckered out and plum tired, she snores. Depending on how hard she worked and how worn down she was, there were variations or levels of snoring. There was the deep heavy breathing variety. There was the occasional snore variety and then there was when she snored so loud she sounded like a cow mooing.
Obviously cow mooing was a-go-go since this meant she had entered the deepest sleep. These rare moments meant that I could open her purse and unzip her pocketbook with more confidence. Nevertheless, my heart raced whenever I went for her purse. And I constantly stopped my actions to stare at her to make sure she hadn’t moved or heard me.
When I did open up her wallet I was faced with several bills and the important choice of how much to take. I wasn’t stupid enough to take a $20 bill and I knew I needed to make sure the amount was insignificant enough for her not to notice, yet enough for me to head over to the white van of hope.
Candy was my crack and I needed my fix on a daily basis. How did other children get the money? Exactly. I could not have been the only one who chose this dark route. Allowances were for white kids. We never got an allowance. We got an allowance of spankings and beatings. Generosity then knew no bounds.
Whenever my brother and I walked home after school and got past the high school (where the distinct smell of marijuana lingered), there our friendly white van awaited. The black van with the tinted windows took children. The white van with the open sliding door embraced children.
There we would wait our turn as we pondered what to buy today. I felt like Wile E Coyote rubbing his paws licking his chops over the mere thought of a roasted Roadrunner. Behind that plexiglas those shelves were lined with candy after candy. My favorites: Nerds, Jawbreakers, Fireballs, Chicko Sticks, Fun Dip, Sixlets, Big League Chew, Tootsie pops, rolls, Pop Rocks, candy necklaces, candy cigarettes, Now and Laters, Smarties, Sugar Daddy suckers, Sweet tarts and the original gummy bears.
I was a connoisseur of candy willing to explore new territory. “What’s this?” I pointed to the black and white nondescript confection.
The man behind the counter touched the item in question. “That!” he said excitedly, “That is gum from Japan. It’s black.”
“What does it taste like?” I was practically shaking with anticipation.
There was a glow in his eyes, “Coca-cola.”
Steady. Steady girl. “How much does it cost?”
“A dollar. But it’s worth it.”
“I’ll take it.”
My mom never caught me because I was too clever. I’d pluck a few dollars here and a few dollars there. When there was a lot of cash I could steal a $5 bill with daring ease. There were a few times when I tiptoed around my mom, opened her purse, dug around for her wallet, slowly clicked it open to find nothing but a couple of $1 bills or a lonely $20 bill. I would look at my unsuspecting slumbering mom with disgust.
There were close calls – which required quick reflexes. I was in her bedroom creeping towards her purse when she rolled over. Originally her back was towards me and I thought I was home free, but when she rolled over I crouched down behind the bed and waited and listened. I was too spooked to continue so I crawled out of her bedroom.
But the first time I stole was in the first grade. And I got sent to the principal’s office. I was in the cafeteria for lunch. My mom always gave us lunch money. If we had a field trip, I remember having to make one up with whatever was handy in the cupboard.
Lunch cost 25 cents and it tasted like it. (Although, I remember the due-to-inflation-45 cent lunches tasting better) As soon as I sat down with my lunch tray, another kid from kindergarten sat next to me with his brown-bagged lunch.
Kid junior probably pulled out a shiny bag of chips, Jell-o pudding pops and a bologna and cheese sandwich on honest white bread. I looked back at my lunch which suddenly looked like prison gruel.
“Hey. You wanna trade lunch?”
He sniffed at mine like a dog. “No, thanks.”
“Oh c’mon. Look how much more I have than you. I have all this.” I waved my hand over the lunch tray, “including milk.”
“Well,” he began to waver.
“Please!” I could smell and taste potato chip victory.
“Okay.” He put the items back in his bag and gave it to me.
I slid my tray triumphantly over to him.
Then he peered down at his new lunch, “I don’t like it. I want my lunch back.”
“No way. You traded it fair and square.”
Kid junior’s face crumbled. “I want my lunch back!”
Hugging the brown bag lunch to my chest I retorted, “No! It’s mine.”
“Give it back to me!”
“No! Eat your lunch and shut up.”
He started crying. “I want my lunch back. I want my lunch back.”
I panicked. He was causing undue attention to the situation.
Oh, god. “Okay.” I shoved the brown bag back in his chest. But he continued to cry. So I started to pet him like a dog and looked around. “It’s okay. Here’s your lunch.”
He got up from his seat.
I sat there forlornly, waiting for the inevitable. Seconds went by and I start to wonder if he must have decided not to tell. I began to eat when a lunch monitor tapped me on the shoulder. “You’re going to the principal’s office.” Kid junior was smiling behind her.
The principal’s office is a dirty place where all foul little thieving children go to be punished. There were cobwebs, sewer rats, vultures and even a blind boy with no hands sitting on a pile of unfinished homework begging for change. I bravely stepped over him and walked into the principals’ office.
I must have blacked out momentarily or fainted because I don’t remember much. I remember being thankful that there was no parental involvement and I remember the principal was kinder than I thought he would be. But what I remember most was leaving his office, seeing the sun again, breathing in the fresh free air and thinking, “I never want to do that again.”
And now it’s your turn. Have you ever stolen anything?