I steal magazines.
I guess I should explain.
As a child, while sitting in any number of waiting rooms with my mother, she came to a point in the sitting when she adjusted her posture, looked around the room and began to hum. The magazine on her lap remained open, slid up to her belly, and the humming got louder and busier and sometimes she coughed. At times she began an idle conversation with me, speaking a little more loudly than usual and when I answered, she responded to the answer in a very over-appreciative manner. At the loudest, most hummfull and cough-ous moments I could just make out the faintest sound of tearing paper. Then she reiterated the substance of the talk--of which there was none--and continued to subtly squirm as she folded and tucked her secret into her treasure-chest pocketbook. Eventually we were called into our appointment or to the desk for a receipt or whathaveyou, and then headed out on our merry way. Later, if I asked her what the magazine thing was all about, she smirked for a few seconds, looked around as if to be sure we were alone, and then would tell me about her prize with erupting excitement. A recipe at the rental office. An interview at social security. A book review at the podiatrist. A short story at the shrink.
Her charade was a regular occurance and I had no judgement on her choice to tear articles from magazines. I loved her, and if she wanted it, she should have it. For a long time I didn't even realize that it was stealing. I hadn't even considered a possible, less sneaky alternative until I was much older. "Why don't you just ask them if you can have it?". She said that they were "office property" and that they wouldn't like that very much. Perhaps she was afraid that they might have said no. Maybe she liked the rush.
At home, Mom had folders of glossy color pages with one or two rough edges where she'd torn them from their host. Family recipes from Good Housekeeping. Sound advice from Ladies Home Journal. Candid interviews from Redbook. Quizzes from Cosmo. Models from McCalls. She had piles of faces and scenes she hoped to eventually get around to reproducing in a painting. She hung adorable animals on the fridge. She made collages.
Magazines were a luxury for her and she only occasionally purchased one at the supermarket checkout and when she did, she dove in...rekindling the now-dormant intellectual and tabloid-privy delight of her school years. She would sit up straight with a cold beverage in a tall, sweaty glass and be momentarily in the know.
To me, the recipes were uninteresting, the articles too long and the pictures, ordinary. Except for New Yorker cartoons. Even as a little boy, their subtlty packed a punch and I was not only excited to "get" it, I was legitimately entertained. Even when I didn't fully understand one of them (this still happens with regularity) I enjoyed looking past the lines on the page, and was game for the process of trying to arrange the pieces of data the cartoonist had supplied. I was intrigued by their sardonic and skillfully articulated commentary on the general stupidity of men and the futility of struggle. Now THERE was something worth reading!
Eventually I found fault with the lions-share of my family's behavior and I thought that stealing pages was just a symptom of my mothers oddness. The prospect of anyone finding out that she was part theif, part vandal would just add to the disgrace of our eccentricity: being on welfare, Dad being unemployable, us having the oldest, crappiest car in the project, and so on. The magazine clippings were part of a major clutter factor at home....piles and folders, a good deal of which went unread. And my moms "art" collection. There were nearly a hundred items covering the living room walls. These included mounted two inch sketches of houseflies, framed pillows, pirate-growlers, painted plates, my mothers oils, and other unique items that I didn't know how to explain to my asshole friends. Just what I needed...more evidence of my family's weirdness.
My dad always ran to Jewel Pharmacy for advertised two-for-one deals on shower curtains and other shit we didn't really need (we only had one shower), and protested loudly if told that the thing had sold out. The girls at checkout were afraid of him. He was also be the one to go to the community center when government distributions took place. He came home with the bubbie-cart filled with logs of government cheese, butter and powdered milk. When I was little I just considered it time with my dad and a good deal. As I grew, though, so did my shame and I was horrified to think that anyone would know that we were so poor or that we were connected, my father and me.
When my brother took me to one of the two supermarkets within walking distance of our apartment, he skillfully smashed one pound Hershey bars and twelve-packs of gum down his pants, headed for the door and then we ran. My own solo debut was at Wainrights, the local family-owned department store where I tucked a balsa-wood airplane into my sock. A couple of my friends were giggling with admiration when I heard a woman's voice ask, "you wanna go to jail?". She stood over me, eight feet tall, hands on hips and head cocked sideways, her huge square frames floating over her enormous eyes....and I was terrified. She repeated the question and I said no....that I was not really going to take it, only showing my friends how to carry it. She cocked her head even further (I don't know how it remained attached to her neck), said to put the toy back on the shelf and to get out. I complied and the gang followed me out the back door. They began shrieking with nervous energy and I walked faster, staying in front so they wouldn't see my eyes welling up with remorse. Within a few years there were photos of me on the shoplifter cork boards in the offices of several supermarkets in and around my neighborhood. I still like to think that I was good at it. But I suppose that--just as with school--I didn't apply myself.
I knew what stealing was. I knew what lying was. And I knew that people who were in jail were often good people who had done something wrong. I was a good boy when I stole cash from my dads pockets so I could buy candy and ice cream and then pot and mescaline and I cheated friends out of drugs we were supposed to share, taking the larger half or "stepping on" (diluting) their portion if I had time alone with it. I still thought I was a good person when a pothead teacher I knew lived in a basement apartment on my girlfriends block and I regularly snuck in above the doorway to raid her stash or grab handfuls of roaches that filled her impressive collection in a large, glass bowl. I pretended It was ok to rip off employers, taking food and cleaning products and money and machines and hours and more. I thought I was justified when walking out of Bloomingdales and Filenes Basement with several layers of clothes under the baggy ones I'd walked in with, security sensors crudely liberated with the scissors I'd brought along. The stores wouldn't miss the stuff. I'm not hurting anyone. I'm still a good guy. Fuck them. I attacked, robbed, dealt, cheated and justified my way through adolescence and well into my twentys.
Then when I stopped getting high I began to obsess on my deviant past. Lying and dealing and stealing and a lot of petty crap.... I remember new ones all the time and while I made a firm commitment to be truthful and take nothing that didn't belong to me, this didn't quell the feeling that I'd spoiled the good person I used to be. I even had a job where dishonesty was part and parcel of my performance, and while I hated doing it, I stayed too long. I hated myself for having been a fuckhead and for putting my own, momentary desires before the happiness of others. I vowed to be honest and helpful, and to pay back anyone who I could.
Thus far I've done an imperfect job, and it continues. I reflect on my progress (or lack thereof) regularly and do five year check ins: Am I more truthful? More helpful? Less of a dick? I've been on a pretty good run of affirmative responses to all of these (with the possible exception of the last, which is subjective).
Basically, it's about doing what's right. Right? It's about defining the lines....retracing them with thick marker so that they are not easy to blur and so that I can't kid myself about what is ok and what's not. So at present, if it's not mine I don't take it.
With one exception. I steal magazines. It's not a nervous temptation and it's not as if I sometimes fall prey to a relic of my evil inclination which wins over my resolve to be impeccable in all matters of integrity. It's an excitement followed by a clear choice...and one of which I'm quite OK. In the occasional office magazine library, I hone in. I imagine looking up at my mother with a knowing clandestine glance---two generations of notorious Queens paper thieves about to do a job. I find what I want and I'm dragged back in. There is no question. We look left and we look right. She gives the signal and I pull it flat to my belly, look around...smiling in case a distraction is needed....and hum loudly as I pull the pages from the spine. Or I just walk around with the whole magazine. Exchanging our information, asking if we expect rain, taking care of business, holding the thing right under their noses....offering them the chance to stop me. But they never do. I'm giving you a chance here! I have something that belongs to you! I didn't walk in with this...but I'm about to walk out with it! But they're lost in my cunning charade. And I make my next appointment, take my invoice, documentation or prescription, and head for the door. I walk at my usual pace, but my heart is dancing and my mind is running down the block, chocolate cracking against my groin and my dead mother skipping next to me, alive and victorious.
Please don't judge me too harshly. And if you had already planned to have me over, just keep to that plan. I'm good company and I'm not the person I used to be. You probably already know that. Thank you very much for trusting me with your family, your valuables and your secrets. I'm told that I'm a good friend. We'll have a good time. I may even arrive early to help out.
You might just want to hide your Rolling Stones and New Yorkers until after I've left.