Gateway Earrings

I loved that we lived near a small shopping center.

I could walk there.  I would walk up behind the rows and rows of townhomes, about a half a mile, until I got to the fence that blocked the railroad tracks from our community.  I always thought the fence was kind of a joke; maybe you couldn’t see the trains coming through, but you certainly could hear them.  I got used to the sound of train whistles day in and day out, but then again, I lived a ways away from where they went through.

There was a hole in the fence that blocked the rails from the condos.   Teenagers were constantly pulling out a board or two from it so that we could cross the tracks to end up behind the shopping center.  This was a short cut and and infinitely faster than going on the roads that led to the stores.  Sometimes there would be teens congregated by the tracks, smoking or “hanging out”.   But most of the time I could slide easily through the gaping slats of the fence, down the hill, across the tracks and into the parking lot behind the shopping center.  Sometimes I would stop and wait to see the trains go by, but most of the time they were far away and I was too interested in getting to the shops.

Our shopping center had a grocery store, a drug store, a bagel shop, a toy store, a book store and down at the very end, a small movie theatre.  I loved going into the bagel shop and having a fresh baked bagel; I’d never even heard of them before we moved here.  I loved spending hours in the book shop trying to decide which book I was going to get next with my allowance.  I loved staring at the toys in the toy store, even though I should have been old enough to not be interested in them.  But I probably spent the most time in the drug store, because they sold absolutely everything from magazines to vinyl records to Christmas trees to hand soap.

One day, my girlfriend walked out of the drug store without paying for a tube of lip stick.  She laughed and laughed about how easy it was and how she did this all the time.  I looked at her with wide eyes; that was STEALING.  But look at all of the things she had that she didn’t have to pay for, the voice in my head immediately piped up.  I started asking around and it seemed nearly everyone I knew had stolen something once or twice, though for some it was apparently a well ingrained habit.  My only experience with thievery was when I pocketed the lifesavers at the party store my dad took me to when he needed more beer.  He made me go back to the store with them and apologize when he discovered that I’d taken them, and the lesson stuck.

But my mother and father weren’t around much these days, and lovely things that I didn’t have the money for started to look appealing.  Maybe the kids at school would think I was prettier if I had that one perfect shade of lipstick.  Or they’d think I was cooler if I could add to my Smurf collection beyond Papa Smurf and Smurfette.

So I did it.  I gently placed a pair of earrings in my palm and walked around the store with it until I could slide the package up my sleeve.  I walked out of the store with it still held there, totally inconspicuous behind the knit sweater  I was wearing.   I kept walking until I got behind the shopping center and then pulled out the small, plastic wafer that held the two dangling earrings.

I should have felt guilty.  I should have felt badly.  I should have felt like I’d just made a huge mistake.  But I didn’t feel any of those things.  Instead, I felt powerful.  I felt like I’d just tapped into some great secret that could make my life better, that would give me access to things that would make me happy.

I put in the earrings and smiled the whole way back home.


One Response

  1. i hope you stopped there. because i didn’t. there really is a strange sense of power. that materialistic desire bred into us from a young age becomes a great monster when one discovers one can shoplift. it becomes something ugly. if one keeps going, one can only get caught. and it will end in tears.

    that was a really lovely entry and i’m going to read the rest of your blog now! hopefully i can learn something from you. 🙂

    perhaps back then it was easier to steal, certainly now most stores have all kinds of newfangled security device and tags and people hired to pretend to be shoppers actually looking out for shoplifters.

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