My dad is not a violent man, but he did care a lot about my well-being and growing into an upstanding member of society. A child needs lessons about how actions have consequences! You must understand that the years of my childhood were only just removed from the “strap at school” years.
One day I walked into the house, and my dad glanced at me and then did a double-take. “Were you playing with FIRE?” he demanded.
Well no, I mean why would I play with fire? I had certainly been warned a couple of times about how dangerous it was. But when he grabbed me by the shoulder and sniffed the frazzled, singed fringes of my bangs, my memory cleared up a bit. No confessions came forth as I received a couple of shocking but admittedly very restrained swats to my bottom.
I don’t think I protested too much, considering that about 15 minutes prior I had determined that a paper airplane does NOT in fact fly better when you light its wings on fire. But when you toss it, the extra oxygen certainly does help it to burn vigorously as it blows by your face.
OK, so we have established that my dad meant business about consequences, and I could be a bit of a non-conformer.
Around the time of the airplane incident, my dad had also told me: “If I ever catch you stealing, I’ll break your fingers!” A couple of things went through my mind: 1) That sounds really horrible and scary, and 2) I know my dad would never really do that.
Besides, he had included a weasel clause. The punishment was contingent on me getting caught. Duly noted!
I should make it clear that I am not proud of the stories that follow so please treat them as cautionary not exemplary tales. When I grew up (into what I hope is a somewhat contributory member of society) I tried to more than make up for them. In any case, as the title suggests, the universe has a way of setting things right.
Two words – Popcorn Twists. Sounds like nonsense, but you might still find this delicious snack at one of your shadier Canadian convenience stores. Flash fried blobs, dyed yellow and loaded with sodium, they taste of buttered popcorn as their texture goes from “packing peanut foam” to “greasy sludge” in your mouth. What’s not to like about that?
I had never tried a Popcorn Twist until the day I went to the concession at the “big school” we went to once a week to borrow library books and use the gymnasium. Our two room school house was pretty shy on books, and during the winter we played claustrophobic floor hockey in the storage room in the basement. We didn’t have a concession or other reliable supply of artery-hardening snack products.
I liked Popcorn Twists so much that I decided to take some unused change that had been sitting in my parents’ pointless earthenware ashtray by the door. Instead of my “treat allowance” buying one precious bag of Twists, I had enough to buy three bags to savour over the week to come. A few hours later, three puffy Twist bags were stuffed into my Dukes of Hazzard lunch box and I was off to the gym. Somehow getting pumelled in dodgeball was a little sweeter as I dreamed of ripping open a bag of Twists on the way home.
Later, when I got back on the bus, I smacked my lips as I cracked open the lid of my lunch box. No Twists, not even my one “legal” bag. Some SOB took my Twists. Guess the smiling faces of Bo and Luke Duke on the lunch box were not enough to convince the thief that “A. Schroff” was the kind of badass who would be coming after them for this transgression.
Perhaps there was something in that incident that took the bloom off of a life of petty crime, at very least it put it on hiatus.
But eventually I found something worthy of once again bending my ethics. This time it was comic books.
It was mid ‘80s and DC and Marvel superheroes duelled for the few dollars burning a hole in the pockets of pimply boys. I was a Marvel fan, in part because when DC raised their prices to 95 cents, Marvel hung in for a time at 75 cents an issue. But Marvel also had the X-Men, who were the coolest band of mutants the world has ever seen. C’mon, Nightcrawler, Cyclops and Wolverine? ‘Nuff said.
I wasn’t the only one ensnared by the smell of four colour ink on cheap newsprint, and the Marvel marketing machine generated a seemingly endless number of spinoffs, team-ups and mini-series. If you didn’t have issue number one of the heart-pounding new series, you might as well just admit that your life is over.
If that issue came out between allowance disbursements – what were the options? In the end, I chose the zero cost option, with some sort of flimsy mental justification that it was a victimless crime. I wasn’t stealing from a person but a store – with a fancy name and surely deep corporate pockets. Kind of like how socialist governments justify increasing taxes on business, right?
As I grew up and made a bit of money from honest work, I grew out of my desire to pursue the “five finger discount”. And I also came to understand that I might be impacting the folks who owned the stores.
Some time after my life of crime, I came to know the family that ran one of the stores in question and that certainly added to the feelings of guilt. Later, when the old couple retired and the store was sold, I asked their daughter how long they had owned the store. “Oh, they never owned the store.” She said.
Unbeknownst to me, they were just the dutiful managers. The actual owner was another local businessman – who had run a business that failed spectacularly, taking all his investor’s money on a wild ride to oblivion.
And you guessed it, I was one of those investors. I may have enjoyed a few “bonus” comics in my tweenish years, but not a new car’s worth…
Karma is a bitch!