Monday, September 20, 2010

My Foiled Career as a Thief

I've never been comfortable with even the smallest of thefts, the kind that others assure me is meaningless because "everyone does it." When one of our party would steal an ashtray from a restaurant, I would feel bad because it was wrong and fearful because it would be embarassing, and possibly worse, to be caught. (Ashtrays were especially popular - I wonder what has replaced the ashtray now that smoking is banned in most places.)

My foray into thievery was fairly accidental - I know, I know, that's what they all say!

I was a grad student, doing research in the university library. There was no one around the stacks where I was browsing, but there was a new, shiny, sharpened, long yellow pencil - my favourite.

That pencil called to me, and, after all, it was only a pencil -  much smaller than an ashtray and one of those things that is commonly lost, dropped, abandoned around campuses everywhere. I avoided it for the longest time, moving around the shelves, ignoring it sitting there in its perfect yellowness.

To this day, I'm sure that my search took me to every stack in that area of the library, and there simply was no one else nearby. The pencil was clearly abandoned (and still calling to me!).

Finished, I had to walk by that pencil, sitting there, sad, waiting for someone to pick it up. So I succumbed; I mean, everyone does it; it's only a pencil; it's abandoned; someone else will take it anyway.

As I walked away, a voice from where I know not said, "That's my pencil."

I put the pencil back down on the shelf and slunk away. I felt like the biggest thief ever -  caught, guilty, wrong, embarassed. I'm still not sure that I wasn't the "victim" of a psych or philosophy experiment or of a joke.

But I knew in that moment why I was never, and never would be, comfortable with people stealing things - small, big, meaningless, or anything else . My very short career as a thief was over before it really got started.


Judie said...

When Joey was around 6 years old, I took him to the grocery store one day and he nicked a candy bar at the check-out counter. We were walking to the car when I noticed that he was unwrapping it. I asked him where he got it and he suddenly realized that he was busted. I marched him back into the store, straight up to the manager, and told Joey to confess and say that he was sorry. Well, he did it, and very nicely, I might add.

The manager then said, "I know that it's hard to confess, but aren't you glad you done it?"

Joey, without missing a beat, looked him straight in the eye and said, "DID it."

"What?" asked the manager, obviously very confused.

"DID it. Not DONE it."

At least one of them learned a lesson, and I think it was my son.

ChrisJ said...


He had a lot of moxie for a kid who's just been busted!

Ciss B said...

Gosh, I thought I was the only one this affected by stealing!

I think each of us has an incident like your pencil one, and I know I most of us know kids who find it a challenge to do it and not get caught.

Sadly some see it as a game and continue, while some of us are haunted by an accident of theft. Kind of weird.

cooper said...

In college a lot of people would take restaurant salt and pepper shakers.

I never understood it really. I think it would make me feel too guilty but maybe I've just never come upon the right temptation.

ChrisJ said...


Makes one wonder why we turn out differently, all of us, doesn't it.

ChrisJ said...


Salt and pepper would be a bit messy in purse or pocket - among other reasons!

askcherlock said...

This article could be a forum on character and its meaning can extend beyond the minutia of stealing pencils to the theft of lives on Wall Street. No one is watching, so why not. We saw the ramifications of that. It's all about character, isn't it? Yours is obviously good!

Judie said...

His mama didn't raise no fools.

ChrisJ said...


I wonder if character shifts when millions are at stake?

ChrisJ said...


I can imagine him being disciplined and right about grammar at the same time!

Judie said...

Well, he doesn't steal, that's for sure, but as far as being disciplined, well, I have been reading stuff that he did in high school (on his blog, WRITE, RIGHT?") and I am thinking that I may have given him the wrong idea about being a "free thinker."

ChrisJ said...


It's always good to remember that parents read blogs, too!!!

Owen Gray said...

Judie tells the same story which my mother would tell of me. I was about 5 or 6, only I pilfered a package of chewing gum.

My mother marched me down to the store, where she made me pay for the gum -- it cost a nickel back then.

The incident left a lasting impression.

ChrisJ said...


It does stay with us.

askcherlock said...

I think a person's character is what it is, no matter what's at stake. Just think of clergy who have stolen lives from vulnerable young victims. As far as Wall street goes, this just seems to be built into what they do. Unfortunately, they caused the ruination of many lives through their greed. But when you think about it, that theft was no less condemning than those who snatch and grab from stores. this country needs to re-vamp its core values and its character.