Private School(s) for Sinners Like Me

Posted on May 23, 2013

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I found myself in private school because I was a thief, a shoplifter to be exact.

It started when I was very young, 8 or 9 nine years old I guess. I didn’t steal jewels or cash, I was a comic book thief. My grandmother shopped for groceries once a week at the same Safeway and next door to that Safeway was a K&B Drugs.

Mamaw Sliger would always give me $1.25 on arrival, while she shopped for whole fryers and the best deal on sweet potatoes, I’d go next door and get myself two comic books (they were .40 cents apiece back then). So one day I stole some comics. And it was so easy I kept on stealing comics for years.

It happened almost by accident, we parked in the Safeway parking lot, she doled out my $1.25, this was a bonus FYI, not deducted from my $5 weekly allowance, we parted ways, she headed into the grocery store while I set course for the comic book section at the K&B.

For some reason I made my choices quickly that morning and within minutes found myself back in the Safeway, waiting with the impatience indignant ‘tude only a child can muster, new comics in hand as Mamaw shopped for Folgers and eggs.

Bored and still clutching my comics in a K&B bag, I made my way back to the drug store next door. I don’t remember what inspired my larceny but I do remember the method I used. I just picked up about several comics, slipped them into the bag with my already-paid for comics, then walked out the door cool as a cucumber.

Well, as cool as an 8 year old thief could be at least.

By the way, in case the idea of an 8 year old shopping alone seems weird and you’re wondering what the hell my grandmother was thinking sending a child off alone like that, two things:

1) I was huge, at eight years old I looked 15. And I had a vocabulary to match, I’d been raised around senior citizens, hung out with adults most of my life, so I just didn’t talk like a kid.

2) It was a different world back then. A little boy named Adam Walsh was still years away from his horrible fate, kids could roam America without parents worrying about human monsters preying on them. Those days are long gone, but not when my comic book crime spree was beginning in the late 70’s.

And it (my juvenile life of crime) went on for years. In fact, I soon expanded my criminal empire to include clothing swiped from the Sears & Roebuck and JC Penney frequented by my grandmother. My stealing clothes wasn’t just immoral and illegal, it was also dumb. I couldn’t wear them you see, my grandmother bought all my clothes and would have noticed immediately if something she hadn’t authorized turned up in the wash.

My clothing thefts almost proved my undoing one day at Sears. The object of my desire, what caught my thieving eye that day, was a pair of wristbands. Dallas Cowboy wristbands to be exact. And I hate the Dallas Cowboys, loathed them in fact.

I’m a lifelong New Orleans Saints Fan, a charter member of the Who Dat Nation. I had to steal something though, I just had to, the adrenaline, the naughty feeling I got from stealing, it was glorious.

The day of the Dallas Cowboy wristbands incident started smoothly enough. We arrived, parted ways, I meandered over to the boy’s section and eyed the merchandise, settling on the wristbands. I quickly snatched them off the shelf, tucked them into my pants and then rendezvoused with Mamaw. Somewhere between meeting her and leaving the store I pulled the two NFL licensed products from my Toughskin jeans and slipped them onto my wrists, I was wearing a hoodie and the sleeves covered the wristbands perfectly. 

We walked out the double doors and headed for our pale-yellow Ford Granada when everything almost came crashing down. A Sears employee stopped us and informed my grandmother that her little man, the apple of her eye, the child she intended to mold into a Church of Christ preacher, had shoplifted a pair of Dallas Cowboy wristbands, cheap workout sweatbands she would have gladly bought for me if I’d only asked.

Mamaw Sliger turned to me slowly and gave me The Look.

My anus clenched like an industrial vise, I started sweating like that proverbial whore in church, I wanted to run, flee like Bo Duke, or Steve Austin, astronaut. But I couldn’t of course, nothing could have moved me from that spot because I was frozen, a statue locked in place under that laser-like Medusa stare.

I knew what that look, The Look, the one of a kind, US patent-pending, Kathleen Sliger Glare, meant. With just a glance she telepathically said to me, ‘I hope you didn’t do this because if you did, I will make you wish, beg, plead, grovel for death, I will beat you like Jesus beat the money changers in the temple. Then I will take everything you love, from your books to your Hot Wheels to your little black and white TV set. And then I’ll tell your grandfather, the man who works like a slave, welding in the hot sun all day so you can enjoy those worldly things. I’ll tell him how you’ve disgraced him, how you broke one of THE Ten Commandments, #6 and probably #10 too, and then he will beat you too.’ 

All that was conveyed in a split second with a look, The Look.

So I lied like a cheap rug.

I denied it before I could even think to admit my wrong, I cried fowl in spite of that executioner’s stare and dared the Sears security lady to prove differently.

The woman  who stopped us outside of Sears in 1979 is frozen in my mind, she is on permanent display in my memory.

She was a small, petite white lady, maybe 5’6, shorter than the fat, overgrown little thief she almost nabbed that day. She had short hair, a ‘bob’, the style half the female population in America was sporting after figure skater Dorothy Hamill took the gold at the Olympics. She was wearing a white blouse with a frilly collar and grey bell bottom slacks. Quietly, she told me grandmother that she’d spotted me slipping something into my pants before leaving the store. Mamaw frisked me right there on the sidewalk as Mrs Columbo – Dorothy Hamill watched closely.

I was playing the innocent lamb but I was a sly little thief and a helluva an actor, ‘See’, I cried, snatching up my long sleeves, iron grip on my wrists pushing the pilfered sweatbands up till the stretched across my bicep, ‘She’s lying Mamaw’, the tears flowed, the lip pouted, I poured it on thicker and heavier, I realized I had nothing to lose. I was either gonna lie my way outta this, or my God-fearing grandmother was going to make life unbearable for the foreseeable ever.      

I did it. Mamaw and I left Sears that day in our Granada, those stolen Dallas Cowboy sweat/wristbands stretched across my upper arms, but not before my grandmother blistered that poor woman with her scathing whip of a tongue for having the nerve to accuse her favorite grandson of stealing. 

I’d be lying if I said I felt bad afterward. I didn’t, not even a little, truth to tell.

I also covered my young butt by ditching the sweatbands in a restroom at our very next stop. I’ve often wondered about that Sears security woman through the years, does she remember the fat kid with the angry grandmother who outsmarted her outside of Sears & Roebuck that day? Did she give up trying to prevent shoplifting after that day, just turn a blind eye, avoid the hassle? Or did she redouble her efforts, maybe she is a stop-loss specialist, a Batman of the retail world with ‘moi as her Joker.

But I only postponed my inevitable day of reckoning. 

The K&B Drug was my turf, I was invincible there. The comics were displayed on a carousel rack in the magazine/book section, in a corner of the store about as far from the checkout as one could get. I modified my approach slightly, instead of going back after purchasing my two comics, I started stuffing comics in both socks and into my waistband. Then I’d bee-bop over to the checkout, pay for my two comics and walk out of the store with 20 comic books hidden in my pants. 

Then my grandmother altered her shopping habits. Instead of buying the Sliger family’s weekly meal allotment at the Safeway grocery next to the K&B Drugs in Monroe, she began shopping at another Safeway, this one in the nearby town of Bastrop. I can’t remember why but it was around the time we switched from a Monroe church to a Bastrop church. I guess she figured if Bastrop was good enough to feed our immortal souls, the Safeway there was good enough to feed our earthly bodies too.

This was a disaster, I was a comic book addict by then, getting a weekly fix of 20-35 comics a week depending on the season (winters were prime shoplifting season, jackets and long sleeves equaled more storage space for my larceny, I’d  walk out of K&B stuffed like Thanksgiving turkey, bursting with the latest from Marvel and DC) but when Mamaw Sliger switched up grocers I was forced to shoplift from the Safeway, there was no K&B nearby. Unlike my beloved K&B, the periodicals were right in the front of the store. I wasn’t going to stop though, I was a master thief, just ask Mrs Dorothy Hammill Columbo from Sears security. So my crime spree continued unabated, the flow of illicit ink and paper smuggled out in bags and up my sleeve and stuffed into my pants and inside my socks.

And then one day my luck ran out, I got caught, that’s how I wound up in two different private schools.

My grandmother thought a ‘Christian environment’ might change my evil ways.

Bless her heart, was she ever wrong about that…

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