Private School(s) for Sinners Like Me Part 2

Posted on May 29, 2013

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As the 1980’s got started, my comic book crime spree ended.

I got busted by a grocery store manager, but not just any grocery store manager. No, I had the misfortune of getting caught in an act of shoplifting by a grocery store manager who also happened to be a fellow member of the Bastrop Church of Christ.

After years of using my five-finger discount on Marvel & DC comics at the K&B Drugs next door to my grandmother’s Safeway of choice, located in Monroe, Louisiana, we swapped stores. Mamaw started grocery shopping at the Safeway in Bastrop in 1981 when we switched churches. We were one of the founding families of the Swartz Church of Christ, but for some reason I can’t recall, we moved our membership from Swartz to Bastrop that year and she switched her grocer allegiance at the same time.

Like all creatures great and small, shoplifting children are animals of habit and I was no different, suddenly finding myself in new territory was jarring but I quickly adapted. It didn’t take me too long to get the lay of this new land, but my new hunting grounds were dangerous compared to the old days at the K&B.

The Bastrop Safeway had a periodical section with comic books just like my beloved K&B, but unlike K&B, the comics were located at the very front of the store, and worse – next to the raised ‘island’ manager’s office. Now any thinking individual would have given up at this point, right? The comic books were quite literally, under the manager’s nose, stealing them would be like robbing a bank with a cop was sitting in the parking lot. You would have to pull an Ocean’s 11-style heist.

Always up to a challenge, and since thinking has never been my strong suit, and after years of feeding my addiction with fresh, hot-off-the press comic books each and every week, I wasn’t about to quit, Safeway manager be damned!

It went fine for a little while, I was a patient little shoplifter, well, as patient as an 11 year old boy can be at least, I tried not to be too greedy, just slid a Fantastic Four into one sock, a Flash or Green Lantern into the other, maybe a Captain Atom or Thor into my waistband. A Conan or a Red Sonja every great once in a while, they were larger comic books and therefore more risk was involved, but they had more skin and this was a priority for me, so I took the chance. Yes, it was cartoon skin, but I was 11, OK? My hauls weren’t as good as the old days at K&B when I could steal 20, sometimes 30 comic books at once, but I was getting my comic fix and more importantly, my adrenaline fix.

Being bad feels good, I guess that is is as good a definition of sin as any other and I was a sinner, a dirty little thief and even worse, compounding my sin, creating a feedback loop of sin, a binge and purge cycle of sinning and shoplifting; I loved it. I’m ashamed but it’s true, I totally got off on it. Walking out of a store with a stolen something concealed on my body, it was sublime, glorious, dare I call it Heavenly? Well, why not? I am a Hell-bound sinner after all.

But I wasn’t feeling so hot when my shoplifting ways were exposed on a fall afternoon at the Safeway in Bastrop, Louisiana.

Now, to embarrass Mamaw Sliger in public was to court disaster, to embarrass her in public, in front of a fellow member of the Church of Christ, was reason to fear for your life, but that day I took things to the next level, I pushed her to Defcon 1, the warheads were fully armed, her nuclear codes verified, by the time we left Safeway that day Mamaw was cocked, locked and ready to rock. And by rock I mean throw rocks at my head, they stoned people in her favorite book ya know? The day I got busted stealing comics at the Bastrop Safeway I embarrassed my grandmother in public, in front of a fellow church member and I broke the law, the law of the land, the law of the Bible.

I was a thief and my day of reckoning had arrived.

The day had dawned like any other, I enjoyed my usual breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and toast, prepared as always by my grandmother, then watched some tube while Mamaw Sliger got ready to go to town for our weekly grocery shopping excursion. After arriving at Safeway at the appointed hour we separated, she headed down the various aisles to make our meal, beverage and snack selections, I made a beeline for the comics.

This day was no different than all my other shoplifting safaris, until we made our exit. That’s when, as we were walking away from the register, Brother ____ stopped us, just as I could smell freedom and a leisurely afternoon of light reading, it was right there, just past the pneumatic doors of the Safeway!

I never made it. Our brother in Christ was as discrete as he could be, he pulled us aside and very quietly and regretfully, gave Sister Sliger the bad tidings, her oldest grandson was a thieving little sinner.

There was no denying this one, I was busted, rather than endure a strip search in the Safeway aisle I ‘fessed up and handed over my ill-gotten comic book gains.

The ride home was Hell on Earth.

My grandmother wasn’t above physical violence, in fact, she was a notorious pincher. Find yourself in her sights and she was likely as not to grab a plug of skin and twist it like an old rotary telephone dial.

This was a punishment born of necessity, she needed a way to keep the kids in line at church, the Sliger family spent a lot of time in the Lord’s house and Mamaw insisted on quiet worship. Acceptable decibel levels when worshiping the Lord were made clear quite early in my childhood, they were no acceptable decibel levels. When at church you were to be respectful, you were reverential, but most important friends and neighbors, you were quiet, silent as a tomb and still as a statue. Or else.

Mamaw took Luke the Apostle literally when he encouraged Christians to ‘quiet their hearts’. Pew jumpin’, shoutin’ with the Holy Spirit, basically any spiritual display above a whisper, was highly discouraged in the Church of Christ I grew up in. So make any noise, draw attention to yourself during worship services, you’d find yourself biting your lip and fighting back tears because Kathleen Sliger would pull a plug right outta your loud ass.

But riding home that day, the day my thieving ways were exposed, she used the deadliest weapon in her arsenal; her tongue. The violence was put on hold, it would come later, in the form of a well-worn leather belt wielded by the equally well-worn hands of a construction worker, my grandfather James ‘Papaw’ Sliger. No, for this ride of shame, a 10 mile trip that seemed to last a 1,000 miles, there wasn’t even any pinching involved, just an interrogation that would break a Green Beret.

My grandmother was a simple woman, a housewife, but she had the voice of command, a drill sergeant/Orson Welles/James Earl Jones set of pipes. Her vocal cords could drip disdain and contempt and disgust like the finest Hollywood movie villain, my grandmother’s voice could make Darth Vader take a step back. When she was roused, which was often, my Mamaw’s vocal delivery was the verbal equivalent of a Mike Tyson in-his-prime punch.

Sometimes, I swear the words were palpable, I could actually see them, like in the old Batman & Robin TV show; ‘What were you thinking? (Smack!) How you could you do this? (Pow!) How could you do this to me? (THWOCK!) How could you do this to me and your grandfather? (Zap!) Do you know EVERYBODY at church is going to know about this? (Holy Verbal Barrage Batman!).

Despite that, my grandmother was my staunchest defender, she was convinced this wasn’t a character flaw, no sir, and it wasn’t because she hadn’t tried, because the Good Lord Above knows that she certainly had.

She’d not only taken me to church every single time the doors opened, she’d also tried to instill the Word of the Lord into me, daily, with what some evangelicals would call devotionals but I’ll always consider Bible classes. Mamaw Sliger’s Bible School consisted of personalized tutorials and I was the sole pupil. They were scheduled just like a regular school; I got weekends and corresponding holidays and summers off (I really LOVED summers, more than most kids I imagine).

No, this shoplifting, this common thievery, it wasn’t my fault, NO, she couldn’t accept that, it was the fault of the wicked world and it’s influences on my innocent soul.

My grandfather was a construction worker, a union welder, he paid his bills religiously, had no expensive habits and he managed his money well. So, when my grandmother forced the man to pay my tuition to private school he could afford to do so. Barely.

I spent the last half of the sixth grade and the first half of the seventh at Ouachita Christian School. It did not go well. Daily chapel replaced study hall but a school filled with rich kids was not the best place for a giant 11 year old smart-ass with an inferiority complex.

I spent 1 & 1/2 days back in public school before a fight in the hallway sent me to yet another private school. My poor grandfather, I just know he was tickled when I went back to public school, no more expensive tuition. His joy was short lived however, as I didn’t even last two days at Ouachita Parish Junior High.

So off to Monroe Christian I went for next two and a half years.

By the way, I never read another comic book again.

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