I totally fucked up the Jane’s Addiction title when I stole it for my last post. It’s Been Caught Stealing not Got Caught Stealing.
That’s what I get for stealing.
I figured it out, but not until I had posted the story. So, the headline just stayed wrong.
Now, here I am. Fixing it.
Randy and I were talking about the comments from the last shoplifting post. How people said that I was mostly sweet and trying to do something nice.
So, yeah, the rest of the story isn’t as nice.
I mentioned I was good at shoplifting. Well, I was better than most of the kids I hung around with. They were poor kids too, and they wanted a few nice things.
I was willing to get them these things.
Not for free. I provided a service. People get paid for work they do, especially when risk is involved.
I was in the 8th grade and had moved on from Ockerman Elementary to Ockerman Junior High. I spent my 7th grade year in a different school district. I tried out for cheer leading at that new school, but didn’t make it. I made money through honest work in the 7th grade. Babysitting. Although, I didn’t always get paid in money. Sometimes I got paid in weed. Tomato, tomahto.
We moved back to my old school district before the 8th grade school year started and I lost my babysitting gigs. We moved into another apartment complex directly across the street from Rink’s department store, my original shoplifting training ground. Very convenient.
It didn’t take long to pick up where I left off.
I didn’t even think about charging people to steal for them until a girl offered me fifty cents to get her a pair of flip flops. She had a pair, but the toe thingy was broken on one shoe. She wanted a fancy pair, not the normal rubber ones. I shuffled in with her broke ass shoes and walked back out with a new pair of fancy flip flops.
Fifty cents wasn’t a lot of money but the money would feed my addiction for the afternoon.
I spent hours playing pinball in the lobby at Rink’s. I didn’t need more than 2 quarters. I always racked up free games.
The light bulb went off. I could make some serious jack with my five finger discount. I would be like Scrooge McDuck swimming in quarters.
Shoes were easy. I would wear an old pair in and wear a new pair out. My fee was negotiable, except for designer jeans. I had a set price of five dollars for designer jeans.
There was a shopping area a mile or so from my apartment called 21 Fine Shoppes. There was a boutique that sold whatever designer jeans were popular in 1977. I think that was before the Jordache craze. Gloria Vanderbilt, perhaps?
Anyway, I only did this three times. I didn’t want to push my luck.
I was still tiny in the 8th grade. I don’t remember what size I wore, but I’m going to guess it was a size 2. I borrowed a pair of jeans from a friend who was a few sizes bigger than me and cinched them on with a belt.
There was a three item limit in the dressing room, but it was easy enough to get 4 items in the room.
I would put on a pair of jeans smaller than the ones I wore in. Put the bigger jeans on over top and waddle out like the Michelin Man.
Okay, it probably wasn’t that bad, but it felt like it. Also, I did not consider how uncomfortable it would be to walk the mile or so back from the boutique in the dead of summer wearing two pairs of jeans. I’m lucky I didn’t end up with heat stroke.
My client list was limited to girls who were my size or one size bigger. And girls who had an extra 5 bucks. That was a large sum back then. Most days, I counted myself lucky to have pinball money for a day. Five bucks went a long way. Plus, there was the novelty of actually paying for shit I wanted.
The most I ever made for a single item was $10. A girl named Donna bought a pair of my stolen jeans and she told her older brother, Steve, about my mad skills. Steve wanted something from the electrical department at Rinks. A converter of some sort. I don’t remember. I just remember it was small enough to fit down the front of my pants.
Sooner or later, people have to leave their life of crime. Either on their own, or because they are rotting away in the stripey hole. I got out before I ever got caught.
I only almost got caught stealing.
I was friends with a girl named Robin who had an even more fucked up home life than I did. Her mother was a waitress in a truck stop and her dad was a drunk. She had a little brother named Scotty. I remember Scotty’s favorite form of entertainment was to prank call Taco Bell. He was a weird little shit. However, I can say that “Bite my bell beefer” is a phrase that has stuck with me because of Scotty.
Anyway, Robin and I took a bus to Covington, KY, which is where I lived when I went to Catholic school, back before I was a junior criminal.
I needed shorts. I had money for bus fare home and that was it. But still, I needed shorts.
I will never forget these shorts. I found them at a Goodwill.
They were denim and had big blue buttons down the sides like sailor shorts. I didn’t want to take the time to try them on and lift them that way. Besides, it was Goodwill. I certainly didn’t have to worry about getting busted at a Goodwill.
When I told Randy this story, he interrupted me.
Randy: Michelle Ruth. You shoplifted from a Goodwill?
Me: Well, I needed shorts and they were really cute.
Randy: Yeah, but a Goodwill?
Me: I don’t think I cared where I shoplifted from.
So, I’m walking around with a pair of shorts shoved under my t-shirt and down the front of my pants, when I see this old blue hair talking excitedly to the woman working the register and pointing. At me.
I was so busted.
I didn’t hesitate, I grabbed Robin by the arm and we ran from the store. We ran down the block and we didn’t stop until we were both winded.
I think I expected to see the entire police force, perhaps headed up by the blue hair carrying a torch following close behind us.
Robin was happy. We almost got caught and then we didn’t. I was not happy. I did not want to get caught stealing. I didn’t realize how very much I didn’t want to get caught stealing until I nearly got caught stealing.
We ducked into a library and I ditched the shorts in a garbage can in the bathroom. Robin was beside herself. Why? Why would I throw away a perfectly good pair of shorts that I had successfully stolen?
I couldn’t keep the shorts. I was too shaken.
I didn’t think I’d ever get caught and I nearly got caught at Goodwill. Robin was pissy the whole bus ride home. In fact, after that, she seemed to find a lot of fault with me and we drifted apart. Not that it mattered, my family was moving again anyway. New school. New friends. In the country.
There were no stores to walk to when we moved to Dry Ridge, KY.
I like to think I changed my ways because I nearly got busted, but honestly, it may have just been due to lack of opportunity. By the time I escaped Dry Ridge, KY, I was an adult, working full time and entering adulthood, where I would be perpetually in debt. Probably, because I actually started paying for things I wanted.
So, how do I feel looking back? Not guilty. Well, I was guilty, but I don’t feel guilty about it. I learned a lot about how to be a good person through trial and error. I certainly didn’t get through my childhood unscathed. I’m glad I never got caught stealing. I had enough trauma as a kid.
Randy was concerned that I would be opening myself up for ridicule by talking openly about being a delinquent, but I am not concerned. Pretty sure if anyone gave me shit, my response would be “Bite my bell beefer”.