Chasing Seagulls

{April 19, 2009}   Shoplifting Sprees

When I was seventeen years old, I went through a phase where I stole shit. I never stole from people, just stores. And I was pretty damn good at it, if I do say so myself. I owe a lot of my booty to an old brown corduroy jacket I got at a yard sale for a dollar. I loved that jacket. It was a men’s suit jacket (it went with my grunge look at the time) so it was a little big on me and the sleeves covered most of my hands. Perfect for shopping…five-finger-style.

It started out small. I would steal my lunch from the school cafeteria because I spent my lunch money on cigarettes. This limited my meals to a hamburger and a carton of milk, since these were the only things that came packaged and easy to transport. I would walk into the cafeteria, pick up my lunch, look around like I hadn’t found anything I liked, slip my catch into my sleeves, and walk out. When I got to my table, I would produce my food like a magician and chow down.

When I lived in the Crackhouse, it was an everyday occurrence. This was more out of necessity than greed. My mother had just gotten divorced from her second husband and was out of the house a lot, partying and rediscovering herself. She neglected to buy food or pay any other bills, so it was just me and my brother on our own. The condition of the house suffered from having a bunch of teenagers in charge of it, hence the name “The Crackhouse.” It was a real wreck. But more about that another time. My grandma lived a few blocks away, so we would go over there every day to eat one real meal. My brother would then go stay with friends. I had a friend, B. (she of the Ouija board story) staying with me at the time. When it got late, we couldn’t go to my grandma’s, so our first hustle was going to the Domino’s Pizza at the end of the street to cadge any pizzas that hadn’t been picked up. At first they would give them to us, but I guess they got tired of us coming by every night, and started saying no. But then they would just throw them away. So B. and I would wait until they closed and then climb into the dumpster to retrieve the pizzas. Yes, I said it. I dumpster-dived for food. In my defense, the pizzas were always in boxes on the top of the trash, and we watched the employees put them out there, so we knew they were fresh.

Anyway, back to the shoplifting. We eventually grew tired of pizza and started paying regular visits to the Citgo where we met J. (also of Ouija board story fame). While we talked to J., we roamed around the store, stashing goodies in our clothes. He knew we were doing it, but he was polite enough not to say anything. I think he just enjoyed the company. He was too weird to have many friends. When we first started going, he would lock us outside if he needed to go to the back of the store, but eventually he started letting us stay and that’s when we would really stock up. (He let us in on the fact that the security camera didn’t work.) We had to steal things that would fit into our clothes, so it was mostly Slim Jims, snack cakes, and things of that nature. I was able to get a Mountain Dew down the front of my pants most nights. This was also the times they still kept cigarettes displayed in front of the counter, so we kept our habit going easily. We would hang out for a while, get us enough food for the evening, and then leave. Later, another guy came to work there, and he made a point to let us know that he knew we were stealing, and he didn’t care at all. One night, I made a comment about a display of beer and he pointedly turned his back. I told him it wasn’t any fun if he let me do it. (I never stole beer.) Another time, he threw me over his shoulder and I yelled out “Put me down! You’ll squoosh it!”

My real shoplifting buddy was C., the girl I mentioned in a previous story. She and I would take trips to the mall and steal clothes like nobody’s business. All we would do is grab a bunch of shit we wanted to try on and take them to the dressing rooms. Once there, we would pick out what we liked, put our clothes back on over those, and walk out with the rest and hang them back up. (This was before they started counting items when you go in.) When we got out to the car, you could see us pulling off the things we had walked out with. It was a lot of fun, and the only way I was able to get new clothes without going to a thrift store.

I stole a lot of little things, too. I once walked out of a head shop with a James Dean poster down the leg of my jeans. I had to pull it up into my shirt a little so I could bend my knee enough to walk out. I stole a lot of books. Afterthoughts (I think they go by Claire’s now) was a favorite of mine and the only place I ever got caught. I used to steal those little clip-on nose rings and other miscellaneous jewelry. The day I got caught, I broke my two cardinal rules of shoplifting. I made a point to never steal anything I didn’t truly want and I always paid attention to my surroundings. On this occasion, I did neither. When I left the store, the clerk came running after me. She happened to be a girl I went to school with and she had talked the manager out of calling security if she could just get back from me what I had taken. Problem was, they had only seen me take one thing, but when I pulled it out of my pocket, the rest fell out. So I lost my entire booty. But it was cool, because I didn’t get into any serious trouble.

Before I tell you about my greatest catch, I’ll explain to you why I thought I could do this. When I was in the eighth grade, I started to write a book in which one of the characters gets arrested for shoplifting, so I checked out a book from the school library on shoplifting. It basically told you every way to get caught. Bar code scanners, hidden cameras, plainclothes security guards, and those little ink tags. The only thing I didn’t fuck with was the ink tags. Not worth the trouble, in my opinion. Bar codes I tore off. I still have books with the bar code torn off the back cover. Along with that, I can walk into a store and do a quick scan of where all the cameras are or where there might be cameras. If someone is following me too closely, they’re obviously security. Again, I will stress that I’m not telling you how to get over. This was more than 10 years ago, and things have changed drastically, so please…don’t try this at home. My biggest catch was, amazingly, my prom dress. I had quit school halfway through my junior year (I did go back the next year and graduated) and I thought I wouldn’t get a chance to go to prom. C. was going to hers at the high school I had attended in the country and she had hooked me up with a date. Problem was, there was no way I was going to be able to buy a prom dress. So…C. and I went to the mall. After a lot of searching, we found our way into a popular department store. I grabbed a bunch of dresses and headed to the dressing rooms.  Upon trying on a short, silver-sequin-covered dress, I decided that would be the one. My major problem was that my hair was just growing out from being completely shaven and it was a whitish-blond, so this dress went well with my ‘do. I tore the price tags off and slipped them under the seat in the dressing room. I put my clothes back on over the dress, but due to my t-shirt being a little thin, when I moved, you could see the sequins shining through. So I had to turn the top of the dress inside out and tuck it into my jeans. I was lucky in that C. had picked up the same dress in her size, so I was able to carry the look-alike back out with the rest. Then we walked out.

After I turned eighteen, I was a little more cautious because I was officially old enough to go to jail. One day, Someone told me it was time to stop. At least, that’s the way I saw it. I was at the mall with my soon-to-be husband and I stole a little beanbag frog from Afterthoughts. I put it in my pocket and, before I had left the mall, it was gone. That was my sign. Not to say I never stole anything again. When I was in Cancun, I stole food from a supermarket for a while. And here and there, I might lift a pair of sunglasses or something if I think I can get away with it. But that’s rarely, especially since I don’t want to get busted in a foreign country. Mostly I do it because I know I’m good at it and it gives me a rush. I haven’t stolen anything in about 2 years, though. That’s probably for the best.

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