06 August 2007


A few days ago I was shopping at one of those deluxe grocery stores. The kind with the regular grocery stuff, but also a cosmetics department, a hunting department, a computer department, and an Army surplus department. Okay, not really but you know the mega-stores I mean.

I do not like to shop. I tolerate grocery shopping because the end result is eating, but otherwise I don't like it.

I am often guilty of thinking I'll just run right in here, grab a couple things and be done. Voila!

This turns out to be wishful thinking more often than not. What usually happens is more like, I run in and refuse to grab a cart or even a basket because I'm only getting a few things, remember? I get my 'few' things, but while I'm shopping I spot something (or some things) else that I really need to get (really) but forgot to put on the short list in my hand. So by the time I get up to the check out, things are over flowing my arms. I walk up there with a death-grip hug on a gallon of milk, a bag of ice, sunscreen, notebook paper, ice cream, champagne, a five pound bag of rice (because it's so much cheaper per pound) and the Sunday newspaper. Knowing that if I let go of any one thing, we are going to need 'clean up' on Checkstand 713. Speedy quick.

So a few days ago I found myself running in said mastodon-store. It worked out fine, I was successful in not having to break down and grab a basket, I paid for my items and carried my three bags, worth ninety-seven dollars, and headed out to my car. Whew, another shopping trip survived.

An hour later I was sitting at the dining room table of a friend, catching up, when I felt something odd in my pocket. It was a tiny bottle of lavender essential oil from the Natural Food section of the Godzilla-store. Exactly $9.99 worth of essential oil. The odd thing about this item in my pocket is that I never took it out of my grocery bag. So, as I'm fingering this bottle and the little security tag attached to the side that is almost bigger than the bottle itself, I realize that for the first time since before grade school, I have shop lifted.

Now we all have our youthful indiscretions to look back on. I have mine, not to be mentioned here, and you have yours. Remember? Anyway, shop lifting is not one of my childhood guilts. One time, just once, I took something. I took a single, whole walnut from the bulk bin of the produce department of the only Safeway of our small town and slipped it into my pocket. I was probably about four or five years old. When I got home, I was so afraid of getting caught that all I wanted to do was hide it. There was enormous guilt in that one nut. I found a hiding place behind our recliner/rocker in the corner. It sat there for a while, then the next time we were headed for the store, I put it back in my pocket and slipped it back into the bulk bin at Safeway.

Whew, crisis and a life of crime averted.

Now do you wonder, if I was going to shop lift anything, why I didn't go for a Blowpop, or Bottlecaps or pretend cigarettes? Something worth the risk? I wonder exactly the same thing. I think the walnut, in it's impenetrable-for-a-five-year-old shell, is symbolic. I'm just not sure of what. Maybe that I am nuts.

Back to the present: I sit at my friend's table not mentioning the sweaty hand and bottle in my pocket. Now of course, I'm not worried about getting caught, but I hate this feeling. When loading up my arms with the big ticket items, I must have slipped it into my pocket to free up a hand. I hate that I shopped mindlessly, that I was not paying attention, that I was in such a hurry that I walked out of that high security mother of all stores (where the alarm did NOT sound as I walked out) with this essential oil in my pocket. Do you know what most people use lavender oil for? RELAXATION! The irony!

So I'm tired and I looking forward to getting home after our visit. I could return to the store another day and pay for the misdemeanor in my pocket but I know that my soul will not like this one little bit. I have to, want to take care of it as soon as possible.

I pull into the parking lot and run back into the store. The alarm sounds as I'm crossing the threshold. Yeah, yeah. I take it back to the same check out I went through the first time I was in this hell store; it was not the same cashier. I explain that 'somehow' I walked out without paying for this item (and by the way, you're alarm system is on backward) and so I now need to pay for it. The cashier is a kid, a young man of maybe, MAYBE nineteen. He listens to me, and squints his eyes.
"You came back to pay for it?"
"Most people wouldn't have done that," he states, probably not realizing that I'm taking this as a compliment, instead of the way he intends it.
"Most people would probably break out in boils when they used it too," I explain. "I am not taking any chances."
He looks confused.
"I don't screw with karma like that," I said.
He gives me half a smile, pity probably, and I leave the store and head home to reward myself with a cold glass of Bellatore and a clear retail conscience.

Now as most of my posts do, this one is taking on a life of its own. The point I set out to make here is that we have become a society of seeing what we can get away with. It has become an 'accomplishment' to envy, when some one boasts of getting away with something.

"Guess what! The chick at the drive up at Wendy's just gave me five dollars too much change."

"I got caught going twenty over the speed limit, but I went to court to fight my ticket and I got it cut in half."

In sports, children (not to mention the paid professionals) spend the entire game trying to get away with something. Arguing calls that they know are just, flopping to the ground acting like they were fouled to get an undeserved (and probably unpracticed) foul shot. Getting tackled at the eight yard line, and wrestling around in the pile, inching the ball closer and closer to the first down marker when they think the ref won't see. Always trying to get away with something, and then patting themselves on the back when they are successful.

When did this happen? This shift from doing the right thing, simply because it wouldn't occur to us to do anything else. It feels very subtle to me. It's not like the price of gas or the rate of meth use, that you can see creeping ever sky ward. It happens unseen, unchecked and even celebrated.

I do not want any credit or brownie points for doing the right thing here. (Although I wouldn't mind a brownie.) What I hope happens instead is that that kid thinks about it; that after he got off work and was deciding which fast food establishment to patronize, he remembers the lady who came all the way back into the store just to pay for one item she inadvertently walked out with.
This is a lot to hope for, I'm afraid.