“The thing about getting older is that we’re all, as we get older, at least everyone around me, we’re all spending a lot less time stealing from convenience stores. I never stole much, but I had a few friends that did.
“The one time I stole from a convenience store I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It wasn’t a pre-meditated hit. I was walking down an aisle with two friends. One was Dave and one was Jon. They’d both been in separate life-threatening car accidents, but Jon was the one who’d had mild brain damage. It hadn’t lowered his IQ at all, but it had made him somewhat spacey and passive. And I think that when we were walking down one of the convenience store aisles, and I saw a package of oatmeal cream pies, and thought, “I’d like those” it was Jon’s passivity that beckoned to me, and encouraged me to actually take the cream pies and shove them into his coat and down the sleeve of his coat.
“I’m not proud of stealing like this, but I do want to step aside and say that stealing is funny. It’s funny to think, “I want oatmeal pies” and to have grown up in a society in which we exchange legal tender for goods and to know that you don’t get things for free from stores, ever, except for like Splenda, and then to think “I’m just going to take these. I have decided these are free. The shackles of conformity have slipped my wrists and I am now proceeding to transcend the sad mortal state in which the rest of you writhe and grovel. And I think I’ll have a package of Keebler Fudge Stripes as well, while I’m at it.”
“The first time I was with my friend Stephen when he stole cigarettes from a convenience store, I couldn’t stop laughing, because the idea that you could just take things from a store without paying for them was complete nonsense. There are a number of reasons I’ve never been involved in a major bank heist — my husky build and balaclava allergies certainly play a role. But probably the most compelling reason is that I wouldn’t be able to keep it together. You can’t crack a safe when your . . . Colleague? I don’t know what you call a fellow criminal. You can’t crack a safe when your colleague is oscillating between rocking with silent laughter and then guffawing into his sleeve. That’s what I’d be doing. I’d be crying from laughter, my vision would be cloudy, and even in like the recovery phase, where you have those laugh spasms, like you’re done laughing, but you keep having one tiny image of what made you laugh, and it brings out the helpless laugh, the one that’s become like a bodily function you can’t control, like a hiccup, and when I’m in that stage there’s just no way I’m going to make it through a laser alarm grid cleanly. But I don’t think I’d make it to that point. The safe-cracker, Joey TenderEars, can’t hear and he nods to Tony Fingers (these guys all have names that correspond to their functions) and Tony nods to Vinny Shootpeople. And Vinny’s like, “Alright, Fat Tobey Macguire,” which is not an insult, it’s just the name I chose for myself when I entered this crime syndicate. “It’s the end of the line,” Vinny says. And I’m like, “I’ll stop.” And Vinny’s like, “It’s too late for that.” And I’m like, “No seriously. I’ll straighten up. I’m done.” And Vinny looks to the other guys, and they’re like, okay. So I take a deep breath, and then, like I’m a seventh-grader in church, I just collapse all over again, and Vinny Shootpeople shoots me.
“But let’s go back to the convenience store. We’ve already crammed a box of oatmeal cream pies and Keebler Fudge Stripes down the sleeves of Jon’s coat, so he looks like he’s done a lot of weight training focused on developing enormous armpits. Dave grabs a huge bag of beef jerky and shoves it down Jon’s pants.
“Having not talked this through at all, and further, having not thought this through at all, I don’t know where any one else is at as far as conscience goes, but I’m still in the, “this is incredibly funny” place. But I realize that if Jon isn’t on the same page with us, we might be in trouble. And as I think about this, I realize that WE actually wouldn’t be in trouble, Jon would. And that what would be worse than being caught stealing, would be for Dave and I to walk out without repercussions, and for Jon to get caught. And remember, Jon’s had some mild brain damage. And thinking about this I remember that yes, Jon has been mostly passive, but I’ve also witnessed two small outbursts from him, one of them provoked by me, in an argument where I maintained that he was being difficult purely because of his cold, harsh, German heritage. I don’t know how much of that is related to the head trauma thing, and how much of it is due to me being a jerk, so in the algebra of this situation we can mark that an unknown.
“For my money, Jon is loaded down enough, and so I start to walk at a brisk pace toward the door. And Dave walks at a brisk pace toward the door. And then Jon walks towards the door completely without intent, as though he’s out gamboling in late 19th century Paris.
“And as he’s walking to the door, past the counter, he starts saying in a loud voice, a proclaiming voice, “I’m a mule.” He says it several times loudly and moves toward the door without haste. And the people behind the counter — one of them a boy I always noticed, because the architecture of his face made him look like he was always grimacing, and whom I called to myself “the boy with the eternal grimace” — the people behind the counter look at him. And they watch him as he’s leaving, shuffling out, definitely paying attention, and I realize that I’m hoping we get caught. The right thing would be for us to get caught. Stealing isn’t funny, or it is, but it shouldn’t be. Even though I don’t want Jon to get caught, I want us to get caught. But then we don’t get caught. Jon walks out. No one comes out after him. We drive away.
“And I wish there’d been some obvious judgment for what we did. Like we drove away and into a tree or something. But we didn’t. And now that I’m older, I realize that the thing that’s hardest for me to say isn’t that I stole that stuff, but that I ate the stuff that we stole. I don’t want to say that. But I have to, because I did. Which is embarrassing and callous. But Jon didn’t. Even though he was brain damaged.
“That was before God sent an angel to kill me,” Moshe said, “but that was one of the first things I thought of, when I realized that an angel was coming to kill me, because it’s something that I’m still embarrassed about. I’ve done tons of much worse things, but that one’s still raw.”