Tuesday, June 12, 2012


This is me at age 17. And my sister, 14 on the right
It is twenty years to the month since I was busted for stealing cigarettes.
I was seventeen and going through some things.  I was angry.  I was confused.  I was trying to rebel.  I lived in a small town where the teenagers would sit on the Valley Bank sign and make smart aleck remarks to passersby until the police would come and tell us we were loitering.  Anyway, one afternoon, just after school had let out for the summer, my sister, our friend Becky, and I were across the street at our friend Brenda's house.  We thought we'd make some ice cream sundaes. The girls thought it would be really nice to have cigarettes after the sundaes.
"No problem." I said, "I'll get some for you."  And I walked with Becky down the street to Rehn's Red Owl to buy a can of whipped cream and steal a pack of Marlboro menthol lights.   The cigarettes, back then-as you might remember-were on an end cap totally accessible to public shoppers.  I had gone in time and time again to swipe a pack for my sister or a friend, no problem.  I was confident. Overconfident perhaps.  I stopped on my way to pick up a penny, heads up, from the sidewalk.  We went into Red Owl and I, per usual, walked past the cigarette rack and grabbed a pack, deftly shoving it up my sleeve. I suppose I could have left right then.  But I got cocky. I thought it would be fun to steal the whipped cream too.

But as I walked around the store, slowly becoming nervous, a pack of cigarettes up my sleeve and a can of Reddi-whip up the other, I noticed that one of the clerks was following me around.
"Did you steal a pack of cigarettes?" He asked me.
"Me? No!" I said.
"I saw you take them."
"I put them back."
"Show me."
My heart was pounding.  I tried to slight of hand him into believing that they were on the shelf the whole time...the pasta shelf, where I'd popped the pack out of my sleeve.  The can of whipped cream did not come out so easily.
"Come with me." He said.
Becky ran all the way back to Brenda's house to report what had happened.

I rode in the back of a police car, fighting back tears, terrified.

They put me in a holding cell.  I sat in a chair with wheels on it, and looked at the walls.  People had written all over them.  In big, dark black marker was written:
Nick was one of the most bad ass of the bad asses at our school.  My terror was only mildly dulled by the company I realized I was in.

The police officer, Officer Ramirez, who was a really nice guy, came to get me.  He was the officer who would shoo us away from our loitering posts with a joke or a light-hearted comment.  He'd called my mom.

My mom, funny enough, was on the Police and Fire Commission.

I was led to a board room, where my parents and another officer sat.

"That's a pretty nasty habit for you to be stealing to support it." The other officer said.
Tears spilled out of my eyes and I put my head down on the table. "I don't even smoke!"

I could tell my parents were trying not to laugh.

I felt terrible.  On the ride home, I cried and cried.  I kept trying to figure out why I'd been stealing but couldn't come up with anything other than I was bad.  "I'm sorry." I said to my mom.  "I know you are!" She said.  "You're punishing yourself far worse than I could."  Nonetheless I was grounded for two weeks.  I had to go to a class and do community service.  In the end, I stopped stealing and my sister stopped smoking.  I never told who the cigarettes were for.  Well, not then anyway.

Are you reading this, mom?

Maybe someday this can be a cautionary tale for my children.  About how heads-up pennies are actually bad luck. JUST KIDDING!

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