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Fear & Loathing in Childhood Decadence MAG
This summer I had the pleasure of watching friendsstruggle with reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. For many it was merelysomething that must be done to attain elusive college credit. I would like tobelieve, though, that some of them grasped the book's main point, the complexdilemma between right and wrong with which Raskilnikov grapples. Even though Ididn't murder anyone, the book reminded me of a time when I was faced with amoral dilemma.
When the bell rang to signify the end of fifth grade, myclassmates filled the air with the hoots and hollers of rejoicing in theirfreedom. I, on the other hand, was both happy and sad, for while I had thefreedom of summer ahead of me, halfway through I would be moving from Nebraska toKansas. My friends and I, fully aware of this, devoted every waking momentbetween when the cartoons finished and when the streetlights came on in search ofmischief.
And mischief we found. We threw water balloons at unsuspectinggirls, increased our infatuation with fire by playing with matches down by thecreek, and let our minds warp as we listened intently to the stories of olderboys' exploits told with the raunchiness of a Henry Miller novel.
By farthe activity we participated in most was visiting Tara Foods, a grocery storenear the playground that was our home base. I don't remember how it started, butduring one of those trips we began to steal. It was only small items at first, afive-cent piece of gum here, a Jolly Rancher there. Yet our criminal tendenciesescalated into full-fledged shoplifting.
What began as petty theft becamea contest to see who could steal the most without getting caught, a record Iproudly held when I stole six dollars worth of candy cigarettes. After lootingthe store, the group would retreat to the alley behind the strip mall and presentour stolen goods as a mark of proof and pride. After I stole the candycigarettes, I proclaimed myself the master of shoplifting.
"You askme and I will steal it, just as long as I get some of whatever it is." Withthis proclamation I held up a shield of invincibility over my eyes and began tobelieve I was so sly and cunning no $4.75-an-hour stock boy could ever catch me.Yet just like MacBeth, my arrogance would ultimately lead to mydownfall.
Around the Fourth of July moving trucks crowded the street infront of our house, a sure sign my days in Nebraska were numbered. Also aroundthis time, firework tents began to pop up along the side of the road we took toTara Foods, and there were many times when we would give up money reserved for aKlondike bar to purchase something that entices young boys even more:firecrackers. For a short while they replaced our game of theft. After all,destroying dirt and risking appendages was much more fun.
But one fatefulday, as we were about to participate in our normal ritual of destroying anthills,we found ourselves without a method of ignition. The problem was quickly resolvedwhen someone suggested, "Why don't you go to Tara Foods and steal one?"I approached this job as I would any other. My pockets were open and wide, I hadmy best game face on, and my friends dispersed upon entering to confuse theclerks. I went to the lighters, slipped them in my pocket, then made acircle and picked up a can of soda to dissuade any suspicion. At the register, myfriend Brian came up to me looking pale and muttered, "They saw us."Just as I was making for the door, a burly clerk stepped in front of us anduttered the solemn words, "Could you boys come with me?"
Panicformed an iron grip around my throat. This was not supposed to happen; had myshield of invincibility somehow been brought down? The clerk escorted us awayfrom the flow of normal store business and bluntly told us that he had seen ustake the lighters and asked which one of us had them. I told him I was the solethief and my friends had taken nothing. In a great stroke of luck the clerkbelieved this and released my friends, leaving just me in the back room to bejoined by the police department.
A kind male officer was sent to thescene. He listened to the clerk's story and then asked me about the incident.These questions were in total violation of my rights, but being an 11-year-old, Ididn't know this and happily answered his questions. My parents arrived and theofficer explained that no charges would be filed on the condition that I honorthe store's lifetime ban. Then, in probably the most humiliating act of theentire incident, he took a Polaroid of me, wrote my name on it, and put it on abulletin board with other reprobates banned from the store.
The incidentwas rarely spoken of in my family, my parents simply considering it the final actof rebellion before we moved. I, on the other hand, look at it as a life-changingexperience - a test of morals that has affected my convictions to this day.
After "the incident," my criminal days were over, havinglearned firsthand about honesty, trust and the criminal justice system. Everytime I fill out a job application and get to the little box where it asks if theapplicant has ever been convicted of a crime, I think about my little brush withthe law and how I was scared straight. I have never been back to Tara Foods, butI think I might go one day. It has been long enough, plus I want my picture back.c