Friday, October 14, 2005

COLUMN: Shoplifting

Yep, I know. My column's not in the Leader this week. It was accidentally omitted due to a miscommunication by our layout folks. No worries -- here's this week's column as it was intended to run in the Leader (and you folks who read the Dispatch and/or Argus, you get to read the column a couple days early:)

I saw the weirdest thing the other day. Well, maybe it was only weird for me because I'm not a parent.

I had just gotten off work and had made my way to the nearest Walgreens to forage for essential life nutrients (in the form of Pringles) when, all of a sudden, I heard somebody yell.

"You're a thief!" declared the voice down the aisle from me.

First of all, it must be duly noted that, upon hearing this, my first instinct was to immediately pat down my pants pockets. Why I did this I will NEVER know. I've never shoplifted a thing in my life, I swear, but I guess that when you hear someone yell an accusation of thievery, you need to make SURE it's not you.

I mean, maybe this guy had slipped some sort of valuable Wal-good or Wal-service into my pocket. Perhaps I was about to be framed for a crime I did not commit. Imagine the embarassment when the headlines would splash, "Local Hero Columnist Found Filching Fritos -- Film at 11!"

Happily for me, it turns out my pockets were empty. The same, however, couldn't be said for this guy's kid. Turns out Dad had caught Junior trying to pinch a pack of gum, and was now standing there causing a full-on freak out scene.

I'm about the least qualified person on Earth to be offering parental advice, but in this case, I approved of Dad's actions -- a little yelling was the proper course of action here. I would want to make it perfectly clear to Junior that shoplifting is bad and wrong while drawing the eyes of the entire store and causing the kid to die of embarassment. I would want this image to flash into Junior's head each and every time he approached the gum aisle for the rest of his natural life.

The thing is, Dad didn't stop there. Next thing I knew, he grabbed Junior and was parading him to the front of the store. Ooh, I had picked a good day to go to Walgreens. I sprung into action and moved to position myself at the perfect here-I-am-browsing-away-but-really-I'm-just-eavesdropping vantage point.

Unfortunately, that perfect vantage point just happened to be the ladies skin care aisle. So there I was, trying VERY hard to look like I was researching the curative properties of Oil of Olay when all I cared about was the scene erupting in front of me.

Dad had brought Junior to the hapless check-out clerk and was yelling, "This kid was shoplifting! Call the police!"

Whoa. This was getting good. Sadly, my love of drugstore drama was tempered by my embarassment of holding something called "Citrusmelon Body Mist," so I left the scene just as Dad was calling the cops on his cell phone. I figured he was putting on an Oscar-worthy performance until, as I was leaving the store, I saw a squad car pull up.

I'm okay with scaring a kid straight, but to the point of calling the police on your own son just for nicking a pack of gum? I suppose if your kid was the Hubba Bubba Bandit or something and you caught him with a trenchcoat full of Juicy Fruit, then yeah, maybe Junior's got himself a habit that needs the long arm of the law.

But for one lousy pack of gum? The police have a JOB to do, and surely there's more pressing crime to attend to than teaching little Billy a valuable, Bubble Yum-related life lesson. Would you go so far as to put a mark on your own child's record? What if Little Billy, at your expert guidance, grew up to run for President, only for his opponent to pull out a 25-year-old mugshot of wee Billy with a handful of illicit Bazooka Joe?

I told this story to all of my friends, and was surprised to get a mixed reaction. Some agreed with me that calling the cops was a bit over-the-top. Others thought it was a smart move on Dad's part. Strangely, everyone in THIS camp were the folks who had kids (including MY mom! Now I'm glad I never shoplifted!) One of my friends, though, came up with a great idea: we need to have an elected official whose sole purpose is to scare the bejeepers out of our kids. That way the cops can deal with the important crime, while Barney Fife can handle Operation Tough Love.

If I ever have kids, and if I ever catch 'em stealing, I'll make their lives hell, don't worry. I'd just do it without dialing 911. But then again, maybe that wouldn't be enough. So, hey, if I end up with kids, keep your kids away from my kids. Unless, of course, your kids like gum. My kids might have enough to share.


me said...

Did I ever tell you about the time I turned in my sisters for shoplifting? I had just spent a TON of my money on candy for us to share when they showed me, right outside the door of the grocery store, that they had pocketed more candy. I was so mad at them that I turned around and went back in and told the store manager, who called mom and dad.
If my kids ever get caught shoplifting by me, I will make them talk to the store manager and apologize and then ground them for a very long time. I think calling the cops would be just a bit over the top. Besides, I think I could do a pretty good job scaring the bejesus out of them just being the disappointed mom than a cop with a badge and a gun. ;)

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