When I was 5 years old, I was with my mother in our local supermarket in Farmingdale. A spectacular item caught my attention: a tape dispenser with a bonus toy metallic clicker shaped like a frog. I begged to buy the tape so that I could have it. My mother said no, we had plenty of tape. On the way home, from the backseat of the car, my mother heard “click-click.” She turned the car around then marched me into the supermarket, over to the manager’s booth. I confessed my crime of petit larceny. My face was scarlet red and tears ran from my eyes. The manager patted me on the head and said, “Just don’t do that again, sweetheart.” I never stole anything ever again, at least not knowingly.
I left “the Island” for college upstate, but my reputation of incorruptibility followed me. My friends and I went out for breakfast. On the way out, they handed me a platter of cookies to carry. I asked, “Who bought these?” They laughed all the way to the parking lot, where they informed me I had just completed a cookie heist. For context, at the time of the heist Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book” was a bestseller among the counterculture. The premise was that stealing the book was merely liberating it from “the establishment.” While I have referred to myself as a hippie, even in the title of my book “Forty Years of PMS and Other Musings of an Aging Hippie,” my early experience caused me to reject such “liberation.”
Now that I’m a senior, I see that many seniors love to take more than their fair share of anything free. That raises the point that Ratso Rizzo made in the movie “Midnight Cowboy” when he was accused of “stealing” from the free buffet. He reasoned that if it’s free, it ain’t stealin’. When napkins and salt packs are left out for patrons to use, it isn’t expected that someone will open a pocketbook and clear off the counter. My office bathroom has “free” toilet paper, that is to say, we don’t have to pay to use it, but when tenants took rolls, the landlord installed toilet paper dispensers with locks. Maybe it ain’t stealin’ if it’s free, but taking the toilet paper reaches a new low.
These thoughts in mind, I looked at the socks I was wearing. I received them from a charity as part of a solicitation. The law is clear that anything sent to you unsolicited is free of charge, but that doesn’t mean free of guilt. You will often receive the follow-up letter, “We hope you are enjoying the tote bag we sent you with the photo of the endangered whooping crane on it that our organization, along with your contributions, has helped to save from extinction.” It’s a vicious cycle; the more you give, the more solicitations you receive.
I am opposed to stealing or taking more than I need of free items. I attribute these attitudes to that early lesson from my mother. My husband ribs me, calling me “Goody Two Shoes.” This is untrue because I can be pretty gangster. Sometimes, I mix up my vitamin packs and take my evening vitamins in the morning. When I realize my mistake, I look around to see if the Vitamin Police are about as I throw away the incriminating “PM” wrapper. That’s how I live on the edge.
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