Stealing

To capture and describe the very moment when you simply must steal, when you really have no say in the matter, no other choice, is not easy. I’m trying though. For one, I’m trying to see what might have been the motivation; see what drove me. What was it? The candy? The thrill? The instant riches (if that’s what you’d call it, the buck or two or, rarely, five—in Swedish 1960s’ currency, mind you, adjusted for inflation).

It seems though, now that I look, that each little bit of pilfering (to be honest, I’m casting about for euphemisms here) was preceded by wanting to buy something. Candy in the main, yes—my teeth were very sweet.

Say, ice cream.

The little town where I grew up had a nice public beach (with an ice cream vendor or two as well as a nice restaurant that also sold ice cream) and I see that once the desire for an ice cream struck I’d head for the male changing room (a rather large white, floor-less structure, with room for perhaps forty or so boys and men to hang their regular clothes as they head for the water in their swimming great) to scout (as in patting down each set of slacks or each shirt or jacket) for the presence of a wallet or coin purse. It was amazing how trusty people seemed to be back then—I’d always find one or two where I would liberate a buck or so.

True, there was always the excitement (the rush even) brought by the chance of being discovered, even though I’d check outside for anyone heading in the direction of the changing room before I’d arrange the escape of some useful change.

As a side note, it’s amazing how many synonyms there are for stealing, both regular and colloquial ones. A fairly widespread activity, then, I’d day.

The buck safely pinched (there’s another one) I’d then head for the ice cream vendor or restaurant to spend my ill-gotten treasure.

Strange as it may seem, but I don’t recall ever being caught in the act. No, never. In fact, I had to device other methods of being caught—which I did.

One instance of this self-catching that stands out is the morning that I lifted (see, another synonym) a two-konor coin from a friend’s bedside table. Well, not friend exactly, more like an acquaintance, the son of one of my grandma’s neighbors. His bedroom was on the top floor of a rather large and tall house the ground floor of which housed the little convenience store that his dad owned and ran. Now, what I was doing on the top floor in that house, alone, that morning is anybody’s guess, but there I was, in that bedroom when I saw the two-kronor coin (they are quite rare, by the way, these coins, bordering on the extremely rare as a matter of fact) and simply had to nick it (see, another euphemism).

So far, so good. No one saw. That, and a clean getaway down the stairs, and out the back door. Undetected.

So, now for getting caught. I walked around to the front of said house and into the little convenience store where his dad was busy restocking some shelf or other. The door rang a little bell as I entered and he looked around and said Hi and I said Hi and he asked me how could he be of service.

Well, I was pretty good at math, even as a six- or seven-year old, so I pointed out this and that piece of candy running the tally in my head until I hit two kronor on the nose. Fine, he said. That’ll be two kronor.

So, I handed the kid’s father the two-kronor coin (which he more than likely had recently given the kid) as payment, took my haul and left to consume.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before my mom hauled me in for the third-degree about where, precisely, I had gotten that two-kronor coin. She, of course, knew that I had not had one that morning, and now that she had discovered that (a) the kid was missing his precious coin, and (b) that I had just handed said (or a very unlikely identical) coin to his dad in the store as payment for a healthy load of candy—well, her math was pretty good, too.

I’d always, always start out flatly denying. And I’d always, always end up confessing. Once the suspicion had (and always rightly so) landed on me for something that I had nipped (another one) I always confessed in the end, sometimes sooner than later. And, another curious side note, I don’t recall ever having been accused of something I had not done. Yes, curious, that.

Probably the longest I held out asserting my innocence in the face of being rightly accused was after I had liberated (I like that one) a five-konor note from one of my dad’s employees’ wallet (Folke was his name), which he had left in his jacket, which hung in his locker. Truth told, that was actually a daring escape operation since anyone could have walked into that room at any time (it was a walk-through room between the outside entrance and the entry to the factory floor, sort of a vestibule). Of course, just to make sure that this misappropriation was discovered I took the only note of cash Folke had in his wallet. It wasn’t like he was not going to notice it gone.

So far so good. Then we all went home for lunch, me and dad to our house, Folke to his, by way of the store to pick up some milk, where he discovered this five-kronor-note very much lacking.

An hour or so after lunch my dad called me in to his office and asked me point blank, had I taken Folke’s five-kronor note. Uh-uh. No way. Not me. Was I sure? Yes, yes, very. I wasn’t lying? No, not lying. I did not take any money from Folke’s wallet. Not even close. And just to prove my innocence I actually began to whistle (like most extremely innocent people do in situations like this, at least in cartoons) once I returned to my task out on the floor.

A little bit later, my dad called me back into his office. Well, he said. Folke had not stolen his own money, that was for sure. Nor had my dad taken it, that was also for sure. And, I, my dad’s son, had not taken it either, right? Right, I confirmed. Well, that day, there was only one other guy on the floor, Lennart was his name, and he then, obviously—by process of elimination— must be the thief, and dad just wanted to let me know that he was going to fire him for stealing.

That, obviously, did it, and here came my confession.

As an aside, I did apologize to Lennart for almost getting him fired, though now, writing this, I don’t think Dad was ever going to, I think he simply wanted to press a confession out of me. Lennart drowned some time later—which, of course, is neither here nor there.

In this case, too, there was something I wanted to buy. To wit, a bamboo vaulting pole (this was before the flexible ones entered the fray) that a school mate of mine was selling for, yes, five kronor. Oh, man.

Yes, looking back, I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time in empty (of other people, not their clothes) changing rooms. The town’s bath house, for one. Fertile fields.

Many a piece of useful change was also swiped from hallway tables, (local priest, local organist), wallets (local farmer), backpacks (boy scout pal), cash tills (local football club), piggy banks (my own—see Terrible Liar), pockets (changing rooms), and various drawers—kitchen, bedroom (grandmothers).

The only time I can recall that I was simply overcome with the urge to steal without an immediate acquisition in mind—whenever I purloined (another good one) small, stray amounts I might not have had a specific purchase in mind that it was always for candy—also turns out to be my last theft and my largest haul. It was never discovered and I never had to own up to it to anyone. I’m glad that the statute of limitation has run on this.

Here’s that sad story.

Lasse was in his late twenties when I, in my teens, worked as a free-lance journalist at a provincial newspaper. Lasse was in charge of advertising at that same paper. That, and he was also the manager of a local band who was called “The Five” in French, i.e., “Les Cinq.” On top of that he was also a promoter of sorts and perhaps, because of that, even a local celebrity. Pretty well-known in either event.

Now, he had rented the Saga, our recently built new movie theater that could double as a performance venue. He was putting on a show. As I recall, there were three bands on the menu: The Shanes (a nationally known band from way, way up north), The Panthers, a local band, and, of course, his own band, Les Cinq.

Admission, as I recall, was ten kronor (probably the equivalent of a hundred kronor today, so, about ten bucks, say). There was a little cinema cashier’s office just inside the main entrance (once you ascended three wall-to-wall, carpeted steps) where the acting cashier took care of all the folks lining up to come in to see the show—and there were a lot them, the line snaked around the building. I believe the place sold out.

Now, somewhere halfway through the venue filling up, I was asked (by whom, I don’t remember) to fill in for the cashier (potty break or something) and take people’s money and hand them their tickets. So, I did.

And did, and did, and then something just snapped: all this money. I had to help myself to some of it, really, really. I had to. And I did. I grabbed a sizeable stack of bills and shoved them down into my pocket, that’s what I did, and when I was relieved by the original cashier a short while later, I sailed down the stairs to the basement bathroom to rearrange the loot into my socks (just in case money would in fact be found missing and people searched—socks were at least better than pockets, yes, I thought of that).

No, I was not searched, but, once the show was over—perhaps this was the following day or so—Lasse told me that they had come up way short on the money, which he didn’t understand because the place was actually packed by the end of the show. However, and this is a big however—and perhaps a saving grace for this thief—at some point during the show, someone or some ones had opened the side doors to the cinema and let people in from the outside. Of course, there was no telling how many people had been let in without paying, and perhaps these gatecrashers did account for the shortfall; that was Lasse’s reasoning, anyway. Still, he was really bummed about this, and probably ended up paying the shortfall out of his own pocket (which was empty most of the time, as I recall).

Looking back, I don’t see why he didn’t compare tickets sold (and handed out) to the total take, that could not have tallied either. Though, be that as it may.

I made off with seven hundred kronor that night, which by today’s value would equal about seven hundred dollars. That’s not a pilfering or a nicking or a snatching or a lifting—that’s larceny, of the grand type. You’re looking at jail time for that. I don’t know whether it’s surprising or not, but I have not taken as much as a penny from anyone since.

All right, back to the lifting or pilfering category—this time: shoplifting.

I was a great shoplifter. One of my favorite targets was shrimp—boiled, shelled, and frozen in eight or so ounce packets. I loved those things. Yes, I kid you not. Just writing this sentence makes my mouth water, literally. I must have lifted a packet or two of these glorious shrimps on a dozen or more occasions from one of our local grocery stores, where access to the frozen shrimps and the almost immediate access to an exit made for the perfect looting environment.

I’d also steal chocolate bars, movie-star cards, cigarettes (once or twice as I recall). Shops were made for stealing.

Eventually, I was fourteen at the time, spring 1963, mom and dad had grown so worried about what seems my more or less constant thieving that they made an appointment for me to see a shrink about it. I remember the evening before very well, lying on my stomach in our small living room watching television (a black and white Centrum) being quite nervous about the whole thing; and I remember the two-or-so hours train ride down to Gävle, where the nearest teenage psychologist had his office. Mom brought me. I’m still nervous about it on the train.

Then we arrived and we spoke, the shrink and I, with Mom waiting outside. He was a nice enough guy and I answered his questions rather honestly as I recall. Bottom line: he told my mom that I’d grow out of it. The stealing. And for all intents and purposes, I did. I didn’t steal again, but for that one, thunderous finale of $700, just to put an emphatic period to that rather sad episode of my life.

 

And while we’re on the subject, other nice synonyms for stealing: rob, thieve, purloin, finger, snitch, cabbage, abstract, prig, borrow, peculate, defalcate, misappropriate, pocket, palm, make off with—this list goes on.

Stealing strikes me like making love, which also has a long string of synonyms, some nice—which they call euphemisms, some not so nice—dysphemisms. Seems like these two activities have both made mankind’s top-ten when it comes to undertakings.

Perhaps I’m in respectable company.

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