I was a teenage thief

I was a teenage thief. My career in small-time thievery lasted roughly three years, when I was maybe 12-14. I stole many things, with many different cohorts, in many different situations. With Tommy and Russell, two guys my age who lived on the same block as me, I stole cigarettes, lighters, gum, and candy from the Farm Fresh grocery store in our neighborhood. With Roger, one of my two best friends, I stole records from that same Farm Fresh. With Mike, my other best friend, I broke into peoples' cars at the bowling alley and took coins, cassette tapes, and any other booty we could find on and in the floorboards, seats, and glove compartments of the cars.

I was a paperboy then, had a morning route, and some of the best thieving I did happened just after I finished delivering my papers. I was friends with three other guys who had morning routes in the same neighborhood. As we threw our papers the four of us would keep our eyes out for any cool toys, bikes, or other valuables we saw lying around in yards or on porches. Then, once we were all done with our routes, we'd get together and ride back around and collect all of the stuff we'd seen earlier, one of us riding up to a yard or porch and snatching the goodies, while the others played lookout. If we were going to steal a bike, one of us would leave his bike at one of our houses, that guy would get a ride on someone else's handlebars, then when we got to the house where the unlocked bike was, that guy would jump off the handlebars, run up and grab the bike, and we would all ride off, like a pack of two-wheel bandits. We would then take the stolen bike to one of our garages, where we would strip it for parts before chucking the unwanted pieces of it into a creek or out in the woods.

What made me stop stealing was when I got caught three different times over a short period, a few years after I began this activity.

The first time I got caught was at Farm Fresh. I was in there by myself, and actually didn't go in with the intent to steal. But as I was wandering around the store, just killing time before baseball practice, I came across some grape Bubble Yum chewing gum and decided I wanted some of that. I grabbed a pack of the gum and took it with me to the store's bathroom, where I shoved it into one of my pants pockets while standing over a urinal, pretending to use the bathroom.

I heard someone come into the bathroom after me and when I turned around and saw a store clerk standing next to the bathroom door, with his arms folded across his chest, I knew I was in trouble. The clerk ushered me out of the bathroom, then presented me to a nosy-looking old woman who was standing just outside the restroom area. The clerk said, “Is this him?” The woman, looking proud of herself, said, “Yes, he went in your bathroom to steal some gum. I saw him do it.” Surprising myself at how fast I thought and acted, I pulled the pack of gum out of my pocket, faced the clerk and said, “This gum? I bought this at the 7-11 across the street before coming over here. Do you want to go over there with me and ask the guy I bought it off?” The clerk said, “Uh, no, sorry about that,” and the woman said, “I'm sorry, son. I really thought you were trying to steal it from here.” Acting righteously indignant, I looked at them both in a way that let them know what little good I thought they were, then I left the store and walked to baseball practice popping purple bubbles.

The second time I got caught, the hot article I was snagged with was a whoopee cushion. A new novelty store opened in our neighborhood, and after checking the place out a little, Tommy and I decided we wanted a whoopee cushion. So we doubled over there on Tommy's bike, and after looking around for a bit, Tommy went out and got back on the bike, at which point I grabbed a whoopee cushion, headed out of the store, and jumped onto Tommy's bike's handlebars, so we could make our getaway. But a store clerk saw me take the cushion and he chased me out of there, and after we got no more than a block away from the shop, Tommy's bike chain popped off. We both fell to the sidewalk and the store clerk easily caught up to us. He snatched the whoopee cushion out of my hand and said, “If I see you two punks in that store again, I'll call the cops!”

The third and final time I got caught stealing was the one that scared me off of thievery for good. Mike and I were doing our usual thing at the bowling alley: we'd hang out on our bikes across the street from the place, and when we saw some people pull into the parking lot in a car and get out to go bowl, we'd mosey over and see if we could get inside their cars, and if we could we would dig around for booty. After doing this for an hour or so one night, and after I had gotten inside about three cars, Mike and I started to ride to his house, when a K-9 cop car pulled up and came to a skidding stop just in front of my bike. The policeman came out, holding a large, angry-looking dog, and said to me, “I don't wanna hear you deny anything, cause I just sat and watched you break into that station wagon. I just want you to hand over what you took.” Once I gave him all the coins and other articles I had swiped from bowlers' cars that night, he said, “You know, what you're doing is called Breaking and Entering. It's a serious offense. If I took you in you'd be in a lot of trouble, and not just with your parents. You look like a decent kid, so I'm gonna let you go now. But I'll remember you, and I'm gonna describe you to the other officers who work this beat. I can guarantee you you'll get caught again if you try and pull this again, and I guarantee that we won't let you go with a warning next time.”

I don't know if I used the “three strikes and you're out” mentality I learned from baseball, or if it was that scary-looking dog baring its teeth at me, or if it was the K-9 cop's warning/guarantee, but after getting caught stealing this third time in a matter of 10 days or so, I decided it was time for me to quit. “Maybe I've lost my touch,” I told Tommy, and to Mike I said, “I think the gods or somebody is trying to tell me to stop stealing, before I get in too deep.” I started paying for my records, and I told the other paperboys from my gang that I was going clean.

Anyway, around that same time I started going with a pretty blonde girl named Jill. I had better things to do with my time.


words: Brian Greene, North Carolina
image: R.C. Miller, NY (flickr)


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