About ten years ago, my Creative Writing professor at Palomar Community College had the class write about “Stealing Something.” One fellow shared that he’d written about stealing someone’s happiness.
Back then, I dreamed of making a film about Jr College, so I the story-boarded the stealing happiness moment immediately after it occurred.
In case you don’t feel like craning your neck:
-Stealing someone’s happiness, I guess.
-Okay, interesting. We won’t get into why.
* * *
I don’t know if I followed through with the assignment. I’m a terrible student. But I have stolen a couple of things.
When I was 17, I walked out of a bowling alley with a cluster of candy machines. There were 4-6 candy machines that were attached together by some sort of metal framework. We developed a simple plan. One guy pulled up in a pick-up truck in front of the bowling alley while a third partner in crime helped me carry the machines out. We did it calmly and coolly. We drove to a cute girls house to show off our loot- “Look, we stole CANDY MACHINES!” She came out in her pajamas (it was a school night.) The whole thing had an air of innocence -it was only candy– until we finally got a machine busted open and all of the quarters fell out. Before that moment, the only thing on my mind was a week’s supply of banana Runts. The clanging of the jackpot pouring out of the machine gave me pause. This was actual theft.
I definitely didn’t write about how I’d stolen a dollar bill from a kid on the bus. I should have. I’ve told that story to a few people.
It was summer day camp (babysitting) and I was about 8 years old. I was sharing a seat on a bus with a “friend” on the way back from a field trip, a presumably a low-budget affair to a nearby park or something. My pal opened his wallet and showed me a dollar bill. He was stoked to have this dollar. This was 1990 and we were 8 years old, so a buck was pretty significant. You could buy a fair amount of candy with a dollar.
Somewhere along the line the Washington made its way out of the kids pocket, or wallet, and I swooped it up when my “compadre” wasn’t looking. I stole it more for the act than the need. I was curious what it would be like to steal something. I don’t think I’d ever stolen anything before that.
Well I found out what it was like to steal, particularly from a young fellow who really prized a dollar bill. It sucks. The kid was aware of his loss pretty quickly and became immediately distraught. He looked everywhere. He was on his knees, looking underneath the seat. He asked me if I’d seen it, so of course I lied. I was a thief and a liar in a single bus ride back from a field trip. The remainder of the bus ride seemingly took three hours. My “buddy” was not very happy.
Neither was I- I felt like complete shit. When we filed off the bus, I took the dollar and gave it to a 16-year-old camp counselor whose enthusiastic appreciation surprised me. It was about the inverse of the loss that my victim felt back on the bus. He showed it to his co-counselors, holding each side up with his hands. “Look, this kid gave me a BUCK!”