17. I got caught shoplifting twice – the last time stealing a pack of batteries for a girl.
Amongst people I grew up with in Long Island (especially Derreck), one thing I have never been able to live down was my brief but impressive foray into shoplifting. Most people still wonder how a kid who looked like this stole hundreds of dollars worth of cassette tapes, videos and clothes in one day. It all started with a little curiosity.
When I was growing up, I would blow most of my allowance on buying cassette tapes and comic books. Every Saturday morning before my father went to the supermarket, my allowance would be waiting for me in the den. I would wait until around Noon, get on my bicycle and ride to Mid Island Plaza in Hicksville (now known as Broadway Mall). I’d go to Record Town and see what new hip-hop/R&B album or singles were out. After buying one or two tapes1, I would ride down to the Steve’s comic shop2.
In the summer of 1993, I was coming back from buying some tapes and the alarm went off as I walked through the door. The guy at the register looked at my tapes and ripped off a little metal strip on the side of the tape. Next time, I went through the door, the alarm didn’t sound but the lightbulb went off in my head. It took me a couple of weeks to build up the nerve to test this out. In the mall, there were two Record Towns, a big one in the heart of the mall and a smaller one that was right by an exit. My plan was to grab a tape, rip off the metal and slowly walk through the door. If it went off, I was either going to pretend I just got to close to the alarm or I was going to make a run for it. I probably was in the store for 30 minutes before I finally took a big gulp, closed my eyes and walked through the door with no alarm. The second I two feet away from the store I ran to my bike and raced home. The next day, I journeyed to Mid City again, this time to do research. I walked into all the stores I liked and checked to see which stores employed the same half-assed security measure.
I don’t know why I involved Nick and Kenny in this. I knew I couldn’t do it alone but I wanted to keep it small. Shoplifting was right up Nick’s alley and Kenny, well, Kenny would do ANYTHING you told him to do as long as his grandmother didn’t find out. After we discussed what stores to hit up, we headed off to mall. We parked our bikes far away from the mall in case we had to run and we had a dufflebag tucked away behind a bush. Each of us has a bookbag. Going in, I was 50-65% that we would get caught, mostly because Kenny was a nervous wreck the entire time. Regardless, everything went according to plan, actually better. By 3 PM, we had a dufflebag of cassette tapes, VHS tapes (most noteworthy garb, Wayne’s World) and some sports clothes. We rode our bikes to Jeffrey’s house where the entire Simpson/Brown clan3 were hanging out to show them our haul. Everyone was quite impressed. I told the whole gang how to pull it off and ruined a lot Record Town cashiers’ summer. I took my share of our haul and hid it in my brother’s room. There was no way I could explain where a 15 year old got all this stuff so I had my older brother claim it was his.
I should have retired on top but I had to try two more times, both unsuccessful. The first time I caught I was trying to steal a pair of headphones from Record Town. I slipped as I tried to stick them in my bookbag and one of the women on duty saw me. She just kicked me out and told me not to come back. I think the fact that there were only three women working that day and I was taller than all of them influenced their decision not to make a bigger issue of it. A couple of weeks later, I went to the pharmacy in the mall at 10:30 AM and tried to steal a pack of batteries for Jennifer. Why I didn’t just BUY her a pack of batteries? I don’t know. It seemed simple enough and I walked right out the store. I was maybe five feet from the door when a guy who I didn’t notice when I was in the store ran up behind me and grabbed my arm. He dragged me back to the pharmacy and made me wait in the backroom. He asked for my parent’s phone number so he could call them4. I told him that my parents were on vacations and my brother was watching me (he was home at the time). He threatened to call the cops but I begged him not to (in my heart, I knew he wasn’t going to call the cops over a pair of batteries but begging seemed like the appropriate response to get out of this mess). He kept me back there for 30 minutes trying to get me to give him my parents number but I stood by my story. in the end, he took a Polaroid of me, stuck on a board with other shoplifters and told me never to come back.
After that, anytime Andrew and I were in the mall and we’d pass the pharmacy, he’s say something like, “Hey Sean, do you want to get some candy from…oh wait…nevermind. Hahaha!” This went on until the store finally closed two years later.
1: A moment of silence for when you could get a bunch of music for $15
2: I am still convinced that Steve was inspiration for the Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons
3: In my neighborhood, 75% of my friends were related to the Simpson/Brown clan
4: It was a conscious decision to shoplift at times when my parents weren’t home to be reached. My brother got caught shoplifting when he was 15-16 and got brought home by the cops on a Saturday afternoon. The beating he got was EPIC