I never stole when I was a little girl or a teenager, being absolutely assured of the repercussions if such a sin was discovered. My conscience was molded and sharpened until even the tiniest potential for ill-gotten gain was guarded against - as witnessed by my incessant counting and re-counting of change, lest I accept more than I was meant to receive. I always gave back what was not due me.
My foray into thievery was way out of the scope of my character, and a big surprise to me (In case you should think I am purporting some kind of perfection, trust me when I say all aspects of my character were not and are not perfectly chiselled in stone. I've got lots of cracks!). It happened when I was over the age of 40, and it happened without malice of forethought. As a matter of fact, I did not even know I had engagegd in thievery until after the fact.
We had moved away from the Northeast, but I frequently returned for business. On some of my trips, Bethany accompanied me, and we took the opportunity to play in New York City. When living in New Jersey, I had explored the wonders of the city, but it was not until we were living in Texas that I came to realize what delights could be found at ABC Carpet & Home. Reference sections of decorating magazines often mentioned the store. So, I planned a little time at the end of a business trip for Beth and me to visit the decorator's Mecca.
Entering that seven-story holy shrine to beautiful things was a heart-stopping experience. Bethany had to pull me out of the way of other customers. My feet had become leaden and were planted right inside the front door, where I gawked like the most unsophisticated of tourists. The place is organized into distinct departments, but it feels like you have entered a great potentate's palace - one who has an outrageous sense of humor - such is the lavishness of chandeliers and woven rugs and carved furniture and brilliant eye-candy art and accessories. Nudged from my trance, I lurched about, touching, grinning like a loon might before his ghastly guffaw. Wooden floors creaked and old elevators squeaked. Though unspeakably gorgeous, the store was not foreboding, but positively welcoming to even me in my hayseed state.
There were unique pieces for which I would gladly have taken credit cards to the edges of their limits, but even so, I knew there was not a suitable place in our home to showcase them. I finally picked out a few small accessories that could be accommodated in my luggage and found the closest gleaming, wooden check-out stand, with chatty, smiling clerks scurrying behind.
With great courtesy, someone accepted the bounty of finds in my arms and began de-tagging, entering into the computer and stashing in a large shopping bag. I proferred my credit card and completed the back-and-forth process of signing the ticket, accepting the receipt from the clerk, who was fluttering between customers, and hoisting the bag. As I did, I noticed that one of my treasures was still on the counter - a French-blue frame for a 4 inch by 6 inch picture, made of old, painted wood, abused and weathered, charming. I popped in in my large bag and headed for the door.
Beth and I whisked ourselves back to our hotel, packed quickly and caught an early evening plane. It was not until I was filing my receipts at home the next day that I began to think about the total cost of my purchases in light of all I had ended up with. I went down the list, inspecting my receipt - and it wasn't there! The blue, aged frame was NOT THERE. I had simply taken it from the counter and absconded with it, right out the front door of ABC. I hadn't looked guilty because I didn't know I was. No one yelled, "Stop, thief!"
A few short minutes later, after going through operator assistance, I was speaking with ABC. "I took something from your store yesterday without paying. I'd like to send you the money." Silence, then again, "How may I direct your call?" I repeated my horrible confession, vaguely aware of what an idiot I must sound like. "What department would you like to speak to?" I didn't know exactly. The frame had been displayed in a bedroom setting. Was it the bedroom furniture department? I set about trying to describe my unpurchased treasure and where I had found it. The piece had no identifying mark for reference.
"I believe the price was $38," I said. "Should I send my check to someone's attention in particular?" I was put on hold for a long period of time, and a new person, just as mystified as the first returned to the phone. I told my story again. That person was followed by a third.
I guess there are not many attacks of conscience when people take merchandise without paying. The employees did not appear to be trained to handle the situation. To be sure, they did not know what to make of my insistence that I pay what I owed. A very frustrated clerk finally told me to just forget it. She had no idea how to get the money into the system. I let that roll around in my head for a few days, but I just couldn't do it. I wrote a quick little letter of explanation and mailed a check for $38 plus applicable tax to ABC Carpet & Home. The check was indeed cashed.
Do you think they started a conscience account?