Did You Ever Shoplift?

Sep 13


The confession you are about to hear is true.
Only the names have been changed to protect . . . me. Who else?

B.Altman1915catalogjpgBless me, Father . . .

 For I have shoplifted.

It’s been a hundred years since my last confession, so let’s not go there. But about the shoplifting: There were two specific times I can remember and probably a few additional incidents I have chosen to forget.

The first is the most interesting, and I am able to name the actual scene of the crime — B Altmans on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street — because it has been out of business for years, and it happened so long ago that I’m sure the Statute of Limitation applies.

RedGloveYellowBagIt was a pair of expensive leather gloves and I did it just to prove I could do it.

Oh shades of Leopold and Loeb!

For those to young to remember, L & L were two wealthy and highly intelligent young men who believed in the “superman” theory of Nietzsche and murdered an innocent victim in order to commit the “perfect crime.” It wasn’t, they got nabbed, and in the “Trial of the Century” were sentenced to life imprisonment. They would have been executed except that they had Clarence Darrow for their attorney. Being rich was a definite plus for these guys. They got famous, too: Dozens of movies and TV shows have been based on their case.

But my meager crime was inspired not by any philosopher but by a late-night bull session at some gin mill, where everyone but me admitted (or boasted) about having done a bit of shoplifting — as kids, as starving college students, or on a dare, or whatever. I was silent. I was the kind of a kid who walked back to the candy store (Remember candy stores?) to give back extra change.

By the time of the barroom confessional, however, I had transcended my childhood notions of intergrity to some extent. Although I usually still do give back extra change to this day, I once kept the second Stone Pony T-shirt that the couldn’t-be-bothered-less clerk had put in my bag by mistake. Before that, there was the time the bank gave me an extra $100 in cash for my paycheck (a fortune to me then), and after a few feeble attempts to return it, I took the dough and treated my co-workers to lunch. And, undoubtedly, drinks.

But I still had never shoplifted. Until . . .


I decided I HAD to do it. I don’t remember if, like L & L, I plotted it for months, or whether it was a spur of the moment thing, but I did it. I do remember sweating profusely and trying to “act natural” until I got out of the store. I don’t remember the color of the gloves (they may have been red) or what became of them. I probably lost them in a cab. But I never repeated the incident, in the sense of doing it to prove I could do it. I had, after all, done it.

Another incident was more recent, so I will not identify the store, although it is NOT in my state (that’s all I’m going to say) and I had a good excuse. Sort of.

I was helping to clear out my Aunt’s house when she went to a nursing home, and we needed supplies: tape, boxes, bags, you know. The store was humongous, impersonal and depressing, and it took forever to find the stuff. Then we waited for more forever on one of the many slow-moving lines. After paying, I suddenly remembered some small thing that I had forgotten and ran back and nabbed it. Just like that. No planning, no plotting, no decision, no regret.

In that situation, I’d do it again. Or should I be admitting that? Probably not, but then, those exact circumstances will almost certainly not occur again, so all the stores in my neighborhood can continue doing business, secure in the knowledge that the Mad Shoplifter will not strike in their establishments.


I can’t help but wonder: Were the people in that bar long ago the rule or the exception? Excluding real kleptos from the mix, do most people shoplift at least once in their lives?

In a truly bizarre incident in the 18th century, a woman was sentenced to death (death!) for stealing (gasp!) a pair of gloves. But in the play based on this, Marrying the Hangman, she is saved from the gallows by getting the man imprisioned in the next cell to marry her. Whew.

ShoplifterMoviePosterLindsay Lohan did it. Tony Curtis did it, at least in the movie, I Was A Shoplifter.  Audrey Hepburn did it in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and it doesn’t get any classier than that.BreakfastAtTiffanys

Have you done it?

Go ahead, confess. It’s good for the soul. Use initials or an alias if that makes you feel better. I feel better already. Wish I still had the gloves, though.

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