Stealing... It's Such a Strong Word

I'm a petty thief. You can't get any pettier than the stuff I steal, but I'm a thief nonetheless. I'd rather  refer to myself as a kleptomaniac. I always feel self-important if there's a medical diagnosis attached to my hobbies. I just doubt that pilfering plasticware and napkins from fast food restaurants is grandiose enough to be classified as kleptomania. It's not my fault. I come from a long line of pettiness on my father's side.

My uncle Sidney was a downright vigilante. Once he walked out of a Wal-Mart looking at his receipt.  He mumbled that they'd overcharged him by 50 cents on an item. I said:

"Well let's go over to Customer Service."

He said: "That's okay. They think they're going to cheat me? Next time I come, I'll take a Hershey bar."

My dad's no better. He takes his Taco Bell soda to go. After he finishes it, he stops at another Taco Bell on the way home...and maybe again the next day... to refill his cup. I feel certain that he single-handedly inspired the sign you now see over the soda dispensers strongly advising against that. He would probably argue that yes, he's refilling the soda after he's left the premises... but not at the same Taco Bell. Technically, the sign discourages round-trip refills not franchise-hopping. (Personally, I'm surprised he's never had the chutzpah to go to the drive-thru window and ask the kid to fill up his cup for him so he wouldn't have to get out of his getaway car.)

And, of course, once or twice, he's probably taken his Taco Bell cup into a McDonald's to refill it. To which I'm sure his defense would be: "I would've taken it to a Taco Bell, but there wasn't one around when I was thirsty."

Not to mention the one self-serve place that offers free coffee refills but not free soda refills. But Dad will not be denied. He routinely takes a coffee cup and fills it with soda when nobody's looking.

It started small. He used to taste test the fruit in the supermarket. Mostly just grapes. He'd nibble one and palm a few more. Then, one day, I accidentally made myself an accessory to a crime after the fact.

It was around the holidays and I mentioned to him that I was short one bulb for my Hanukkah menorah. I couldn't find any in my neighborhood. So he mailed me one. I asked him where he happened to come up with this singular bulb since they only sell them in packs. He said he went into a store and saw it on display. I said: "You unscrewed a bulb from the menorah on their shelf?" He said: "I would have paid for it, but they weren't selling it."

As incensed as I was, I was grateful they had one on the shelf or he would've taken a bulb out of their personal menorah in the store window.

You also may have noticed that if you've been to an office superstore lately, they likely asked you to pay for your self-service copies at the copy center in the back of the store. My father unknowingly spear-headed that campaign for change too.

For years, you would take your copies and head a mile and a half due-west to the front of the store to the registers. Well, one fateful day, my father got to the front of the store with his 2 copies and his bill for 8 cents and was confronted with a line of people with shopping carts full of computers, printers, etc. at the only open register.

Did dad politely ask if he could jump the line? No. Did he take out a dime and leave it on the register? No. Did he throw out the copies in the waste basket by the cashier? No. He did, however, mutter: "Ah, the hell with it" as he took his two copies with him off the line and out the automatic door.

So if you ever see me on the news face down on the tile floor in a fast-food establishment next to the yellow "piso mojado" sign with a sixteen year old employee on top of me with his knee in my back, while another kneels down next to us and tries to pry copious plastic sporks from my fists, you can be sure my defense will be: "I can't help it. I have a genetic disorder."