.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Behind My Nose

A bitter, yet heady bouquet of outwardly focused criticism, observation and praise.

My Photo
Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

I'm a leftist bookseller, writer and sometimes activist. I'm not "high-energy," "outgoing," or "outdoorsy," nor do I enjoy sports (except for watching football) or other pointless activities such as kayaking, entertaining large groups of acquaintances in my home or tossing pointy objects at targets. I love to write short fiction & essays. I love laughing really hard and breathing fresh air. I'm a transman. I live with my partner, Kris, a narcoleptic bulldog, a hound dog and a cat.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Dine and Dash

I can honestly say I have never stolen anything in my life. For all the damage that my early brainwashing into Southern Baptist fire and brimstone flavored Christianity did to me, it did burn into every cell of my body a sense of guilt strong enough to prevent me from ever taking what isn’t mine. After my family fell apart when I was fourteen, everyone but Dad stopped going to church. It seemed silly to keep going, what with my parents impending divorce (Commandment number 9 if you think of it as bearing false witness at the time of the wedding, or number 7 if you count the fact that my mom was having an affair. It might even be a double 7 because her boyfriend was married too.) Also around that time I was beginning to realize that my feelings for Debbie, my “best friend” were more girlfriend-like than sister-like, and that I was most certainly not female, contrary to what my breasts were telling me. I don’t think there are commandments to govern these things, but I do remember something in Leviticus denouncing me. Not only did we stop going to church, my sister, Jo Anna, and I didn’t talk about it anymore unless it was in a discussion about where we could find Dad to borrow the car. Years passed, boyfriends and girlfriends came and went. All sorts of premarital sex happened, and I even transitioned from female to male, but not once did I steal anything. I guess I had always assumed that Jo Anna had the same moral conviction.
Last year Jo Anna, her boyfriend Jon, my partner Kris, her son Ben and I went to the Macaroni Grill for dinner. Kris hates chain restaurants, but I figured that since this one hadn’t actually made it to the fortune 500 yet, it would be off her radar screen. As Jo Anna and Jon chatted idly about the bad fashion choices we were being subjected to around the restaurant, Kris noticed the full bottle of olive oil at the center of the table.
“That reminds me, I need to get some olive oil. This looks like good stuff. I wonder if they sell it.” Jo Anna paused mid anti-stirrup pants diatribe and looked over at Kris.
“You could just put this in your purse and take it home with you.”
“You are NOT putting that entire bottle of olive oil in your purse,” I hissed across the table. I narrowed my eyes and quickly looked around the room to see if anyone had heard us discussing this diabolical plot. “I can’t believe you’re even thinking about this!” I could see where this was going. Kris and Jo Anna were staring each other down, double daring each other to go through with it. Kris and I had been together for about two years at that point, and Jo Anna was still sniffing around her edges to make sure she was ok to let into the tribe.
“It’s just olive oil,” Kris reasoned. “Besides, this place makes so much money they won’t even miss it.” Fore the next ten minutes I listened in disbelief as my lover defended shoplifting and other forms of stealing as a way of protesting capitalism. This from the co-owner of a book store, a woman who has worked in retail for the past 30 years, and most recently boasted the capture and prosecution of one of the store’s most persistent thieves. Of course, she made the disclaimer that “some people” did this in “the movement” when she was younger in the sixties when revolution was more than piercing your lip and littering. She never ‘fessed up and admitted that she, in fact, had participated in any of this behavior except for a brief shoplifting stint in high school and one time in a Red Lobster when she and her girlfriend had been ignored and “discriminated against because [they] were women.” That time they just got up and left without paying, or did the “dine and dash.”
Quite frankly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. According to traditional wisdom, I should be more revolutionary than Kris and Jo Anna. I’m 20 years younger than Kris and I’m queer and gender variant. That’s pretty radical. Or so I thought until this piece of information came my way. I looked at Jon for support, but got nothing. He was nimbly avoiding the subject by pretending to look for the waiter.
“Well, I can’t do it,” I said. “Even if I wanted to, I can’t lie. I’m bad at it, and then we’ll get caught and go to jail for stealing a bottle of olive oil off of the table.”
“You don’t have to do it.” JoAnna leaned back in her chair, fully in control of the situation. “You can take Ben out to the car and we’ll do it.”
I looked at the both of them nodding at each other conspiratorially. “I will NOT!”
“Oh, please! Like you’re some angel. Give me a break.” Jo Anna was clearly baiting me.
“I can’t believe I’m being pressured!” I laughed nervously. They couldn’t really be serious about this. Could they?
“Go on out to the car. You’ll be fine.” Kris was waving me away from the table. I looked around at the faces of my family and counted off the commandments we were all breaking. I hadn’t been to Calvary Baptist Church in 16 years, had proclaimed myself agnostic with a slightly spiritual bent, and here I was counting those around me who were going to be sent to a fiery eternity in hell for stealing olive oil. I forced my feet to walk toward the door and glanced over my shoulder at these evildoers.
Kris knew I wouldn’t eat stolen goods, so she never told me when the olive oil was used in any of my dishes. The weight of the guilt hung around my neck like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s albatross. I debated whether or not I should go to the restaurant and confess. I didn’t though. I just wallowed in guilt for a year until the phone rang one Sunday night.
“Jon’s going to hell.” Jo Anna told me from the other end of the receiver.
“Oh, for god’s sake. What now?”
“Let me tell you the story, but you have to let me finish. No interrupting until I’m done.”
“Fine. Tell me.”
“O.K.” She took a long breath and sighed.
“But after this you have to let me tell you a funny story.” I said. I wasn’t thinking at all about fire and brimstone at the time. In fact, I had just finished a beer after working in the yard all day and wanted to tell her that I had tried the electric leaf blower that Jon got me for Christmas that day. I hadn’t used a heavy duty extension cord like the instructions, which I lost, had told me to do, so midway down the driveway I began to realize I was being electrocuted. I thought she’d find the story funny. She’d laugh because I was actually strapped to the appliance and got jolted when I tried to turn it off. It would remind her of the time our mother’s boyfriend actually got struck by lightning in his car and was nice to us for a month. I didn’t get a chance to tell her the story, though, because I was too shocked by what she told me.
“Jon’s going to hell.” She was giddy with judgment. “Last night we went to a restaurant, and well, you know we always joke around about leaving without paying.”
I gasped. I knew where she was going with this. “You dined and dashed!”
“Just wait until I finish. We ate the food, and it was ok, but not great and then we looked and looked for the waitress and she was nowhere to be found. I even got up and went to the kitchen and asked for her and they said ‘ok yeah, we’ll get her’ and she never came out. Well, most of the time I get up and get my purse and call Jon’s bluff and he sits back down and pays, but this time I got all the way to the door and he was still behind me! We got all the way out to the car and he just got in and started it and left. Then I got worried. What kind of crime is that? Is it a misdemeanor? I looked it up on the internet and couldn’t find it.”
“I don’t know.” I said. “I can’t believe you did that. I would be freaking out the whole way home.”
“I know! Well, and I was!”
“So you never went back and paid for it?”
“Well, now that’s the thing. When we got home I sneaked upstairs and called the restaurant.”
“What did you say?”
“I was so embarrassed. I just asked for the manager and told him that I came in there with my boyfriend today and ate, but we forgot our credit card at home. I asked for the waitress and she never came, so we left. He said, ‘Did you have the cod?’ and I said, yeah. And he’s like, ‘Oh, I told her you guys might have had an emergency or something. That happens sometimes, you know.’ Then I told him that we did have an emergency. I told him that my boyfriend sprained his ankle and we couldn’t make it back and could he take payment over the phone.”
Through my laughter I asked her if he took the payment.
“Yes, and… AND I gave the waitress a four dollar tip.”
“Four dollars!”
“Well it was $27. But you can’t tell Jon. I dared him to do it. He can’t know I called back and paid for dinner.”
“Wait a minute. What about the olive oil you stole from the Macaroni Grill? You didn’t feel bad about that.” She was silent. I had her stumped. She knew she had contradicted herself. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I paid for that too.”
“What? You mean I’ve been feeling guilty for a year and you already paid that?”
“I felt too bad. I called the next day and paid for it. They didn’t know how much to charge for it, so they just charged me $7.”
I was stunned. “Are you ever going to tell Jon?”
“No, I’ll just take the money out of his wallet.”


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home