I was 7 the first time my mother sent me to the store. It was a bakery near where we lived on Fernando el Catolico in Zaragoza, Spain. Being the eldest of her children, it fell to me to run the errand.
Mom gave me money, then stood on the balcony and watched as I crossed the street, told the baker what I wanted, paid for it, and brought it back. Couldn’t have been easier.
I don’t recall when it first occurred to me to start skimming from the change the baker gave me. (It was probably a naturally occurring instinct just waiting for the right opportunity.)
The few pasetas I held back initially were either not missed or Mom considered them payment for the errands. Let’s call them tips instead of outright theft.
By the time we returned to the U.S., I had gotten greedy. Also, the money had changed. While a few Spanish pasetas here and there weren’t missed, the same couldn’t be said of American silver coinage.
It was blue thread that unraveled my first criminal enterprise. Mom sent me with a dollar to buy some. At the store, I saw a toy I wanted.
Since I didn’t have enough money to buy the thread and the toy, the choice came down to who would get ripped off. It was either the store or my Mom. I chose her.
On the way home, I concocted what I believed to be a generally credible explanation as to why I returned without thread or dollar, but with a new toy.
When it came time to report, I said some older boys beat me up, stole the dollar, and, as I was returning, battered and forlorn, at having failed in my duty, I found a brand-new toy in the middle of the road. It seemed unfair to waste it.
Before rolling your eyes at the idiocy of this logic, please pause to consider that Congress regularly explains its spending this way.
Since I was an accomplished liar by the time I had learned to talk, Mom didn’t believe me. I was summarily grounded. I solved this problem by running away from home. Yes, with the toy.
Freedom lasted until the Old Man got home from work and went looking for me. He immediately found me down by the creek, where I always went to “live off the land” until I was old enough to rob banks.
Five minutes later, I was locked in my room with a warm set of tuned-up hams and no toy.
I recalled all of that while shopping for Mom again Tuesday morning. Things have definitely changed. This time, it was impossible to skim. Hell, I couldn’t even shoplift.
Mom shops online at the Smith’s in Herriman. She wanders up and down the aisles with a computer mouse, clicking on those items she wishes to purchase. Then she pays for it with a credit card.
The only thing that hasn’t changed is who gets to go to the store. Yeah, it’s still me. I don’t mind because I owe her for all the years she wouldn’t let the Old Man kill me.
Also, I want to make sure she’s getting what she needs as well as what she wants.
Me • “Ma, what in hell do you need with 18 bags of Frosted Mini-Wheats?”
Her • “They’re for your father. He gets depressed when we run out.”
This makes no sense, given that, like me, he’s diabetic. I may need to start skimming again just to keep him alive.