When you see thieves on film they're always glamorous. It's George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Ocean's Eleven, all chisel-jawed, debonair, hunky, stealing with hi-tech flair. Or there's suave Cary Grant stealing priceless baubles and Princess Grace's heart in To Catch a Thief. It sure as heck ain't like that in real life.
Thieves are missing teeth, have pock-marked skin, greasy hair and shabby clothes; well, at least it looks that way judging by the mug shots on Bad Boys. Or they are ordinary kids with ordinary faces and ordinary lives who make extraordinarily stupid choices.
My one and only collision with the dark underbelly of crooks and thieves came when I was 13 - that awkward time between youth and adulthood when you don't fit in anywhere. You're still hankering after the comforts of childhood but also coveting adult things although you're not quite sure what to do with them.
I was in a smoke and gift shop - that's what they called convenience stores in the late 1980s - in a plaza not far from my parents' house. It was a narrow twig of a shop with two aisles. There was a deep freezer at the back filled with ice-cream, shelves of magazines, chocolate bars, Dettol, Archie comic books, and cigarettes behind the counter. No gifts to speak of.
My accomplice, Sherry, hissed at me, "Take the Mr. Freezie! Put it in your shirt!" Now any sane person would know better than to put a 12-inch hunk of ice down her shirt but I was impressionable i.e. stupid, so I grabbed the big white one (Crush flavour), stuffed it down my blouse and hoofed it for the door. I didn't make it. A cold hand was on my back. Nails scratched me. Sherry was out the door.
"Wait for me! Sherry!! Sherry!" She didn't look back. Through the large windows of the storefront I saw Sherry jump on her purple beachcruiser and tear down the plaza sidewalk. She didn't look back. She was shaking. At first I thought she was afraid and then I realized she was laughing. At me. At my stupidity.
The cold hand swung me around. It was the owner. The slender Chinese man who owned the store and to whom I'd said hello to so many times before. The man I'd paid money to for Mars bars and wax vampire teeth and gobstoppers and silly string. "Who are you? Who is your father?," he said, "Where d'you live? Why are you stealing from me?" He lectured me on and on. It took everything not to pee my pants. The Mr. Freezie was still in my blouse and it was melting. I handed it to him. He didn't take it. Just looked disgusted. Gestured to the garbage can.
I began to cry. I spilled details like a bag of torn peas plucked from the freezer. I told him my dad's name, where we lived. He made me write it down. He even checked it against the phone book. I thought I'd throw up. "Go home and pay me for what you stole. Right now. Go home and come right back." "If you're not back in 10 minutes I'll send the police to your house." I was too young to know the police wouldn't come to his store for a 25-cent-theft. Or maybe they would have. By the time I got back the store owner was angrier than before. He gave me another lecture. "You're an immigrant. You have to work harder that these people around you. You should be ashamed. Your father should be ashamed." When he mentioned my father I couldn't bear it. "Never come back to my shop. Ever." I cried again. "I'm sorry," I squeaked. I was a worm. Less than a worm.
When I went to school the next day, Sherry had told my classmates and they thought it was hilarious. Of course I'd have been a hero if I'd gotten away with my 25-cent-heist.
"You dipshit," Sherry said, when I told her what happened. "Why didn't you tell him your dad was John Smith or something?" I couldn't think as quickly as her. "Do I look like my dad's name is John? I'm brown-skinned you idiot," I whispered under my breath.
Looking back, I recall having monster fights with my mom who didn't want me to be Sherry's friend. "She's not your kind of girl," she'd say. And she was right.
And now it's my turn to be bitch-slapped by my know-it-all kid. He's only three-years-old, but I know that he'll be joy-riding the teenage train soon. I can feel it thundering towards me! Will he listen to me? How do I get him to listen to me?!! I watch him in the play-yard at school. Sometimes he's the alpha male, sometimes he sets the rules, sometimes he lets someone else do the bossing around. And sometimes he's democratic.
I wonder what stupid things he'll do. Who will he try to impress by doing idiotic things? How do I get him to avoid the mistakes I made? How do I get him to listen to me when I didn't listen to my own mom and dad - who were AMAZING parents. There are no answers in the movies. Celebrities aren't role models. There are no answers in self-help books. I just have to bumble along and watch and listen to him and hope and pray that I figure out good parenting as I go along. Eeerm, like that's gonna happen.