SHIRLEY DOESN'T STEAL
"Do you know you have a twenty-five dollar gift certificate hanging over the toilet in your bathroom?" Betty asked. "Why haven't I ever seen that before?"
"How much time do you spend in my bathroom?" Shirley replied as she dunked the teabag into two cups of hot water. "Do you want cookies? I got nice cookies."
Ignoring the question about the cookies, Betty went on. "Well....if I had a twenty-five dollar gift certificate, I could think of better things to do with it."
"No," said Shirley wistfully, "I like it just where it is.
One day last year, Shirley and her friend Natalie had spent the day shopping in Manhattan.
"That was some bargain you got," Shirley said as they descended the escalator. "You'll look so cute in that little red beret....and for six bucks, how could you go wrong?"
"Yeah," Natalie replied, "Just call me the Red Lady. I'm a sucker for anything red."
They were just about to leave the last store on their list, Alexander's Department Store (where you ALWAYS come first,) on 59th Street and Third Avenue.
"Just a minute Honey," Shirley yelled. "I have too many little bags here.If we have to fight the crowds on the F train, I just know I'll lose something before we get back to Fresh Meadows."
Shirley stopped at a glass display case by the front door and placed all her packages on the jewelry counter. She took each garment out its bag, carefully folded it, and placed it on the counter. When everything had been accounted for, she piled her purchases into the one big Alexander's bag.
"There," she said. "Now I won't lose anything. Let's go home. My feet are killin' me."
Shirley and Natalie had just walked through the first set of doors, when all hell broke loose. A woman in a uniform grabbed her shopping bag while two large men took Shirley by the arms, lifted her up,and dragged her back into the store.
"What's going on?" Shirley asked. "What's going on here? Who are you?."
The younger uniformed man spoke up. "Ma'am, you were caught shoplifting.You'll have to come up to Security with us."
"But I didn't do nothing."Shirley yelled as she was dragged by the two man toward the elevator. "It wasn't me. Honest." Shirley was frightened. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before.
"What's going on?" Natalie asked frantically."Where are you taking her?"
"Ma'am," the woman replied sternly, "Just keep on walking. If you don't walk away, we will also arrest you as an accomplice."
Natalie backed away as she watched her friend get into the elevator.
After having her picture taken, Shirley was seated in a small room with one large wall of glass. Through the window,she could see her shopping bag sitting on a table.
"When am I going to get out of here?"Shirley asked the officer who was sitting with her. He avoided her gaze as her devoured a bag of Cheetos. "I ate done nothing wrong."
"You'll get out of here when we say so," he snapped. "The Security manager is out of the building. As soon as he returns, he will deal with you."
Now the magnitude of what was happening finally hit Shirley. By now, she should have been home in Fresh Meadows with her feet on the ottoman, watching Oprah. Instead, she was locked in a room with the Shopping Nazi.
Like some common criminal.
Uncharacteristically, she began to cry.
After thirty more minutes, the door opened. "Mrs. Finklestein, I'm Mr. Peckler. I am in charge of Alexander's Security." He sounded very official....no, not official...pompous. "I understand you have been doing a little shoplifting today."
"Shirley looked at Peckler. He was a little man who possessed beady eyes and a cheap suit. His cuffs didn't quite reach his shoes.
Suddenly, Shirley didn't see the situation as Alexander's vs. Shirley Finklestein. It was Finklestein vs. Peckler. She was no longer frightened. She was angry.
"Well let's just see here. He reached inside the bag and threw each item on the desk. "I don't suppose you have receipts for any of these items."
"As a matter of fact, I do,"Shirley said smugly. "Hand me my purse."
Shirley reached in and pulled out a handful of store receipts. "I always save the recipts when I shop at Alexander's. Your merchandise is so shoddy, I very often heve to return things"
Mr. Peckler made a sour face. This was not the sort of answer he expected from a shoplifter. Tears, pleading, repentence, offers of compensation were all were part of his day. But he quickly realized that Shirley was a different. kettle of fish.
"Here you go Peckler." Shirley said defiantly handing over the receipts,"Knock yourself out. Match 'em up with my purchases."
Methodically, Peckler laid the papers over each garment. Surprisingly, every item had a proper recipt."Uh," Mr. Peckler stammered, "It seems like everything thing is in order after all."
"You're damn right, you little shit." Shirley yelled. "Now let me the fuck out of here."
"Alexander's is so sorry for the inconvenience,"Peckler mumbled."So sorry. You see" he said "our research has shown that 98% of the people we bring in have stolen something from Alexander's."
"Yeah," Shirley said squinting at the little man, "Well, you just met one of the two percent and you ain't heard the end of this" She threw her purchases into the Alexander's bag. "First, I want my picture back."
Mr. Peckler fumbled with some papers and quickly handed the mug shot back to Shirley.
"Now Alexander's is sending me home in a nice cab, Mr.Peckler" She emphasized the "P"in Peckler. " I ain't gonna miss my dinner on account of you."
"Of course, Mrs. Finkelstein, of course...and have a pleasant evening."
Dear Mrs. Finklestein
Alexander's Department Store and its entire staff regrets the recent occurance involving you and our Security team at 4 pm on March 17.
We in no way meant to imply any dishonesty on your part and hope that we can all put this unfortunate incident behind us. We sincerly hope you bear no ill feelings toward us and will consider allowing Alexander's to fill your shopping needs in the near future.
Please accept this twenty-five dollar gift certificate as our thank you for your kindness and forgiveness regarding this unfortunate misunderstanding.
"Shit." Shirley said as she put the certificate in her dresser drawer.
It wasn't long afterward that Shirley heard that Alexander's was closing its doors. Positioned between the agressiveness of Walmart and the luxury items of Bloomingdales, there was no place for a middle-of-the road store like Alexander's. They certainly didn't get any future business from Shirley Finklestein. She never set foot in the store again.
After Betty left that afternoon, Shirley looked at the gift certificate hanging over her toilet. As she straightened the frame, she reread the gold letters that said, "Alexander's Department Store...where you ALWAYS come first."
"Yeah." she muttered. "And you're guilty until proven innocent."
Shirley smiled as she removed the certificate from it's frame, tore it into pieces, and threw it into the toilet bowl. As she flushed , she imagined it was Herman Peckler going down the drain
Department stores come and go.
But a person's good reputation lasts forever.
And Shirley Finklestein always had a damn good reputation.