Peg Schulte from Pegoleg’s Ramblings is truly one of the most dynomite writers I follow. When I asked her to write about one of her most embarrassing moments, I was thinking “Recommended Humor Blog = Some Pretty Funny Shiz.” But I am pleased as punch that Peg decided to show another side of herself here today: a memoir about a time when she was profoundly ashamed of herself. Because haven’t we all been there? Peggy is not on Twitter, y’all. But she has an enormous following at her blog. And you would be crackerjacks not to take a peek at the magic she has going on over there — after you read this piece.
I was the smart, fat, teacher’s pet in junior high. I was desperate to be part of the in-crowd. Desperate. I would have traded my soul to the devil to be popular. He never showed up with a contract, however, so I had to make it happen myself. I’m not telling you this to excuse what I did; I just want you to know where I was coming from.
Things started to change when I made the cheer-leading squad in 8th grade. I got to sit at the “cool” girls table in science class, I was invited to “cool” parties, and I tried new, “cool” hobbies. Things like smoking, drinking and shoplifting.
I became a thief to fit in.
My career only lasted for a couple of outings. I wasn’t very good at it. Heart pounding, sick to my stomach, I’m sure my guilt was writ plainly on my face for all to see. You can probably see where all this is heading, although it was a nasty surprise to me. I got caught.
We were at Kresge’s, a store of the variety they used to call a “Five & Dime.” My girlfriend had just stuffed a barrette (retail value 69 cents) into my purse. We were strolling the aisles, trying to look casual, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. The big, burly store manager invited us to “come up to the office.”
He said they had a zero-tolerance policy for shoplifting. They called the police. Two officers came, searched our bags, told us we were under arrest and that someone from the court would be in touch. My friend presented a stoic front throughout the ordeal, but I was a blubbering mess.
They called our parents to come get us, and this is where things went from bad to worse.
My parents were out of town for the weekend. The lady who was babysitting us didn’t drive. My friend’s mom volunteered to take me home, but they wouldn’t release me to her. The police said they would take me.
Let me set the scene for you. This was just before the Dawn of the Age of Malls. Downtowns were still packed with stores and, on any given Saturday morning, that’s where you’d find ¾ of the town’s population; 100% of the teenagers.
They walked me through the crowded store with one policeman in front and the other behind me. Their cruiser was double parked in front of the store, on the busiest corner in town, right at the intersection of Everybody Saw and Everybody Knew. I think one of my brothers or sisters may have even witnessed my Bataan shame march, but I didn’t see them. I looked neither right nor left.
It was bad enough to have a police car drop me off right in front of my house. Did you know that you can’t open the back door of those cars from the inside? I kept trying the handle and babbling that the door didn’t work.
It was bad enough listening to the policeman explain the situation to the nice lady who was watching us for the weekend. Her expression combined shock that I would do such a thing with worry that my parents would blame her.
It was bad enough trying to deflect the probing questions of a “concerned” neighbor when I went to their house to baby-sit that evening. Much as I wanted to cancel, I didn’t think I should compound my sins by leaving them in the lurch on a Saturday night. They said they had seen me coming home in a squad car and “hoped everything was OK”.
All these things were bad enough, but nothing compared to the ordeal of telling my parents when they got home the next day. The look of disappointment in their eyes was the worst punishment of all, and not something I’ll ever forget.
My parents had drilled the difference between right and wrong into us kids our whole lives. Dad was a dentist and both were active in service to our church and the community. They told us that people knew who we were, even if we didn’t know them. Everything we did reflected back on the good name of the family.
They sat me down with the 5 oldest of my siblings and revealed my crime. I guess they figured maybe a little good could come of this if the other kids learned from my mistake. The younger kids looked at me with eyes so wide it was as if I had just taken off a sister Peg mask to reveal I was really Al Capone. That was the cherry on top of my shame sundae.
All that summer, I had to walk down to the courthouse to meet with my parole officer. Yes, I had a parole officer, just like murderers and rapists had.
She seemed like a sweet old lady, until I realized that her probing questions were designed to find out what kind of terrible home-life I must have that I would turn to a life of crime. After one meeting, she insisted on driving me home. I knew she wanted to look around for herself. I squirmed with mortification for my Mom even more than for myself.
I finally had my day in court. It also happened to be my first day of high school.
I missed most of the first day of this new stage of life at a brand, new school because I was down at the courthouse in shackles and an orange jumpsuit.
OK, it wasn’t an orange jumpsuit. I was wearing my new-for-school outfit; itchy, wool tweed pants and a too-tight, wool sweater vest. On top of everything else, the wool made me break out in hives.
The judge gave me a stern lecture and pronounced sentence: one year’s probation with continued visits to the parole officer. If I didn’t get into any more trouble my juvenile record would be erased when I became an adult.
I tried to look blasé, but I couldn’t help it – I cried the whole time. I have always cried easily, but not prettily. My eyes swell up and my whole face becomes a red, blotchy mess that doesn’t fade for hours.
I was a wreck after court and pleaded with my Mom to let me go home, but she was adamant. I had to go to school. I guess she figured the more painful this experience was, the less likely I would be to repeat it. Like most of life’s lessons, this made a lot more sense in hindsight. At the time, it just seemed cruel.
Mom dropped me off at the front door of school just after lunchtime. I’ll never forget walking into the unfamiliar building, not sure what subject I had at that hour, or where the classroom was. I was painfully aware of my swollen eyes and red face, and sure that everyone could see the scarlet “T” for Thief that was emblazoned on the breast of my sweater vest, at least in my mind.
I never stole again. In fact, I became scrupulous about such things. I’m the person who tells the clerk when she hasn’t charged enough. The person who, if I found a bag of unmarked, no-way-to-trace-it cash in a dumpster, would take it to the police.
What did I learn from this experience? I took away two, invaluable lessons.
- My honesty and integrity are worth much more than any material goods could ever be.
- I should never wear wool next to my skin.
Have you ever stolen something? What did you take? What have you done to fit in with the “cool” kids?
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