The topic this week revisits an article that I wrote several years ago. It was my first and last dalliance with stealing. It is a timeless piece because the message is still the same.
When I was 11 years old, my best friend Kate came over wearing blue eye shadow and shocking pink lipstick. I asked her where she got it and she told me that it was really easy to steal makeup at “Two Guys.” For all you non Valley-ites, I’m not talking about the popular pizza place, but an old retail store that used to be on Balboa and Nordhoff, before it was Target and before it was Zody’s. I was 11 and not even allowed to wear makeup, but my allowance was a mere dime a week, which barely bought a candy bar let alone a complete collection of blue eye shadow, mascara, and real grown-up lipstick; so the idea intrigued me.
The next day Kate and I went to Two Guys, wearing our matching Ditto hip hugger jeans and orange baggy sweatshirts, perfect criminal attire. We walked in, my heart was beating so fast, and I thought it would jump out of my shirt. She turned to me and said, “Put the makeup in your underwear.”
Looking back, it was sheer lunacy, but I did it anyway. After about 10 minutes, we were finished.
Picture this, two 11-year-old girls with bulges in their pants in the WRONG places. As we walked out of the store, any sense of wrongdoing was lost in the thrill of having got away with it.
Suddenly, we heard the words “Freeze!” And a woman dressed in a blue security uniform said, “Turn around slowly and come with me.”
I was mortified. She took us to the warehouse, where there were boxes everywhere. I wondered if she really was a security guard, or if she was going to kidnap us? For a brief moment I thought about the TV show “Mannix” and wondered if I ought to make a run for it. Mannix would, and he would’ve tossed the boxes her way to make a clean getaway.
However, the sane part of my brain told me she probably was a real security guard and I was already in BIG TROUBLE so I’d better keep walking. We went to a little room where there were two more security guards. She searched us, and made us lift our shirts up and pull the makeup out of our underpants and she told us to place it all on the table. Total cost, maybe five bucks. The makeup that seemed so important only 15 minutes ago now made me ill. Then she told us to sit down.
Forty minutes later, after a description of what would happen to us if we ever stole again, complete with the threat of Juvenile Hall, we were told we could leave. I had been crying the entire time. They took down our names, addresses and phone numbers, and told us they would call our parents by the next day, which gave us an opportunity to tell them first. I rode my bike home, walked in crying and apologizing. My mother grounded me and then drove me to my father’s house and I was forced to tell him, too. I was in so much trouble, I felt nauseous. I had always been a “good girl” in my father’s eyes, but he looked at me a bit differently that day and for a long time after that.
The gist of my father’s lecture went like this: “Jennifer, if someone tells you to jump off a bridge, are you going to do it?” Then he said something that I’ve never forgotten. “If you’re standing on a street corner with someone you know and they have a gun and they start shooting, then you will be arrested, too. Be careful of your surroundings, be careful of who you CHOOSE to be your friends.”
Even though I knew it was wrong when my friend had told me how easy it was to steal, I chose to do it anyway. No one forced me; I did it because I wanted makeup.
Later on that year Kate, another friend and I went to the Northridge mall. My parents gave me a second chance not to be forever known as sticky-fingers Jennifer. There was a drugstore inside and we wanted some candy. As we walked in I turned to Kate and said, “Now don’t steal anything!” She didn’t listen. Seconds later a security guard stopped us and took us to the back room. I started crying, explaining that I didn’t do anything wrong. I found out that Kate had stolen a 15-cent Three Musketeers bar. My father’s words rang through my head. I recounted to the security guard the story about the street corner that my Dad had told me. Then I said, “Sir, I know how this looks, but I had no idea that she took a candy bar. Because while she was stealing, I was paying for mine at the checkout counter.” I pulled out the receipt out of the bag to prove it. The security guard let me and our other friend go, but Kate had to stay until her parents came. As I turned to leave, I shook my head at Kate, who was hysterically crying, quite aware of the trouble she was in.
I thought about my friend Kate and the way she was willing to risk her friends to be caught for stealing even though we hadn’t participated. She received an appropriate punishment and I wasn’t allowed to play with Kate for many moons. My mom was a bit more forgiving of her than my Dad; to this day he still refers to her as “the thief.” She’s 58.
When my children were growing up, I used that story as an example of what not to do, I replayed it and relayed it to them, using my Jen-Mantra about right and wrong and how I was able to learn from my experience.
One Saturday during the holiday weekend of Memorial Day, my son, who was in fifth grade at the time, told me he had shared the story of my stealing makeup with his classmates, when the class had a guest speaker. The guest speaker was a deputy and my son let him know that I stole makeup. I said, “Did you mention that I was 11 when this happened?”
He said, “No I just told him you stole makeup at the store with your friend.”
I practically fell over. “What, oh my goodness, please when you go back to school next week let your teacher know that it happenened when I was a young girl.”
So there I sat over the entire long weekend thinking I was going to get a knock on the door and have to explain the story to a police officer. Thankfully, nothing happened and my son was able to let his teacher know that I was not Sticky Fingers Mrs. Danny and that it had happened a very long time ago.
So at the tender young age of 11 I learned two of life’s lessons. The more obvious was Thou Shalt Not Steal, and the other was you always have a choice to be good, no matter what the circumstances are.
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.