August 15, 2007

Tales of a Reformed Klepto

The other day I was remembering what life used to be like in my neighborhood, before the freeways were constructed. There were orchards everywhere, and I used to walk through them to get to school (up hill both ways, of course). Rows and rows of produce went on forever and if I wanted to I could have played Children of the CornTomatoes. I recall boys being boys and trying to hit us with the big red fruits (and just why are tomatoes fruits anyway?) And I smoked my first cigarette walking through that field one day after junior high. Ahh, memories.

I was reminiscing about Anna’s Deli that used to be at the corner of Pearl Avenue and Branham Lane, and how good the bread was. And then I remembered the grocery store in the same shopping center and the friendly pharmacy next door, appropriately named Pearl Avenue Pharmacy, and the liquor store where my mom bought several hundred dollars’ worth of losing lottery tickets. The grocery store was named Alpha Beta, and I went there with my mom on numerous occasions, when I was around kindergarten-age. On one trip, I suddenly channeled a future Winona Ryder and stole some things.

They were stupid things, so completely not worth stealing.

I stole the flat numbers that slid into the rail in front of the shelf, showing the price of whatever item sat above them. I don’t know why I wanted them. I’ve never been big into math, or numbers of any sort, but I slid them out of their place, and pocketed them. MINE!

When we got home, my thievery was discovered, and I got busted for stealing.

But I hadn’t stolen PRODUCTS, just…things. That was OK, right?

No. It was very not OK.

My mom marched me (mom’s always march you when you’re in trouble) back to Alpha Beta and as soon as we got inside the store, asked to speak to the store manager, Mr. Bird. Oooh! Mr. Bird! Like Big Bird? Neat!

Sadly when Mr. Bird appeared, he had neither feathers nor beak. My mom made me confess to my crime to this man and hand back the pilfered items. I don’t recall if I cried or not. But I did say I was sorry. And I remembered that Pinocchio’s nose grew when he lied, so I told the truth.

And then the funniest thing happened. Mr. Bird said he’d be right back. He had something for me. I’m sure I thought he’d return with handcuffs, a fingerprint kit, or a cop or something, but instead, he brought a box chock-full of shiny things. It was the lost and found box. And he said I could pick ANYTHING from it to take home with me, because I was a good little girl for telling the truth and returning the stolen items. Such a model citizen!

The stuff in that box was so much cooler than stupid little pieces of plastic with numbers on them. I quickly grabbed a “diamond” necklace and asked if it was OK if I took it. Mr. Bird nodded yes. My mom’s chin probably fell to the floor. This was most likely not what she had in mind as my punishment for committing a misdemeanor.

I still vividly remember the gaudy rhinestone and blue crystal necklace that I would wear to play dress up. And I was convinced the jewels were real and so happy to show them off and tell the story of how cool it is to steal stuff because then you get even better stuff when you bring back what you originally stole! Awesome!

Years later, when I’d drive past Alpha Beta, I would think of Mr. Bird and wonder if he still worked there , and if the earrings that matched my necklace were still there (and if so, could I have them please?). And when my college boyfriend got a job as a bagger at Alpha Beta, I wondered if any of his coworkers knew Mr. Bird. And when Alpha Beta turned into a Lucky, I was a little sad to lose that part of my childhood memories. Today there are houses where that Alpha Beta once stood, and the Alpha Beta chain cum Lucky is now Albertson’s. Except they’re not. Albertson’s are now Lucky again.

Why didn’t they just stick with Alpha Beta in the first place? Where little kids got presents when they stole from the store? Hey, do you think Winona Ryder knew Mr. Bird too? That would explain a lot.