August 6, 2012 by David Gillaspie
My hometown had the biggest shopping mall on the Pacific coast between San Francisco and Seattle.
It was a small town so it wasn’t a mega-mall, but Pony Village was a showcase.
I was banned for life in the fifth grade. All through junior high and high school my friends went to the mall.
I went home. Here’s what happened:
Kids from lower grades often look at others even a year older as the ‘cool kids.’
The cool kids in grade school had a test you had to pass if you wanted to hang out with them.
They were also on the track team, but being a teammate and being a pal were two separate things.
The leader of the cool guys said you had to steal something from the mall before you were a part of his group. And everyone wanted that.
To make sure you didn’t actually buy something and report it as stolen, he had one of his minions, a trusted thief, shadow you.
Even in fifth grade I was a writer, so I made my strike in the stationary aisle.
One seventy nine cent notebook jumped from the shelf to my coat and its new home under my arm. My shadow didn’t see the move and pulled my arm. The notebook fell on the floor. I pretended to tie my shoe and picked it up.
I’m in the club, right? I crossed over that night at track practice, joining the kleptos. But there was another group I would answer to.
Now you’d think it’s a caring mother who thinks enough of you to hang your coat up for you. Mine did. I walked home and threw my coat in my room. She picked it up and took it to the closet, feeling my new notebook in the pocket.
“Where did this come from?” she asked, looking at my dad.
They both looked at me.
“I got it from Joe Johnson,” I said, not looking up.
“I’ll call Joe’s dad and see why his son is handing out notebooks,” my dad said.
What was the gang rule for protecting each others identity? This was before Fight Club and the first rule of not talking about Fight Club.
My dad dialed the phone, said a few things, then handed it to me.
“Hello?” I said. No one was on the other line.
Instead I heard a man screaming, “Where did it come from. What else do you have,” followed by the sounds of slapping and crying.
My parents watched me listen. The crying got louder. They could hear it from the ear piece.
“What are you, a criminal, a thief? My kid is a crook?” came through the phone with more slapping and crying headed toward hysteria.
My parents watched me start crying. I handed the phone to my dad and mumbled.
“What?” he asked.
“I stole it. I stole the notebook. Make Mr. Johnson stop.”
My dad whistled into the phone and said, “Okay, Paul. I think I’ve got my answer.”
Did this mean I’d get my butt kicked? The mood was pretty grim.
Instead, the old man threw my coat to me and said, “Let’s go.”
We went back to the mall store and talked to the manager in back. I heard about law and order, about right and wrong, and how the two men knew each other.
I felt their disappointment. The manager was one of my school friend’s dad.
No beat down, no butt kicking, but shame dropped on me. I didn’t care about the stealing club, the track team, or anything else. My attention was riveted.
“You are not allowed in this store again, understand?” said the manager.
“Do you hear the man?” my dad said. “Answer him.”
“Is my son a thief like you?”
By now I was catching on about talking about the club. “No, he’s not.”
“I won’t ever see you here again. If I do I’ll call the police and this all goes to them. Do you understand?”
Like any conniving kid I broke the message down to fit my goals. Banned from the store, not the rest of the stores in the mall.
The next day I bought a 45 single record from Jensen’s Music. I played it when my dad got home.
“Where’d you get the record?” he asked.
“The music store.”
“The mall music store?”
“Did you steal it?”
“You’re banned from mall. Every store. That’s how it is. Even the parking lot. They don’t need the trouble.”
“I don’t know.”
For all I do know, I’m still banned.
My new record played behind the conversation with my dad.
“A breaking rocks in the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won, I fought the law and the law won.”
The Bobby Fuller Four hit became my theme.
I walked to the end of the trust pier my parents thought they’d built and fell into the deep water.
How deep? All I wanted to do was get back in their good graces. I’m almost there.