Dear guy in a brown corduroy jacket,
I’m sorry for stealing $40 from your checking account at the ATM in the HSBC Bank on Union Square East.
This was maybe seven years ago. It would have been around nine p.m. I was meeting some friends to play pool at Corner Billiards on Fourth Ave., stopping to take out cash on my way. You were coming out of the ATM foyer when I was going in. You looked to be in your early 30s, around my age. You were wearing a brown corduroy jacket, I remember, and green army fatigue pants, and you had a beard. You might very well have been on your way to meet some friends to play pool, too.
I stepped up to the nearest ATM to the door, the one you’d just left, and saw that the screen was asking if you wanted to end the session or make another transaction. I turned around. The door had closed. I saw you through the glass, walking away. I was the only person there. Of course, I had found ATM screens left like that before. It’s a common mistake-you have your money, you’re done, you walk away.
Those other times, I’d always just pressed “end session,” and started my own new one. I’d always wondered, though, as I did it, whether or not it would be possible in such a situation to take money out of the left-open account. That night, unluckily for you, my curiosity got the better of me.
Without giving it much thought, I pressed “make another transaction.” The machine asked if I’d like to make a withdrawal or check the account’s balances. I chose withdrawal and was very surprised when the familiar choice of dollar amounts appeared on the screen: How much would I like to steal: Forty dollars? Sixty dollars? A hundred? Two hundred? More? A nervous, giddy giggle rose in my throat. The thought of two thousand dollars flashed in my mind. But no: this was just an experiment. I was still half expecting to be asked for your PIN number when I pressed “$40.00″
Then the cash came out, just like that, just like it does when I get money from my own account. It all happened very fast.
I don’t make a habit out of stuff like this. Besides a stretch in high school, when my friends and I would stumble into 7-Eleven four times a weekend and see who could make and eat the most frozen burritos and prefab egg-n-cheese sandwiches at the serve-yourself microwave station while a designated one of us distracted the counter clerk and purchased a single candy bar, I haven’t stolen much in my life. When I was in third grade, my friend Ted Trainor’s parents took five of us to Ground Round on a Friday night for Ted’s ninth birthday. I was addicted to video games at the time. Ms. Pac-Man had just come out, and I’d quickly played out my allotment of the quarters Ted’s father had given us to take to the arcade after dinner. Crowding around one of the machines with a bunch of kids I didn’t know, overwhelmed by desire, I snatched one of the quarters off the waiting line atop the joystick panel and slipped it into my pocket. As soon as I stepped away, though, my face got hot and my stomach started to hurt. I don’t think I even played the quarter. Trying to seem tough, I showed it to my friends and told them what I’d done. But in the car on the way home, when Pete Arbour blurted it out, and Mr. Trainor said, in a voice I’ll never forget, “Not too cool, Dave,” I burst into tears. I confessed to my parents when I got home and spent the rest of weekend in bed, under the covers, wishing I could die.
It wasn’t like that that night when I got to Corner Billiards. But in telling my adult friends the story of my successful withdrawal of your funds, I started by saying that I didn’t feel particularly good about it, that it was done out of curiosity, rather than avarice. And sure enough, my friend Josh echoed Mr. Trainor’s reaction. “Dude,” he said, with a surprised laugh. “That’s not cool!”
Not that it occupied more than two minutes of our conversation, not that I’ve been beating myself up about it since. But if it makes you feel any better, later that night, after I made what is perhaps the greatest pool shot of my life-jumping an opponent’s ball with the cue on the way to sinking the eightball and winning the game-with onlookers whooping and applauding, I slapped five with Josh, who was my partner, we were playing doubles, and felt a sharp twinge shoot up to my elbow. I’d sprained my wrist.
I swear it hurt for like six months.