Thursday, January 10th, 2013

What Was The First Thing You Shoplifted?

Shoplifting is like drinking beer before you're 21, everyone's tried it once. So in the spirit of reckoning with the past, we asked our favorite young adult novelists to share the details of the first time they broke the law.

Libba Bray, The Diviners

Though I certainly had a misspent youth, alas, shoplifting was never one of my crimes. In fact, when I was nine, I was shocked—SHOCKED—to witness my friend's older sister lift some candy from our local Circle K. I confessed this to my mother, who, of course, reported it to the girl's mother. This prompted shoplifter's mother to narrow her eyes at MY mother before issuing the cryptic statement, "I worry about your child. She's PATHOLOGICALLY honest!" To which my mother responded, "Thank God!" Damn. This makes me sound like a real kiss-ass. I promise that I did my share of sketchy things as a teenager. But you didn't ask about those, and I have since learned not to give it up.

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

I have never shoplifted. I am almost embarrassed to admit this. This is because, 1. I never really had need to shoplift, as I was always adequately supplied in bubble gum, etc., and 2. When I was a little kid, my parents told me that shoplifting amounted to stealing from the people who worked at the store even if it was an outpost of some giant corporation, and I was never been able to shake the feeling that on some level they were right.

A.S. King, Ask the Passengers

When I was about five, I stole two caramel candies from one of those supermarket open-bin, weigh-it-yourself candy displays and I put them in my pocket. We were a no-candy household, so I considered myself a starving child stealing for food more than anything. I mean, I knew that wasn't the case, but you have to tell yourself something in order to get the guts up to start shoplifting shit at age five, right?

Anyway. I couldn't wait to eat the stupid candy. As my dad loaded the groceries into the back of the car, I unwrapped the thing inside my pocket and cleverly slipped it into my mouth. And as I chewed, someone noticed. I don't remember who it was. I'm not sure if my sisters were with us that week. They usually were, but they wouldn't give me up, I don't think. I'm guessing my dad just noticed because I was five and looked guilty and was chewing candy. He found the second candy in my pocket and took me back into Pathmark to return the uneaten candy and to apologize to the manager. I'm sure I cried and was dramatic.

Between this lesson and the lesson I learned through a friend who got caught stealing a Pat Benatar eight-track tape and some other stuff from a local department store, I was scared off shoplifting ever again. However, I did become a candy fiend the minute I could afford to buy my own and to this day I steal at least 40% of my children's' Halloween and Easter candy.

Justine Larbalestier, Team Human (with Sarah Rees Brennan)

As a YA writer and therefore as a role model to all teenagers I never do anything wrong ever. However, had I ever shoplifted, which obviously as a role model I have never even contemplated, it might have been a truly terrible paperback named Tinsel, which was shiny and gold—I have always loved shiny—and cost more money than twelve-year-old me had and somehow wound up in my school bag and would have been read by me secretly at night so my parents wouldn't know. Had this happened I would clearly have been punished by how incredibly dull the book was. It would have been an early experience of the all that glitters not being gold rule. I am still enamoured of shiny, however.

Though obviously that never happened because: Role model.

Bennett Madison, The Blonde of the Joke

I have had a fascination with shoplifting ever since I worked at the Gap in high school and learned how easy it was, but I haven't actually shoplifted very much myself. (Instead, I wrote a book about shoplifting.)

Things I have shoplifted, in order:
1. A pair of women's sunglasses from Anthropologie that I wore once and then accidentally stepped on.
2. A tiny package of bath bead things from the Gap when I worked there, when my manager was being a dick to me and I wanted revenge and they were the easiest thing to just stuff in my pocket.
3. A paintbrush from the art store when I was buying a bunch of art supplies and didn't quite have enough money for everything I needed.
4. A block of cheddar cheese.

Kate Milford, The Boneshaker

Frankly, I've never shoplifted. I vaguely remember once discovering I'd walked out of my local grocery store with an armful of those tubes of cut-and-bake cookie dough, but I figured it out before I got to my car (or anybody else noticed) and went back in and paid, utterly mortified. But that's my only experience.

Ned Vizzini, It's Kind of a Funny Story

I have never shoplifted! I used to engage in petty crime by jumping turnstiles (until I was caught, as detailed in my first book Teen Angst? Naaah…), but shoplifting was off-limits. My mother taught me that it was habit-forming and that people who did it always got caught. Come to think of it, how did she know that?

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

My shoplifting career began and ended when I was seven years old. I used to sneak candy bars and packets of SweeTarts (my favorite) into my underpants whenever I was dragged along grocery shopping with my mother. To set the picture somewhat, this was in Jamaica in 1972. The store was called "Shopper's Fair" and a packet of SweeTarts cost five cents in Jamaican money (I think a quart of milk cost 16 cents, by comparison). I was very good at shoplifting packets of SweeTarts and never got caught. I shared my success, and my technique, with my best friend, who unfortunately DID get caught, and was named and shamed within the grocery store. Although I didn't witness this experience, I was traumatized enough by my friend's trauma that I stopped my criminal activities and never looked back.

During the same period, I had an addiction to Hardy Boy novels, which could be purchased in the same grocery store. My mother got this scam going where she'd buy one I hadn't read, we'd take it home and I'd read it, and then she'd return it to the store the next week saying "She's read this one" and exchange it for another. I knew this was vaguely cheating, so I think that my mother's underhandedness probably encouraged my own boldness as a thief. Lesson to be learned from all this: Be very careful what you do, because your kids are watching and learning.

Claire Zulkey, An Off Year

I stole a Power Bar from a 7-11 during a break at drivers' ed class. A bunch of "cool" guys were in class with me and were all going to shoplift so I wanted to join them. I think I just stuck it in my pocket or bag. I did not get caught but I felt horrible about it and never did it again.

Related: What Books Make You Cringe To Remember

Nadia Chaudhury used to swipe those packets of extra beads from dresses while out shopping with her parents. Sorry. Photo by rhoadeecha.

25 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#1,720)

40% of the people listed here never shoplifted, so it sounds like the only REAL universal youthful crime is PEER PRESSURE.

Leon (#6,596)

@deepomega – What about embezzlement?

jfruh (#713)

When I was like 10 or so my dad and I were visiting San Francisco. I was looking at postcards that were on a rotating carrel thingie outside some touristy store and my dad started heading up the street and I followed him and walked off without thinking much about it with a postcard of the Golden Gate Bridge, and only really realized what I'd done when we were a ways off. I was *mortified*, I couldn't even bring myself to mail it to my mother (which was my plan for it). My dad teased me about it for weeks, which made me feel even worse, to the point where we eventually made a pact that I wouldn't tease him about going bald anymore if he wouldn't tease me about the postcard. (I did eventually start teasing him about being bald again, it now occurs to me, but he has held up his end of the bargain.)

Claire Zulkey (#6,639)

I also accidentally shoplifted once: I was looking at some lip gloss at the store and put it, in what I thought, was my shopping basket. When I got home though I realized that the basket was really my purse. At the time I had a good reason for not going back and returning it. Maybe because the people at the Walgreens probably would have just wished I hadn't bothered them.

Lorelei@twitter (#240,700)

@Claire Zulkey I accidentally shoplifted a $1 pack of gum from my college bookstore after putting it in my pocket while I looked for textbooks and then forgetting about it. I never returned it, my justification being a) it was a dollar b) I paid full price for expensive textbooks that I could have ordered from Amazon instead and c) lazy

bnna (#240,111)

I'm disappointed in this sample. I'll just say I've paid for maybe 10% of the nail polish that I own, and I feel fine about that!

RonMwangaguhung (#3,697)

I got so busted trying to shoplist a candy called Toffeefay when I was like 6 years old ata supermarket that it turned me off of that Dark Art forever. I never improved my skillz. My mom, an ex-nun, really read me the riot act on that one.

Claire Zulkey (#6,639)

@RonMwangaguhung Toffeefay is the shit. I would steal that if I didn't want to pay for it to keep existing.

shevralay (#238,222)

I think what we can learn from this is that YA authors are, by and large, afraid of punishment. Or possessed with overwhelming senses of guilt. (That being said, everyone should go read The Fault in Our Stars and Team Human. Great books!)

Pound of Salt (#15,166)

I got caught taking a hat from Urban Outfitters when I was a teenager and was banned from the store for three years. I was devastated, but luckily by the time the three years passed I realized how terrible their stuff is and I've never really gone back.

Pound of Salt (#15,166)

I still get a little panicky when I walk through stores' detectors.

highjump (#11,044)

@Pound of Salt How do they even enforce a ban from the store? Is there some kind of wall of shame and the security guards memorized your face? Did they stick a tracker on you? Did they send you a letter when your ban was lifted?

Lorelei@twitter (#240,700)

@highjump when I worked at a Bed, Bath & Beyond, there was a board in the break room with photos and names posted of people who were known to repeatedly steal/write bad checks/use stolen cards, and I was supposed to report it to a manager if I saw one of them. I'm not sure what would have happened from there. Also it was just a couple of adults responsible for big losses, not like, every dumb teenager screwing around.

Once I processed a bunch of returns where all the items were really old and hadn't been sold in stores for a long time (and the little inventory code stickers were from different stores all over the area) and had either been used for a long time or been bought from a thrift store or something. They weren't the kind of items we were supposed to refuse returns on and in general the policy is to be generous with store credit so I, being highly non-confrontational, just went about the returns quietly, but my co-worker who was helping made many pointed comments about the oddness as we worked, to show we were not fooled and maybe shame the woman into not doing it again.

So basically I'm guessing if the person who originally caught Pound of Salt saw them in the store they'd get yelled at, but otherwise "banning from stores" is probably just what you say to scare a kid out of doing it again.

Pound of Salt (#15,166)

@highjump Ha yeah I think they had my photo just at the one store, but I was too paranoid to go to any other. Fear tactics can work pretty well on teenagers.

Shoplifting is like drinking beer before you're 21, everyone's tried it once.

Speak for yourself.

itiresias (#230,907)

commenting purely because of the photo – my mom taught me when i was little that those things full of candy were free. i was so confused when i eventually got yelled at in shoprite.

LondonLee (#922)

Lots of sweets and toy cars ended up in my pockets accidentally on purpose. My only vivid memory of my life of crime is being chased into a nearby council estate by a shopkeeper who caught me pinching a bag of crisps. I took the lift to the very top floor and hid there, terrified, for what seemed a long time. If I was a kid now I probably would have knifed the bastard.

I mostly have shoplifted when I'm on vacation. Once I stole some sort of Edelweiss bracelet in the Alps and beads from some crap-after-the-ride-store in Disney.

elsaschneider (#3,515)

I saw the picture at top and it reminded me of the first time (out of two times) I shoplifted- some everlasting gobstoppers from the Sweet Factory in the mall. I was caught, humiliated (parents thankfully not called- though I was probably 12) and I (again, thankfully) had the $.17 I owed for the candy. I kept the receipt for a long time just as a memento.

The second time I shoplifted, I tried on a pink polo shirt at a thrift store, bought some other clothes and walked out with polo on (not charged) and thought two seconds about paying for it but just shrugged it off. To be fair, I spent a lot of money at that thrift store throughout highschool.
I cringe!

cupcakecore@twitter (#233,315)

I used to shoplift makeup A LOT when I was 12-13, but I grew out of it. (Uuuh the shoplifting, not the makeup)

6-7 years ago, a bunch of college friends and I went on an outing to the city, and the girl whose initial idea it was wanted to go to Urban Outfitters to pick up a few things. so we went, gawked at prices and left, but I turned to her and noticed she didn't have anything either, and commented as such but she shushed me. turns out she wanted to shoplift from Urban Outfitters, which granted, I know they steal all the time, either from designers or the consumer with their poorly made over-priced products. but still, shoplifting? You're in college, come on now.

I've never shoplifted, but when I was shopping with a friend at 13 she pulled a pair of earrings out of her pocket after we left the store. I was taking confirmation classes and was appalled.

A teacher I know who teaches at the college level once told me all of her students were thieves. She teaches a segment on internal controls and in preparing for the lecture she asks her students to submit stories about a time they stole something from a business. She then uses the stories to teach internal controls. She’s been asking for these stories in her classes for six years and tells me every student has submitted a story every semester. That is why they are all thieves.

AlliNYC (#239,078)

The only thing I EVER took was this tiny fake-pearl bracelet that was actually a necklace that I took off a Troll doll. My mother made me return it to the store manager personally and apologize. It was so humiliating and traumatizing that I never shoplifted again.

Except for the TP and paper towels that I occasionally bring home from work, which is maybe sort of a gray area?

JennFizz (#172,488)

What's with all the hyper-obedience? I'd be a little worried if my kid never fundamentally questioned the nature of ownership.

Smazzle (#240,719)

I picked up a peacock feather off the floor of a trimmings store. In my heart, I knew it wasn't mine, but I rationalized it with "it was on the floor, it's trash." The store clerk followed me and my mom out and got the feather back!! My 6 year old self was sad to see it go… but I knew it wasn't mine. Sigh.

kfizz (#240,720)


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