July 26, 2008

Get back

It was a picture of Jesus. A framed print, gloriously sentimental, probably 
painted by a starving artist in Poland. But to the eyes of a twelve year old 
Catholic boy it was the most beautiful Mother's Day present in the world.
When I looked at the price sticker, just below the blue Woolworth label, the 
sticker shock was twofold: it confirmed its inaccessibility while further 
glamorizing its value. The picture next to it was half that price. I switched the 
price tags. I wasn't alone. My friend Kenny thought that this was so cool that he 
followed suit, and switched the price tag on a pair of sunglasses. Now it was a 
conspiracy. The irony that I was perpetrating a fraud to acquire an image of 
Jesus wasn't entirely lost on me, even as a twelve year old. I did feel a little 
crummy. But the grandeur of this gift, the anticipated glory of my mother's smile 
that it would surely evoke, easily trumped that. To the checkout we stole.

And at the checkout we were nabbed. By the smoldering and singularly pissed 
off store manager. The police were called. The irony of the evidence was not 
lost on the investigating patrol officer. Nor its grotesqueness on the manager. 
None of which changed the facts. Whatever leniency the pathos of my motive 
may have inspired, the plain venality of the sunglass heist, which I had also 
inspired, poisoned. A ride home in the patrol car would have to take place. 

Kenny and I sulked and trembled in the back seat. In a vehicle whose obvious 
authority and sheer coolness I couldn’t help admiring. The policeman, a hottie in 
his own right, stole my heart that day. He said to my dad "Don't be too hard on 
the boys..." But dad wasn’t feeling quite so magnanimous. Kenny was dropped 
off at my house to await the arrival of his parents. It wasn’t exactly a pajama 
party. The gang leader received the brunt of the scolding, in front of Kenny, and 
rightly so. With a promise of appropriate punishment to be determined. 
My mother just shook her head sadly. I like to think I saw the slightest hint of a 
smile in her eyes, which she tried hard to keep to herself. 

I suspect many other gifts, given to many others, over the years, have been 
more or less grotesque as well. I hope they’re less of a dead mouse than they 
used to be. The first gift that I gave anyone, independently won and inspired, 
was a hand-made lady's "fan" that I won for my mother at the school fair. I was 
six. The fan was, in fact, a yellow fly swatter decorated with glitter and edged 
with blue marabou feathers. But it was the most gorgeous object I’d ever seen 
in my young life. Mom had to have it. She was moved to tears. And nobody 
arrested me that time. Get back... Get back... Get back to where you once