It was a picture of Jesus. A framed print, gloriously sentimental, probably
painted by a starving artist in
. But to the eyes of a twelve year old Poland
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