Let us flashback, after school special style. It's September 1996, small town New England. Meg is seventeen. On the surface, she seems to have it all. She's just started her junior year, she's got her license and access to a car, and has recently begun seeing her first boyfriend (with whom she ultimately does little aside from listening to Nine Inch Nails in his room and prudishly rebuffing his attempts to get to second base.) She's also got the coolest job possible in her hometown, working as a clerk in the record and video store, surrounded by worldly, over-it-all twenty-somethings.
Waving away the hazy flashback clouds. So yeah, my first real job. I was stoked. I was making $4.75 an hour, mad money compared to my allowance, which had crept year by year to a dispiriting $2.50 a week between the ages of five and seventeen. I couldn't even buy a copy of Glamour with that! But no matter—I was part of the jet set now. I very proudly drove my excellent, jointly-owned-with-my-brother 1993 two-door Tercel to my new job and raked in upwards of eighty bucks a week.
But how to store all this crazy money? I had been introduced to a small sect of cool people—cool meaning they didn't live at home and were done with all the bull of high school—and I wanted to emulate them. Cool, grown-up people had wallets, proper leather ones. I wanted a grown-up leather wallet, too, in which to store the eighty dollars a week I was now raking in.
My mission took me to the Maine Mall, where I probably wandered around and spotted something that cost close to eighty dollars at the Gap or Express that I needed to have. I needed to have whatever it was, because I'd been wearing thrift store clothes most of my life, and though it fit my fuck-all-y'all artist persona, now that I had funds, the allure of dressing more like my classmates had tremendous pull on my psyche. So I'd found some now superior object of desire, worthy of my entire paycheck, and planned to buy it. But I still wanted a wallet. Still, how expensive could one be? They're so small.
As it turns out, your no-frills starter wallet from the aforementioned chain leather goods store costs $19.95. Hold up, dude, that's a fourth of my hard-earned paycheck! Perhaps it was time for me to pass another teenage milestone and learn how to shoplift.
Has the irony hit you yet? I needed to steal a wallet in order to house the money I no longer really had because I'd already resolved to spend it elsewhere, thereby necessitating that I steal. I don't call many phenomena ironic, but come on, that's got to qualify.
I knew from my new job at the record store that thievery is lame, but deep material desire set the needle in my moral compass flying around in strange directions. I also knew from my new job that stores use security tags and stickers to bust the thieving asses of douchebag teenagers, the type of young person I was fretting over how best to become. All while affecting casual browsing (you get good at casual browsing when you never have money and can only hope to touch the things you shall never actually own) I carried around my new Precious, the plain black leather men's wallet. I found its security tag, a simple circuit board-sealed-in-paper affair, and I removed it. I hid it somewhere, perhaps in the pocket of a leather jacket I was pretending to be interested in. Now, how to sneak the wallet out of the store…
Because I grew up in Maine, it was acceptable fashion during this grungy era to sport wool L.L. Bean socks and Birkenstocks. Especially coupled with a tie-dyed Grateful Dead tee, which I did not own. I was not a filthy hippie…sandals and corduroys notwithstanding. I didn't own real Birks (or indeed real Bean socks) but I was rocking a pair of maroon knock-offs that evening at the mall. I dropped the wallet discreetly on the floor, finagled it between my foot and the bed of the sandal, and went to work sweating bullets.
The crime seemed assured. Security disabled. Item craftily stowed, so that even if the alarm went off, prhaps I'd stand a chance of getting searched and coming up clean. I was covering my bases. But actually walking through the doors and their scanners…
I browsed like no seventeen-year-old girl has ever browsed in a popular chain leather goods store before. I honestly bet I walked around with the wallet under my stinky sock for forty minutes, as though the balls required to walk through the door were hidden among the briefcases or driving gloves. Not suspicious. Not at all. And after all that…I pussied out. I slipped the wallet from my fake Birk as stealthily as I'd hidden it there. My foot ached from walking for a half hour upon the object of my corrupt desire. I picked it up at some opportune moment, walked to the register, and paid for it.
So in the end, I didn't steal…not then anyhow, but the harrowing story of how on another occasion I did manage to steal a bottle of nail polish from Contempo Casuals will just have to keep. I don't think my morals won out that night in the leather store, merely my fear of getting busted. It also wrecked my shopping buzz, so I left with the sixty remaining bucks to fill in my new, paid-in-full leather-and-sweaty-wool-sock-smelling wallet. I'm sure the cash lasted all of two days before I blew it on striped socks or magazines or sparkly eyeshadow. But ultimately, fear was good. Fear protected me from guilt that evening, and I loved that wallet. My first purchase with my big-girl paycheck. I bet I wouldn't have loved it if I hadn't paid for it.
Apologies to any schadenfreude fans who'd hoped that story would end in my parents getting called by mall security. But I was generally a good kid, nefarious schemes like this one notwithstanding, and most of my confessions are doomed to be more humbling than properly scandalous. Plus if I'd done anything really bad…do you honestly think I'd share it on this little no-name blog?