My name is Lawrence. I’m sixteen years old, and I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I go to school and get stoned and skate with my friends. I have a girlfriend and a family. But you don’t need to know any of that. I don’t matter to this story at all, really. The only person who matters in this story is you.
You, the person reading this. I don’t know you, but I know a few things. I know you lost your job and can’t feed your kid popcorn for dinner again because his hip bones are starting to show. Or your landlord hiked your rent up and you might get kicked out of your apartment. Or you need medicine for your mom and they don’t have laws to make sure people don’t die of stupid diseases, and she used to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” to you before bed and the song keeps coming back to you when you hear her coughing. Maybe you just need a couple more bucks in your pocket.
What I know is that you need a few things, and you are going to have to steal to get them. It happens to everyone.
First off, only steal from megastores like Walmart or Target. The people who work in those places could not care less. They are there only for a paycheck. If you ever bother them to ask where something is, they’ll speak to you only to get you out of their face as quickly as possible. It’s not like the Mom and Pops where the old lady behind the counter will chat your ear off if you say hello.
Not that these big stores don’t have a plan for people like you. They post workers at the door who can check your receipt against your cart, and they have cameras at the check-out stations to watch you. They have dedicated security staff looking at monitors all day. So you might ask, how do you get past an entire professional staff equipped with a huge array of surveillance equipment, whose only job is to catch thieves?
There are a lot of schools of thought on this, but in my opinion the best method is the “fake mover.” You pretend you are someone in the middle of a big move, and you need cardboard boxes. This happens all the time. The big stores basically never stop stocking their shelves, and so they always have boxes on the floor. Workers run into people looking for boxes a lot. You can go up to them and ask to take some, and they’ll always give them to you. Again, this shows how little these employees actually care about the companies they work for. Walmart probably has a policy against giving away cardboard boxes, but store employees would rather give them away, and save themselves the trouble of having to break them down in the back room.
Nobody cares. You walk around a store looking for boxes for a move and collect them in a grocery cart. Then you slip things in between the boxes in the cart and sneak out with them. Then you can return those items at a different store for cash.
The “fake mover” method does not intuitively make any sense. It’s not obvious why this would be better than pretending to shop normally and trying to sneak things past the self check-out stations. But it is better, and I’ll tell you why.
People get busted all the time, but not because they get caught stealing. Even the most inexperienced shoplifter knows how to stand so their body obscures the view of surveillance cameras. Security staff knows this too, but it doesn’t matter. Because cameras don’t catch people stealing. Cameras catch people acting weird. They catch people walking too fast, or going past the same area more than once, or moving through the store in strange patterns.
Security guards watch people shopping all day, every day. They know what shoppers look like, how they move through a store, where their eyes and hands and bodies go. They understand what a shopper wants, and what they are there to do. Most of the people they see look resigned or bored or depressed by the mind-suck of it all. That crushed grocery-store existence is what they live all day. You start moving through their space with the nervous energy of someone trying to steal something, with a different expression on your face and different speed to your walk, and they will recognize you instantly.
However, if you have a story – a story about how you’re there to collect cardboard boxes for a big move – then you stand a much better chance of getting away with it. You feed them this story, and suddenly they don’t know what to do with you. You are outside from their ordinary expectations. You are someone who walks briskly through a store to find things that are free, and not someone who trudges through like a zombie to shop for batteries or paper plates or coffee filters.
Adding a few more free things to the free things you were already taking with you fits in with the narrative you are telling them, and which you wear in your body and face, and which they will not really understand, even though they think they do. They will know something is different about you. But because of the story you have fed them, they will think that story accounts for that difference.
Because that’s what a story is, isn’t it? A sort of magic trick. It is being led around by the nose without realizing, being fed truths you won’t understand until the magic trick is over.
This is how you steal, not by anxiously pretending to shop but by creating the persona of someone who transcends the drudgery of shopping altogether. Workers welcome that sort of person. They want to see someone different, and to place that difference within their little world. Even the security guards. It’s a breath of fresh air to them.
I have had Walmart workers actually watch me put store items in between the cardboard boxes in my cart and let me carry on with my business. They are so eager to believe that someone lives apart from the awful reality of their lives, they catch me in the very act of stealing and think nothing of it. “Well, he’s probably just going to pay for that nose-hair trimmer, or that electric can opener, before he leaves with his giant cart-full of boxes,” they tell themselves.
People don’t like thinking in terms of facts and evidence. They would much rather be told – or tell themselves – a story. If you can tap into that desire, stealing is easy.
Right now you might be thinking, but isn’t stealing wrong? Sure. But what you are doing is not stealing and it is not wrong.
Let me tell you a story about the first time I ever stole anything.
I was skating in the park, and I went past a homeless guy. I had seen this particular guy quite a few times. We pass each other a lot, because he has a little hovel made of cardboard boxes under one of the overpasses for the 79, and I frequently skate that stretch of frontage road out near the quarry. There’s a park out there that my friends and I go to, because they have great stair railings, and it’s far enough outside the middle of town that cops don’t really go there. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter why I was there.
Sometimes I stop and talk to this guy, and he always has stories to tell me, which are all fairly crazy-sounding. One time he told me the squirrels work for N.A.S.A. and collect data from microphones under their skin, recording people’s conversations when they aren’t aware, which allows telecommunication companies to send ads to people who don’t have smart phones.
His name is John-Man. He calls himself that, because his name is “John,” and when he was a kid his dad used to call him “John Boy,” because there was this TV show called ‘The Waldorfs’ or something, and there was a character on it that was named that. But now he’s a man, he says, and so he calls himself “John-Man” instead of “John Boy”. Or so his logic goes.
So anyway I saw John-Man, and I waved to him like I usually do and kept on skating past. But then something struck me. I’m not sure why it did then of all times, but it did. It struck me that I was just strolling past a man who sleeps on the street and eats from dumpsters, as if it were the most normal thing in the world for me to do this.
Like, when did this become okay? Why don’t we have to watch out for people in the world and make sure they aren’t eating trash or whatever. We talk all the time about doing to others what you want to be done to you, and if I were living on the street, I think I would want someone to maybe check up on me from time to time. But here’s me living my life, walking around and carrying on, while John-Man sleeps on the street, exposed to God knows what.
I don’t know why this moment out of any other time I saw him stood out. But it did, and it got me thinking about God and morality and stuff. Like, if God exists, how has he not just struck me down, or made the earth swallow me up or something? John-Man lives on the street, and I just walk past him all the time without ever doing anything to help him. So is that an argument for God not existing? But if that’s true, then what is my sudden realization that this is wrong an argument for?
It occurred to me that my realizing all this might be God making himself known to me. It seemed completely straight-forward. If you actually care about others as you would wish them to care about you, and you see a man living on the street without proper shelter or health care, you have to do something to help, or you basically suck as a human. You don’t get to call yourself a good person, or even a person at all, if you can’t do the most intuitively humane thing there is, which is to help someone living without even their basic needs being met.
Thinking about all this had taken me about three minutes, and in that time I had skated past John-Man’s spot about three blocks. I stepped off my board and turned it around to go back to him. Once I was close enough so that he could see me, he noticed, and sort of raised his eyebrows, like, well? I stepped off my board again and just stood there, looking at him. I didn’t know what to say, so I asked him if he was hungry, and he said yes.
I didn’t have any money on me, and thought, well this is probably also in God’s plan, too, right? Like I don’t usually carry money with me, but that doesn’t have anything to do with John-Man’s needs. His stomach doesn’t become less empty just because I have no money. And this all seemed like a part of God’s plan, if anything was. Because how could it not be? The thing about stuff happening is that God definitely willed it to happen, for one reason or another. Because that’s what it means to be all powerful.
But if he wanted me to realize that I am a total idiot and a bad person for never doing anything to help John-Man, and he wanted this realization to happen when I had no money, then clearly he wanted me to help him anyway, even without money.
So I went and stole him some stuff from Walmart, using the “fake mover” method. A blanket, some food (bread and peanut butter and granola bars and stuff) and a big jug of water.
Listen, I don’t know about any of this God stuff. Who knows if there really is a God or what he’s like, if he’s there at all. But one thing I know to be true. If there is a God, he doesn’t give a shit about you stealing from Walmart to feed someone who needs it. How could he?
I’ll even take it one step further. If God exists, he wants you to steal. I mean seriously, who is Walmart that they can hoard a bunch of stuff and keep it from people starving on the street? Is that right? And if God is a good and righteous God, he would want you to stand up for people like John-Man, not Walmart. Like, come on. It’s obvious.
You should try it. Steal something small at first and see how it feels. A ballpoint pen, or an apple. Take it out to the parking lot and sit with the thing you stole for a minute. Watch people walking in and out of the door for a few minutes. Think about the amount of money that multi-billion-dollar company made in that time. Factor that into how you should feel about stealing something to meet your basic needs. Does it feel right or wrong after you are done? That’s always a good guide.
And I’ll even do you one better than that. If you steal something and end up standing in front of God to answer for it, just tell him I put you up to it. I’ll take the blame. I don’t care. I’ll tell God to his face that it’s okay to steal from Walmart. Let him blast me to smithereens, at least I’ll know I did the right thing by John-Man. I’d much rather be on his good side than some box store God, some mall cop God.
But I honestly don’t think that’s how it is. Something tells me God is on the other side of things, that he’s not the one behind the surveillance camera. Just read the Bible. Those stories sound way more like the crazy NASA-squirrel stuff that comes out of John-Man’s mouth than anything you’d find in Walmart. And as wacko as all that stuff sounds, it makes a lot more sense than “I get all the money. You get to die in a ditch.”
If I’m going to choose which story to be taken in by – that’s the one I want. It probably makes me just as dumb as those Walmart workers who let me steal stuff right under their noses, but I can’t help it. That’s the story I want.
But like I said before at the very beginning, it doesn’t matter what I think. You’re the main character here. So which story do you like better? The thing about you being you and me being me is that I can’t tell you anything about right and wrong, not really. I have no idea what ideas are bouncing around inside your skull, or what contracts you’ve drawn up with yourself about how you’re supposed to be in the world. But I know a good story when I see it, if for no other reason than I feel it.
When the magic trick is over, did you feel cheated or did you get something out if it? That’s on you to decide, for you to feel. You, the main character of this story. Sure it’s wrong to steal, but what does your heart tell you? About Walmart and John-Man and the difference between them? The heart that gets drawn into the story is the same heart that knows right from wrong. That’s the truth. So you tell me?
Or better yet, don’t tell me anything but go and do something about it and don’t tell anyone. God will see. He’ll understand what’s going on. Even if no one else does, he will. I get the feeling that he loves these sorts of stories and tells them all day long, that he never stops telling them. And we hear them or we don’t, but they are always there behind the scenery, holding it all up. One big story going on and on, so the sun keeps going and the sky stays up. It sounds big, but it’s just one thing after another, forever. You get it, right? You get it. You hear.