Confession Of A Childhood Comic Book Shoplifter

By Bill Sweeney

Gather 'round kids, and come with me now as I relive a small and embarrassing chapter of my life I should probably just leave forgotten. A tale of friendship, greed and stupidity, but mostly greed. A tale from a weird, bygone era known as "the mid-eighties", long before the over-proliferation of security cameras we have today, it's the story of when I turned into a bit of a shoplifter.

I was in the sixth grade when a few friends who lived outside my immediate neighborhood and myself got real bored one afternoon and somebody said "let's go down to the Plaza and steal some action figures." Wasn't my idea because I'd never done that, but they sure had because instantly they all latched onto the plan. Action figures and toys were kind of fading out of interest for me, but these were my nerdier, geekier friends so it didn't really seem odd as far as that goes (these are the same kids who I would end up playing Dungeons and Dragons with for the first time, if that helps paint the picture). But the stealing aspect, that was new. Quickly though, any real thought about it was dismissed by their confidence from having done it before. And it turns out they had a different approach then I had envisioned once we got inside the 5 And Dime store.

They just ripped the figure out of the package, grabbed the little accessories, and then just tossed the cardboard and plastic back on a shelf...

Walking in I had been a little nervous, but by the time we got to the isle that feeling shifted as these guys just went to it, strategic and fast, it was go, go, go, like Oceans Age 11. So, caught in the frenzy, I scanned around and saw nothing I really wanted, if anything I was probably looking for G.I. Joe stuff but I know for sure I ended up with a Visionaries figure from that heist. I also know I took more than just that because it was all about what we could fit in our pants pockets (without being too obvious), and I remember leaving there with my pockets loaded. Blood pumping as we exited without buying anything, I was expecting to head straight back to one of these kids house we were at earlier and someone says, "C'mon, let's hit CVS too" which was quite literally five footsteps away, right next door. I was surprised to hear that, but we went in. I think there four of us that day and this little crew would certainly be back. With me, at least twice more, if I remember right.
A helmet can be a complicated accessory for some warriors.

Which is all a loose bit of set up for the rest of this story.

See, there was this other kid I knew, who lived in the complete opposite direction of those kids, who they didn't really know but I knew from school. We'll call hm Larry (because every Larry I've ever known has been kind of nutty. Sorry to all Larry's out there, I'm painting you with the same brush and that's not fair, but c'mon, you all know how you are). He was a latchkey kid of divorced parents who worked long shifts so when he got home from school he was all on his own to do whatever he liked. Which was usually oddball stuff in a small wooded area not far at all from his dad's place. At his mom's place, there was less to do, so one day he say's something along the lines of "Let's go to 7-11 and get comics."

He might have said "steal" I'm not sure.

But it wouldn't have mattered in those days, all you had to do was say "comics" to me in any fashion and you had my full attention (not much different then today I guess). I'd been in a few comic shops, been to a bunch on small, local conventions and been up to the "big one" at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan a couple of times. Hell, I'd already had mail subscriptions to four Marvel books because I couldn't get to shops enough. But back then, for the most part, comics was a thing not everybody was into (superheroes sure, but comics not as much) so when he mentioned it, it was like, "Damn I didn't even know you read them! Let's go."

The offending crime took place in a 7-11 much like this one, except, y'know, with more 1980's flair.
As we walked there, Larry informed me of his technique which was going to work out great because it was cooler weather at the time so we both had jackets, and his thing was to just stick them in his coat. Simple. He had a puffy snow coat and I had some lame 1980's denim thing. Probably that acid washed style, ugh. Since I had shoplifted before with those other kids and gotten away with it, and this was comics we were talking about after all, not stupid little toys, there was zero hesitation. Any question of "right or wrong" or any fear of getting caught never worried me enough, if it ever really did at all.
None of the comics I took ended up half as valuable as these.

And it worked.

Back then, this store had a spinner rack for its comics and had a pretty good mix of stuff, but mostly Marvel, I believe. Casually, without being too slow about it, we pulled out a few books each and went onto the next step, which is where things could get tricky. This was a different set up then the places I stole those figures from, this was much more open. You couldn't just mosey down an isle and be completely hidden, even back then, the shelves at 7-11 are lower so everyone can be seen. Slipping the books into our coats meant you had to pick out your books, walk around the store a bit, waiting for the right moment to tuck them away, and then walk out.

I think I did it maybe twice more before the last time.

That last time went differently for a few reasons, the main one being - Larry ditched me. In all fairness, I knew he'd leave, we had decided to get some comics late in the afternoon and we were each going home after this stop at the rack, so it was no surprise when he was "done" and said goodbye. But after he left, for whatever reason, most likely greed mixed with overconfidence from having done this before, I slowed down making my picks. The stack I was making was getting bigger than normal. Maybe triple what I'd taken before. When I grabbed them to head to the next part, stashing them in my coat, I realized it was far too much. I put most in my coat and the rest I put down on a shelf near the back of the store and waltzed slow down an isle pretending to shop. While I realized I had been there way too long, I was clueless to just how obvious I must have been to staff here - anyone in a 7-11 for more than twenty minutes is on the payroll, but a 10 year old for close to 45 minutes? Alone? What was I doing? Browsing the Dog Food selection?  I was breaking the rules, the whole Get In, Get Out aspect had gone out the window.

And still I lingered.

I wanted the rest of those comics.

Greedy, greedy, greedy.

I was stalling, trying to think of a way to get them, when one of the owners came around the far end of the isle. She found the stack of books on the shelf, I saw her, she didn't look mad, she held the books and looked up, I raised my hand a bit and said "Oh, I put those there..."

And then, as if on cue, twenty or so comics fell out of the bottom of my jacket, splashing like a waterfall around my feet.
Yeah, it looked something like this.
Now she was mad. She charged over, and raised her hand up, she wanted to hit me - but didn't, instead she tried to start cursing, but caught herself on that too, she grabbed my arm and dragged me over to the counter area. She told the man at the register, and mostly to put fear in me I guess, he said "Ok, let's call the police." It worked, she told me to stay still, but I was already frozen.

The store had gotten busy, she had to get behind the counter and help with customers. I saw an opportunity to run, but I also saw too many ways that wouldn't work. Mainly, that by the time I got to the door they could stop me, hell, a customer might stop me. I was on the far side of the counter, away from the door. If I ran and got stopped they would definitely call the cops then, that's for sure. And if I ran, would they chase me? Could I make it all the way home without getting caught? Looking back, maybe, probably. But I was kid then, I just didn't know.

She came back to me suddenly, snapping me out of any panicked escape planning and asked for my phone number, "I am calling your parents", she said. Which was a relief because it meant the cops wouldn't be coming - but then again, my parents would. She had the phone in her hand and one last voice chirped in head, "RUN." But I didn't. "DON'T GIVE HER YOUR REAL NUMBER." But I did. I gave her the number to my house and in a moment she was talking to my dad.


Too late now. All I could do was wait. He was on his way.

Just pretend that's an issue of West Coast Avengers.

Part of me still wanted to run, as if somehow that would help. Instead I waited and within ten minutes he was there. I had spent those ten minutes in a high anxiety head space, I remember the guilt, the fear, the panic, the regret, the intense feeling of just being so fucking dumb. All of that is swirling, when he arrives and I guess that's why I can't really recall how all of the conversation goes, but I'm feeling like such shit, so embarrassed for me, for him, my eyes finally start leaking, but I'm trying not to cry when they tell me to go put all the books on the rack.

So I'm putting these books back, trying real hard to pretend that there are no other customers in the store, that no one can see the sniffling kid put back the books he tried to steal. It took forever. The whole time, my Dad, certifiably the nicest guy in the world, is talking to the owners, apologizing, assuring them I'll be grounded and punished, that he's surprised by this, first time something like this has happened, all that sort of stuff. But the thing I remember the clearest, was when he said:

"I don't know why he'd steal them, I buy him comics all the time, I give him money, take him to shops, I take him to these comic book conventions."

And that's when the guilt hit me the hardest, and I started crying. No one could see me too well, my face anyway, but I was probably dripping pathetic little boy tears all over those last few books. I had never thought about how much he'd done, to take me around to those shows, how much money he'd spent, how he'd just wait and linger around while I went all around a convention floor doing whatever. But that is the nature of my Dad, this ultra nice guy, who rarely yelled, who never raised his hands to us, who quietly gave. A man so nice that when you let him down, your guilt punished you more than his hands ever could. The quiet type of guy that if you made him angry enough to yell at you - you just knew you had really, really messed up.

And I got yelled at in the car and at home. I might have gotten a whack upside my head, not sure. I know I got grounded and punished for a good while. I was also asked not to come back in that store, and for years I didn't. Just recently I moved very close to that shop and I frequent it all the time now.

But they don't sell comics at the local 7-11's anymore, so maybe they feel it's safe to let me in.

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