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Charlie Was Just A Bad Thief

Someone erroneously speaks, but you lack an immediately warranted rebuttal.  Later in a quiet moment, the perfect response reveals itself.  Yeah, but that ship sailed.  But every once in a while, you get it right.

It’s like connecting the sweet spot with a fastball.  It’s like striking the perfect resonant chord on a guitar.  It’s like, well, you get the point.  And it did for me long ago on a Friday night.

I worked my way through college at a liquor/convenience store counter.  I was a skilled clerk that could overcharge and short-change someone in one nimble-fast transaction.

However, I was an honest clerk who reserved this retail skill only for thieves.
On this long-ago Friday night, I did with a complementary string of just the right words.

Friday night at the liquor store was party night in the neighborhood.  One particular group lined up weekly at my counter with a case of beer, chips, dip, requests for cigarettes, plus impulse counter beef jerky.  It was a group purchase.

One member of the group Charlie, always stood hidden well behind his friends.
Yet I could still see him crouched at the candy rack as he grabbed at items that magically ended up in his jacket pockets.  I did not confront him.  I estimated his take.

Working the NCR cash register like a concert pianist with a hail of fast-talking banter, I added his ‘purchase’ and short-changed the group.

This event was a weekly exchange.
OK, it revealed my dark side.  But I did justifiably maintain store profitability.

The counter banter included each item logged via the mechanical cash register keys.  It also included a timely repeated vocal mumbled slur, “And another 50¢ for what’s in Charlie’s pocket.  Log in another legit item, then “And another 50¢ for what’s in Charlie’s pocket.”  Friday night party noise covered my repeated mumbled slurs.

This weekly scene continued until Charlie eventually heard me.  Charlie asked, “What did you say?”  I responded, “What?”  He said, “You called me a thief?”
I replied, “No, it’s not stealing if you pay for it.  And you always have.”

Fortunately, his friends laughed.  But Charlie was not happy.  He was angry.
So I repeated, “It’s not stealing if you pay for it.”
Charlie says, “You’re calling me a thief.”

So I continued, “Charlie, look.  I sometimes see a child pilfer bubble gum.  As they grow, some move from penny bubble gum to 10¢ candy bars.  Some move on to steal cars and rob banks.  A select few become Congressmen.  But Charlie, you’re still stealing penny bubble gum.”  His face exploded into a shade of flaming red.

I wasn’t just calling him a thief.  I exposed him as a pathetic bad thief.  Charlie charged and attempted to jump the counter.  But his friends caught him in mid-air.  They offered, “Wow, Ed!” as they carried Charlie and the beer out the door.

The following Friday night played out like normal, except for a defeated look in Charlie’s eyes.

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