Get back

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