Back in the days when print media ruled the suburban sprawl of America, The New York Times reigned supreme. From the crack of dawn, from one driveway to the next, you could find the newspaper waiting patiently for tasseled or slippered feet to arrive. Scooping the paper into their hands, subscribers would devour it from cover to cover, starting with the section that most intrigued or interested them.
I was one of those people. Without the newspaper, I was lost. I needed my daily fix of liberal edification inky and origami-ally folded. These were the days before Yahoo and The Huffington Post, Perez Hilton and TMZ. The paper was a lifeline. It kept me in touch with the world beyond the hedge rows of my life.
And I relied most on the Classifieds. Most of my career up to that point came from those pages. I scanned the columns of advertising and marketing positions weekly whether employed or not. So many opportunities for advancement from Madison Avenue to Midwestern corporate parks. It was all there in black and white.
One particular Sunday, while my friends slept in guest rooms woozy from nights of suburban debauchery (which meant frozen melon balls on the deck), I strolled down my driveway to retrieve my paper. I needed it more than a cup of joe, having recently lost my job due to downsizing.
Never having been fired or let go, I was overly confident that the Classifieds held everything I needed for the quick commute back into the workforce. I knew it could deliver again.
But where was the paper? I noticed no blue or clear plastic package. I scoured the bushes, my neighbor’s bushes, looking here, there, everywhere. Trying not to panic, I walked quickly back to the house.
“Honey, I am going to the store. Someone took our paper.”
My two friends, who were now awake, offered to come with me. They craved those freshly made donuts next to the convenience store. So we all jumped into the car, Jeff driving and me in the front passenger seat. Men with wheels, men on a mission.
As they waited in line at the donut shop, I scanned the store for the newspaper. Racks and racks but not my beloved Times. Panic ensued as my friends gorged on jelly donuts and crullers.
“Let’s go. I know a couple of other places where we can get it.”
Off we drove, the three amigos in search of my future. One store… nothing. Two stores… nothing. By the fourth store, I had the look of a man on a two-week bender.
As we drove toward home, the base human nature that was dormant deep inside me found the light of day. The devil on my shoulder was poking me with his pitchfork.
“Screw this. I’m taking someone’s paper!”
My friends looked at me and laughed. I was the type of person who overtipped, over-apologized and was overcome if someone was rude to anyone or about anything. I was incapable of grand larceny or even stealing a 100 Grand Bar.
But they hadn’t met the me who was entertaining big bills and a small exit package. I had achieved the American dream of home ownership and if stealing the paper kept the dream alive, so be it.
Not being a smart or habitual thief, I led them back to the two roads that formed the tightly packed circle of my neighborhood. I made one friend the lookout and the other the getaway driver. I was the stealth pickpocket who picked up the paper. The plan was in motion.
As I neared a house only four doors down from mine, I eyed it, the plastic bag glistening in the sunlight. I opened the door slightly as the car slowed to a crawl. Just as I reached my hand over it, the door to my neighbor’s house opened.
“Hit the gas! There’s someone coming.”
Off we sped, leaving my bewildered neighbor in the dust. We obviously had not cased out the joint enough. So away we went, looking for any glimpse of the paper. Just then, at the corner house, I eyed the familiar plastic wrapping. Ordering my friend to slow down, I opened the door, leaned out and swiped it in a matter of seconds.
“Go! Go! Go!”
We took off in a mad rush, fed by a rush of adrenaline as the wind whipped our already thinning hair. We took back what was rightfully mine. Nothing would stop my search for gainful employment.
As I opened the bag eager to reap the goods from my bad behavior, two sections of the Times fell into my lap. No full paper, no classifieds. Dumbfounded, I unfolded the paper and looked at the dates. They were dated from the previous week. What was going on?
Just then, a note fell from the plastic bag.
“Stop stealing our papers. We know who you are!”
I had been caught red-handed but for someone else’s crime. Wrong place, wrong time. My friends roared with laughter, unable to catch their breath. We had been stung by a neighborhood sting. Were we on Candid Camera?
As we drove home, still howling with laughter, NY Times less, jobless, I thought long and hard about my feeble flirting with hard time (okay, minimal time). And I realized… crime doesn’t pay… especially the mortgage.