Thankfully it turned out not to be a crime at all and that someone I assisted was my elderly father, but nonetheless it was an experience that I do not ever wish to repeat.
It started a couple weeks back when I was visiting my parents at their place. Everything seemed average enough, when suddenly Dad's good friend, the annoying 'Old Pete' dropped by for a visit and Dad and him quickly disappeared out to the garage.
Mom chuckled a bit as she exclaimed "I wonder what those two old schemers are up to? Whenever they disappear into the garage for privacy, I know they are up to something."
I thought it was the perfect time for me to leave as Dad was now busy doing whatever he does and Mom was tidying up & going about her housework, however I suddenly heard my father call to me to join them in the garage.
When I got back there, both Pete and my Dad were sitting in the garage having a beer. They both looked extremely guilty, almost more like school kids then two older gentlemen in their seventies.
"Boy, we need your help this afternoon in 'straightening out' a little situation we encountered down at the convenience store yesterday." Dad began. "I am mad as Hell at those two crooks that run that store, I can barely think straight. I've shopped at that store for years faithfully and this is how I am treated."
Dad of course was talking about our neighbourhood corner grocery store, which has been run by two brothers from Pakistan, Abdul and Jameel, for at least 30 years or so. These two easy-going brothers must now also be rather old, probably in their sixties, so I could not figure what they possibly could do to upset my father to such a degree.
"But what happened Dad?" I ask, rather curious.
"Well as you know I take a walk down there with the dog almost everyday to pickup the odd thing." Dad responded, sounding agitated. "A faithful a customer as they will ever have. Those two 'so & so's' should kiss my feet for all the business I have given them over the years. And believe you me, their prices are rather steep. No bargains to be found there!"
"So I was in the store yesterday and picked up the newspaper, a loaf of brown bread and some of those hard green candies, you know the ones I like but are so hard to find." Dad continued, seemingly dragging out this incredibly boring story as long as possible.
"Yes, Yes" I responded impatiently. "Then what?"
"Well the total came to $5.07." Dad continued. "Not wanting to break a ten, I placed a five dollar bill on the counter and took seven pennies out of the 'customer penny tray' on the counter. You know the little one that says 'put a penny - take a penny'. Well I couldn't believe it, that old swindler Jameel refused to serve me and actually said I was abusing the system by taking out so many pennies. He told me this tray was meant for 1 or 2 pennies only to use and I needed to pay him the difference."
I just stood there listening to this extremely improbable story thinking to myself 'No one but my father could have such a ridiculous experience.'
"So Dad did you just give him a nickel and be done with it?" I asked hesitantly, already knowing the answer to my question.
"Hell No!" Dad replied bitterly. "I told that Jameel, and in no uncertain terms, that this was all he was getting and if he didn't like it he could put it 'where the sun don't shine'.
After that I left. I have put more pennies in that tray over the years than I care to think about. Probably over $20.00 in total I'd wager, and now they treat me like a common street beggar looking for a handout. It's shameful."
"Wacky Paki's!" Old Pete suddenly yelled out, startling both Dad and myself by his outburst. "Treating you like that Simon, it's disgraceful. We'll show them people who they're dealing with."
I tried to ignore Pete's overzealous and racist remarks, however I knew that if I left now that these two elderly delinquents would turn this minor misunderstanding into a huge issue with undoubtedly catastrophic results. Calmer heads needed to prevail here and unfortunately I was the only one present with one.
"So what do you need my help for?" I asked, somewhat nervously. "Do you want me to run down to the store and get the stuff for you?"
"Don't be ridiculous, boy." Dad snapped. "We need to teach these two 'shysters' a lesson. I am going down there and taking the $20.00 worth of pennies I left over the years out in stock and you are going to help me. I need you to distract them while I take back what's rightfully mine."
"What!" I cried. "Are you insane? You are going to get even by stealing off them. That's crazy, what do you need me for. You have Pete here to help you out in your scheme."
"Unfortunately not, I wish I did." Dad responded. "Poor old Pete here is banned from the store and is not allowed in. He got mad at the high price on apples last week and called Jameel & Abdul 'Ali Baba & one of the forty thieves'. They seemed to take offence to his offhanded remark and refused to serve him.
I just stood before these two old guys, both silent & dumbfounded. These are the tricks and situations young teenagers get themselves into and not two retirees. I guess Mom was right when she said 'Boys will be Boys, no matter how old'. I just hoped that I would not be this crazy & unreasonable when I get to be there age.
"All I am asking you to do is go into the store and get their attention for a moment. Distract them." Dad continued. "There is nothing wrong with that, I'm doing all the real work. Your 'goody two-shoes' conscience will be clean in all this."
"But Dad" I began to plead. "Why don't you just stop going there. The loss of your business will be enough punishment for them. Why do you need to get even?"
"Are you daft boy?" Dad responded angrily. "Do you think I'm driving half way across town to buy a litre of milk with the price of gas these days? No, teach these two a lesson in morality and then we are all 'Even Steven'. They are using that customer penny tray as their own personal tip jar and I am not going to stand for it. They chose the wrong man to pick on this time! Anyway, it's not about the money it's the principle here."
I think I was the only person in the garage that could see the irony in teaching someone a lesson in morality by stealing from them. I knew that in mentioning this little fact aloud would only turn Dad's rage from the two brothers onto me. I also realized that whenever anyone, and this includes my father, uses the line 'it's not the money but the principle' it usually always IS about the money.
So after another round of beers from my fathers garage bar fridge, the 'master plan' that he and old Pete had hatched was essentially for me to go into the store and ask about some product or another so either Abdul or Jameel (whoever was on duty) would leave the counter unattended & Dad would take something worth $20.00. If both brothers were working, the plan would be called off for another time. Pete was the driver and was to stay in the vehicle as a lookout. (What he was meant to be looking out for was never asked nor explained. I felt the less questions I asked at this stage the better)
We arrived at the store and I nervously walked in and immediately noticed that only Abdul was working this afternoon. He gave me a friendly nod and I headed to the back of the store. Not being an experienced thief or knowing really what to even do, I yelled out to Abdul asking where they kept the 'Bounce fabric softener'.
My nerves began to get the best of me and I began to sweat profusely from this idiotic plan of Dad's. I nearly jumped a foot in the air when Abdul suddenly reappeared with the box of Bounce in his hand. His cat-like quickness for customer service surprised me & caught me off guard.
"Oh sorry" I quickly and nervously said. "I meant two boxes. Two big boxes of fabric softener sheets. Lots of laundry to do at my place, HAHA!"
Abdul eyed me up and down rather suspiciously for a moment, but did not say a word. He then once again disappeared into the back room just as I noticed my father exiting the store. The dirty deed was done, thank God!
Abdul again returned from the back with two boxes in his hands and we both headed to the cashier where I forked over $22.00 for the items. With that I quickly headed back to the car, still sweating from my duties.
"Picture perfect, Son!" Dad called out to me happily. "You did great. You looked a wee nervous and namby-pamby but nonetheless, we pulled it off. Those two old scammers will learn their lesson this time for sure. You don't treat long time customers as they treated me without paying the price."
"Did you get your $20.00 in goods?" I asked, undoubtedly sounding disgusted by this whole dirty event.
"I sure did, boy" Dad replied, still sounding giddy. "But remember, this was not about the money - it is the principle. Treating people like that, it's unforgivable. Now look what I got."
With that Dad handed me a bag full of about 15 tins of cat food.
"But you don't own a cat." I responded, pointing out the bloody obvious. But this little annoyance did not seem to sour my fathers good mood one bit. Evidently 'the principle' that my father talks about so frequently involves stolen cat food.
"Ok, Pete" Dad suddenly announced. "Let's all head down to the Legion and have a couple of celebratory pints to mark the occasion. Mission Accomplished!"
"Drop me off back at the house" I quickly interjected. "I am not really in the mood to celebrate right now."
In actuality the whole incident, as foolish as it was, kind of made me feel dirty because I was involved in it. Also, I am a little sad to say, it made me lose some respect for my father who I have always looked up to as a strong influence for doing the right things in life. Now he seems to be nothing more than an old petty thief. That or some form of dementia has set in. Either way it was not a time for celebration in my mind anyway.
Pete dropped me off at my parents place and I took the bags into the house and dropped them on the kitchen table. I then plopped myself dejectedly into a chair.
My Mother who was just preparing dinner, came over and sat down beside me. I handed her the bag of Bounce Fabric softener sheets.
"Is this a gift for me, dear?" Mom asked before opening the bag. "Whatever is the occasion for this lovely surprise?"
She then pulled out the two boxes and looked at me, rather puzzled. "You bought me fabric softener!" Mom exclaimed cautiously. "I hope this isn't a hint you want me to start doing your laundry again. You're a bit old for that, don't you think?"
"No, No" I reassured her. "Just a couple of extra boxes I had lying around is all."
Mom stared at me for a moment in silence. I could tell she knew that something was weighing heavily on my mind. She always was able to read me pretty easily.
"So what is troubling you so deeply?" Mom finally questioned. "I know something is wrong and also it probably involves your father and Pete since the last I saw of you, the
three of you were out in the garage."
"It's this." I responded, placing the bag of 15 tins of cat food on the kitchen table. "Dad got this from the convenience store today. I am a little worried about him."
Mom looked at the stack of tins sitting on the table and suddenly just smiled. She then started to laugh aloud and asked "Is your father fighting again with old Jameel and Abdul?"
"what? Yes!" I responded, sounding astonished at her statement. "But how could you know?"
Mom continued to smile and just shook her head. "Well Son, first off we don't own a cat. And second, your father did the exact same thing last January when he got into an argument with Jameel over the price of dog food. That time he thought Jameel short-changed him so he took a half dozen packages of brown shoelaces. Your father doesn't even own brown shoes."
"But Mom" I interrupted. "As humorous and insignificant as this all may sound, it is still a theft. How can you condone it? Dad is possibly a kleptomaniac or perhaps worse, going senile."
"You didn't let me finish." Mom responded calmly. "The next day your father went down to the store and returned the shoelaces. He and those two brothers have been good friends for nearly thirty years. They and their wives have been over here for dinner on many occasions and we have been guests in their homes. Your father is sometimes impulsive and hotheaded at times, but he is not a thief."
"As silly as it sounds, he is trying to make his point and sometimes he goes a little overboard in doing so. It's a 'one-upmanship' game between the three of them and as misguided as it sounds to us, they always work things out. That's what friends do. He takes something and returns it almost right away. And then preaches to them for weeks afterwards on customer service and 'how lucky' they are to have his business."
I sat there looking confused and stunned at this entire story. It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard, even more so because of the age of all the participants involved.
"You mean all this secrecy and sneaking around is just some foolish game between all of them?" I asked, the anger beginning to rise in my voice. "I spent $22.00 on junk so he could take $20.00 in useless cat food and then return it the next day?"
Mom quickly calmed me down by simply responding "Boys will be Boys, no matter how old."
The following Sunday when I was over at my parents place I thought I would just follow up on this little 'incident' and casually asked my father about this cat food.
"Oh those tins" Dad began to snicker. "Gave them back to those old buggers yesterday. They actually were pretty amazed at my ingenuity at getting these from them as they pride themselves on their security. HAHA! I showed them. But next time they won't get away so lucky, thinking I want a few tins of dirty old cat food. Not worth the time nor effort I put into it. But they learned their lesson, all right."
Mom then suddenly called over to my Dad "Simon, would you mind running down to the convenience store. I've run out of potatoes and I am in the middle of preparing dinner."
Before my father could respond, I quickly volunteered to go and added "You relax Dad and let me go. It will be safer and cheaper in the long run, I am guessing. Anyway, we sure don't need any more lessons in 'morality and principles' this week."