Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains:
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Order / Hierarchy versus Conviviality Stories / Jail /
One thing about jail, you get to meet people your church, your family, your neighborhood, even the media, are designed to keep away from you. Jesus, Gandhi, rubs shoulders with pickpockets, with rapists; I got a view of shoplifting I never would have had without the fell hypocrisy of my war machine society.
First, Gun Club Road, Palm Beach, old mans dorm, accused murderers (several), suspected terrorists (one at least, namely me) … pacifists, free-speakers (me further), all rolled together. Pleasures were purged, but not with 100% success: one guy, one-time Nets player, one-time Vegas poker pro, Murray I think his name was, had managed to assemble a chess set: some pieces were plastic, had come with a packaged set, some pieces were toilet paper twisted into the six necessary shapes, the “black” toilet-paper pieces made black by being dipped in coffee, the board a pathetic thing of shredded cardboard — but useable as a board! Outside, over years coming up on seventy, I’d found few opponents — I’d win, I’d win again, they wouldn’t want to play me any more! (I remember Bobby Fisher, not even in puberty, going from club to NY club disguised in a dirty trench coat, hair in his face, “You wanna play for a quarter?” no takers, “Ged outta here Bobby, we see it’s you.”) Finally I encountered a chess computer (a Morphy, owned by Shelby Lyman!) and I played and played, but seldom against humans. (Shelby’s wife scared the bejesus out of me, but as it turned out I beat her too, slightly more than half the time.) Now here, aged sixty-eight, a captive among captives, I found more games than I could digest.
Other jails then didn’t disallow chess: Miami, Talahassee, Jesup … everybody had a chess board. The level was amazingly high, guy after guy, an astonishing number of black guys (who looked stupid as paint in every other way!) would play at close to a 1600 rank (or around 1650: about where I played). (I presume I’d have played higher if I’d allowed the computer another couple of IQ points: but I played to win, easily, I wanted to destroy the computer, game after game, within a few minutes: you can become a whiz, but not a master that way: nowhere near a grand master. So: anybody 1700, 1750 could clobber me, and destroy all but one or two of the blacks! could clobber Murray, whose set we were borrowing.
And that was Bruce. Bruce was only in for a few weeks: shoplifting. It was his fifty-fifth or so time for shoplifting: cost of doing business. Bruce beat all of us. I think I played him a dozen times before I finally won one: and I saw he wasn’t going to be there long enough for me to improve my percentage against him anywhere near 50%. He saw that I was clever, but inexperienced (however much older). (The other guy who had a winning record against me was Felipe, a Cuban/Florida gun runner. The Hispanics would crowd around, cheering me, ignoring Felipe. If I went forty moves they regarded a loss as a win! “I don’t get it,” I admitted. They explained: when you play Felipe, you’re playing six different guys, all chess brilliant: Felipe has multiple personalities!) (For all I know Jesus, in his few hours in jail, could have met another guy who could cure the blind or raise the dead: no Temple, no Caesar wants such running around loose: scabs, outside the union: not under their thumb.)
Ah, that’s what I get for not telling my chess stories yet: they belong elsewhere, in jail stories, but not this one. To Bruce:
I play Bruce, I love playing Bruce, I love getting worthily beat up. Bruce says he only plays in jail, but he’s in jail a lot. One day Bruce and I are recovering from a rough game and some guy comes up, says he’s Slick, a shoplifter, has to introduce himself to Bruce. Well, these two, face on face, plugged themselves into each other, and the rest of the world disappeared. Mumble, mumble. I heard some of what they beamed to each other, but understood near none of it. One time when they paused for a morsel of air, I said to Slick, who seemed to be the alpha shoplifter between them, “Excuse me, I can see how anybody could shoplift: the cigarettes are right there by the cash register, sweep a pack into your shirt when the clerk’s attention is averted … boost the steak, the candy bar … But how could anyone possibly make a living at it?” (I’d just met a man fifty or so who’d tried to steal a stack of CDs from a WalMart, and the guard had stomped him! (he was suing! didn’t say he was innocent, said he shouldn’t have been stomped so badly)” maybe he could sell the CDs and buy a drink, two drinks; but how could he pay the rent? send kids to school with lunch money? (let alone to college with tuition?)
I post this to repeat Slick’s amazing answer:
Slick said he invents a scenario, rehearses, polishes. Then he only exercises this personally authored scam occasinally, isn’t greedy, designs a scam to make him like $700 in an hour, that’s all he needed weekly to live comfortably in 2006.
Bruce was as rapt a listener as I.
One of Slicks’ scams for instance targets Publix. Publix is a chain of supermarkets, they’re plentiful in south Florida. He can employ this scam in Fort Lauderdale in January, in Boca Raton in Februrary, in West Palm in March … without getting Publix united against him, so Miami Beach will be safe for him in April. He has other scams, also polished, that have nothing to do with Publix. He can live a good life in south Florida till he’s old: all he has to do is put in fifty or seventy jail stints, the sentence never being longer than a few weeks: there are no five-time-losers for shoplifting.
(By the way, I went to a Publix in Sebring, in 2007 or so, and told them this story: sorry, Slick. Between Publix and Slick, I love Slick; but I don’t love theft, even against corporations, anarchist though I am: not even against Publix!)
Slick drives to “work”, early in the morning, 7:30 or so AM, parks way in the back of the lot, under a tree that will shade the van through mid morning. Slick enters the Publix by the doors on the store front’s right, takes a cart, goes to the rear, goes to the beef where filet mignon in 2006 was selling for $25 / LB. He fills the cart: $900 or so worth of beef. He wheels the cart toward the front using aisles he’s scouted other Publix to be traffic free at that hour. Up front he enters the Greeting Card section, generally empty at 7:40 in the morning. It’s a special maze, the aisles narrow, twisted. Slick rolls his cart into the maze and leaves it. Someone browsing for cards can walk around it: they may be annoyed but not enough to holler: and no employee is likely to stumble on it or to say, “What the …?”
Slick slips silently, inconspicuously, out of Publix, using the same front “left” doors. He walks to his van. He smokes a cigarette, changes his shirt, dons empty eyeglass frames, puts on a funny hat. Slick enters the Publix through the front left doors. The new stores are architecturally similar: the Customer Service area is there, on the left. He asks the pleasant young woman at the counter if he might hope for some big empty cartons, he’s moving. She says, “Sure. Go all the way in the back, on this side. Don’t go through the swing doors, but poke your head in, and ask. They’ll probably have something for you. “Oh, great, thank you,” he chortles, and takes a rolling shopping cart, proceeds to the back.
Sure enough, in minutes he has the cart stacked with empty carboard cartons of all sizes. He’s got the biggest ones on the bottom, the teeniest one’s bouncing around way atop the stack.
“Thank you, thank you,” he calls, tapping the cartons affectionately: anyone can hear: they’re empty! But part way back across the store he drifts leftward. He stops waving and calling. He steers the cart loaded with empty cartons to the front left of the store: the Greeting Card section. It’s still early, say 8:00, 8:15 … There are his steaks, here is his privacy. Slick empties the carton cart down to the biggest empty on the bottom. He packs it with filet, $25 / LB. He adds the next box. He’s practiced this, he knows just how much steak will stack how high. Now the cart is enormously heavy: but Slick adds a couple of tiny bouncing empty boxes on top, jiggling around, conspicuously weightless.
Slick leaves not a scrap behind among the greeting cards. He exits Publix by the front left doors, calling, waving. “Thank you, thank you,” he waves.
Slick loads his van, takes the scrap cardboard too, drives off into the Florida morning. He’s checked the weather report, it’s not raining, it’s not the rainy season, it’s not that time of day. Slick drives the van to another parking lot, for another mall, not a Publix mall. In the back, by a shade tree, a line of cars is waiting for him: all women, Indian mostly, or Pakistani I guess. They’re there with cash: to buy $25 / LB filet mignon at $20 / LB. In minutes they’ve bought every scrap he had. He’s got his $700, $750 … He goes home, he goes to his pool, his girl makes him a drink …
Slick was a very happy man, very proud of himself. He didn’t need CBS to applaud him; his girl applauded him, his Pakistanis applauded him.
And Publix just raises all their prices until the soup I can buy in WalMart for $150 is marked at Publix as $2.48.
But you know the girl at Publix Customer Service counter really is pleasant; the creatures around WalMart really are not.
If I lived in a society in which it had been possible for me to make a living, if I had been paid even $100 a week for having offered social salvation through a low tech internet in 1970, even had I just remained a college English instructor at their college minimum wage, for ever, I’d still deliberately pay more at Publix. As is, I spend my food stamps at WalMart, and at Aldis.
Whoa! I just realized: I told this story without remembering that I’d already prepared a version of it, queued in my jail stories folder. I read in that draft here, will edit, merge, later:
Shoplifters Apprentice: Jail as School for Crooks
What idea is more clichéd than the idea that petty criminals go to jail and there learn to be professional criminals. The clumsy misdemeanor matures into a master felon.
The BoP sorts different sorts, perhaps partially in an attempt to prevent the cliché from fulfilling itself too thoroughly “on their watch.”
In South8C, the “old man’s” dorm at Gun Club Road, I was thrilled to encounter several of the toughest chess opponents I’d ever played against, Miami had better, and Jesup would prove to have far better, but I had yet to meet them. My own chess got rapidly better in South8C, and in no time Felipé was my only opponent who could beat me nearly half the time, and Felipé beat me more than half the time. That remained true until Bruce arrived. It took Felipé a number of games before he beat Bruce, and took me even more games. I’d been beginning to think that I’d never beat Bruce. Finally I won a couple.
Bruce was in jail for shoplifting. This was his Nth such time. Bruce’s brother was doing a long term in a state jail for some more serious crime. Bruce regarded his times in jail as nothing more than union dues: unpleasant, but part of doing business. Apparently shoplifting is not a felony there’s no three-time-loser-type law. You don’t go to jail never-to-leave after a fourth conviction.
Before Bruce arrived I’d talked with another guy in for shoplifting. He told me what happened: he was in WalMart: he boosted some CD’s, a guard wanted to frisk him, he ran, the guard tackled him. The guy was ecstatic: he was past forty-nine: an old man: they tackled him, he got hurt: and now he was going to sue them! His lawyer would argue that they had a right to search him — if they could catch him, but they had no right to tackle an old thief. See if the jury bought it, even part-way.
OK, so this guy, a very scary guy in many ways, stole some CDs. Did he eat them? What could he sell them for? When I met Bruce I still couldn’t imagine how anyone cold possibly make a living by shoplifting, no matter how modest their habits. In grad school, as told elsewhere, I was friendly with a merchant sailor who routinely lost his sailing papers when ashore, he’d drink and fight till he was stone broke, then he’d live off women till he got his papers back. Then he’d be a good boy at sea, pile up savings, and start the whole thing again. Still not quite fifty, a young WW II veteran, from the Pacific, English navy I think, he was still a good looking bastard, a charming bastard (at first, till you got to know him), and could always pick up a woman to support him within five minutes of walking into a bar. When I found him living across the hall from me in the East Village, 4th Street, just off 2nd, he was living on food shoplifted from the A&P. He stole chickens, steaks, frozen peas … But the stolen peas didn’t pay his rent, or his bar bill. So he had his women: and other hustles I don’t doubt.
I didn’t ask Bruce for details. I needed my breath with him for chess. But then another shoplifter arrived. He and Bruce became instant best pals. The newcomer was only with us for a couple of days (and Bruce only had a couple more beyond that) but I was nonplussed to hear them making shopping plans for when they were out. While in I saw them engrossed in each other: comparing techniques.
I still didn’t get it. I could easily imagine somebody stealing a pack of cigarettes from near the cash register of many a store. I could see how a garment could be stolen by being worn. But how could one make a living? I couldn’t stand it any longer. I intruded into the pair’s meditations. The new comer beamed, very proud of himself, and gave me a far more complete and vivid answer than I would have hoped for:
Make $750 / hour at Publix
I’ve forgotten his name, I’ll call him Ralph (“Slick” in a subsequent draft). Ralph goes into a Publix early in the morning. Understand, I met these guys on Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach. Palm Beach County is where they’re operating. He could shop at a different Publix every week for a long time before he’d have to put in a second appearance at any one. Ralph goes to the meat department. Ralph ignores everything but the most expensive meat: filet mignon, $25/LB. Ralph loads his cart bottom to top with filet mignon. Within minutes the cart is brimming He’s got nearly a thousand dollars worth of beef.
Ralph pushes his loaded beef cart toward the front-right side of the store where Publix displays greeting cards. Most of the store is set up as long aisles, packed with cans, bottles, boxes … But here there’s a little maze of display racks: paper backs, magazines, greeting cards, maybe some wreathes, or cut flowers with ribbon. Ralph knows that this card section will not have high traffic early in the morning. He parks his meat deep within the maze … and exits the store. Once at his car, parked way in the back, he relaxes for a few minutes: listens to a tune … He changes his shirt, he changes his hat.
Ralph returns to Publix. He gets an empty cart. He goes to the Customer Service area, waves to people, calls out Hi. He says that he’s moving, he needs empty boxes. Does Publix have any boxes they could spare him? He’s told to check in the back, end of Aisle N. Cheery, saying Hi, Ralph proceeds to the rear. He always gets boxes: all sizes and shapes, all the boxes he could want. He piles the cart with boxes till the pile teeters as he pushes the cart and he has to hold the pile with one arm stretched high.
Ralph wheels the boxes toward the card section. He quickly penetrates toward his first cart. There, in almost guaranteed privacy, he puts a few small boxes aside and breaks the big boxes down into plain flat cardboard. He repacks the now empty cart with cardboard, filet, cardboard, more filet, like a lasagna, making the cardboard look like they’re stacked boxes. His masterpiece is complete when he balances the few small empty boxes so they teeter on top.
He pushes, then abandons, the empty cart, anywhere but near the greeting card area. Now he wheels his loaded cart toward the exit. As he leaves, he smiles, a friendly, grateful guy, waving, and calling, “Thank you, thanks again.”
Back at his car he loads the filet mignon for travel and drives to his usual plaza parking lot, where, parking again toward the back, he finds his regular crowd of customers, Indian women, all queued up to buy “his” Publix filet mignon for cash, 20% off. Say he boosted $1,000 of beef, an hour later he has $800 cash!
Ralph said that the shoplifting was usually accomplished swiftly and that the selling was well complete by the end of the morning, netting him $700, $800. He worked one morning per week, income-tax free of course. On occasion he might itch to steal again within one week, but in such cases he drew upon his reserve of other scams. By the time he left South8C I bet Bruce knew some of his other devices, and I don’t doubt that Ralph had heard some of Bruce’s. I only heard the one, that one time.
And now I speculate: Are his Indian women feeding filet to their families and paying $20/LB? Or do they resell the meat? I can picture at least one or two of the women having their own little plaza to park in where their own little circle of customers wait, ready to buy $25 filet at 10% off.
In October and November of 2006 I severely disapproved of Bruce and of Ralph, however much I enjoyed both their company. Now, having been arrested in violation of the Constitution, given a monkey trial in which no truth was allowed that didn’t fit the fed’s Disney view of reality, having been subjected to the FedBoP when what I’d demanded was justice from NYU and from the society, I don’t believe in Publix or the United States. I don’t believe in any of our laws. I don’t believe Bruce and Ralph are any worse than Bush, or the guard, or the lawyer, or the cop, or the FBI … And I know one thing: Ralph really loved what he did. Ralph was genuinely proud of his little skit.
2016 07 30 http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/07/29/3-walmart-employees-charged-with-manslaughter-in-death-shoplifter.html
The shoplifters I met and report on above regarded shoplifting as a fairly safe livelihood, trips to jail were regular but temporary. But be warned: this story tells of 3 Walmart employees tackling the shoplifter and holding him down in which process the guy got asphyxiated. He also could have just slipped in the parking lot.