The very first day I began working at the retail store, a group of shoplifters helped themselves to quite a bit of merchandise. I had forgotten to lock the doors and they entered and grabbed as much stuff as they could. I was at the other store when I heard a ruckus outside. I ran to the door and saw four young men running down the street, arms filled with cheap panties, over sized bras; I mean the street looked like the poor man’s Victoria Secret was having an auction. The off-duty policeman that worked with us was in hot pursuit. The store owner, a short arrogant sort, his short legs churning like a propeller, screamed profanities as he gave chase. The four young men ran past me, balancing boxes in their arms. Panties, pants, shoes and shirts fell to the streets. The owner stopped picking up his merchandise as he yelled at me to join the chase.
So here I was, running down a strange street in the middle of the ghetto, wondering what the hell I was doing. Now understand, there were no ghettos on my island, hell, there were no real bad areas. All I had on my mind were the horror stories about gang fights and murders. You can thank Hollywood for me expecting to be attacked by gangs. We got to the projects and the young men scattered in all directions. The off-duty cop yelled at me, commanding that I go after the two young men who turned right down a narrow street. I ran after them, but they disappeared into an abandoned building. I looked at the dilapidated structure, black holes where doors and windows once were, hollow reminders of lives long past. A dirty-looking man stumbled out of the main entrance, disturbed by the commotion. He was eating what looked like a sandwich. He looked at me like he saw a ghost. His mouth opened, food dropped out of his mouth and he pointed in the direction the young men went. I stopped. There was no way in hell I was going into that bloody place. I turned around just as the cop pulled out his revolver and disappeared into the projects. For a second, I thought about following, but I changed my mind. Not only did he have his service revolver, but he also had another gun stuck in his waistband. Now would it have killed him to share? I walked back to the main street just as the store owner ran up, all out of breath. “You got them?” he asked. I shook my head.
“Where did they go?” I pointed to the abandoned building,
“Well go get them!” I looked at him, shook my head and brushed past him. That man was crazy if he thought my big ass would go into that place.
There was one thing I noticed about The Melting Pot City: shoplifters were different from The Wild and Wonderful City shoplifters. When they got caught, they would destroy the loot instead of giving it back. I was standing at the door of the store when a fat lady ran out of the store next to mine. She was jingling and tingling. Small pots and pans fell out from between her legs. The woman looked like she was giving birth to cookware. Three burly men were in hot pursuit. To tell you the truth, they looked like cartoon characters. The Road Runner theme song resonated in my head. When they caught up with her, they proceeded to beat the hell out of her. Lotion, soap, perfume: you name it, it fell out of her dress. I mean, where the hell was she holding all that stuff? As I stood, astonished, the woman started stomping on the items. You should have seen the malicious look on her face. It seemed more like a political statement than shoplifting. At the time, rap music was more lyrically conscious. People felt they had to do something to make change. If they were not going to get their piece of the pie, then no one will. People without power will do anything to better their situation. It is not greed that drives poor people – it’s need.
Anyway, if any of the men got any of the items from her, she would grab it and destroy it. In The Wild and Wonderful City, they just gave the bloody items back. I had never seen anyone shoplift on the island. I don’t know if they were too afraid or just honest, but for the sake of humankind, I hope it was honesty.