The other day, I was driving through the Parkway Plaza shopping mall (a Westfield joint) to get to the movie theater, when I passed a spot that had burned itself into my memory about five or six years ago.
It was, let’s say, the Christmas season, and I was driving down the back alley behind the mall, when I saw a huddle of burly cops tackling a guy on the sidewalk behind the JC Penney. Three of El Cajon’s finest pinned the schmo down while a fourth bruiser called it in. Called for what, backup? I don’t know. That poor idiot chewing concrete wasn’t exactly built like a pro football player (speaking of criminals), unless we’re talking about the punter.
The guy was clearly nabbed for shoplifting (which, according to shopping mall operators, is the second most heinous crime in the history of the world, after what Hitler did). I couldn’t tell how far he had run or how long he had been chased, but it ended the way these things inevitably end: the guy was dogmeat.
Not twenty feet away stood a woman, probably dogmeat’s wife or mistress, shopping bags dangling from hands that had risen to cover her quivering mouth. Tears rolled down her cheeks and her body trembled with fear for her man. She looked like a wrecked, heartbroken puppy dog in “beg” position. As shocking as it was to see someone being put down and more or less bagged like a trophy kill, I was far more disturbed by the sight of the woman, powerless to help him or herself, and probably caught between the twin agonies of “Why’d he do it?” and “Please God don’t let them hurt him.”
What could this guy have possibly stolen that was worth this violence? Maybe a pair of Arizona jeans, or something from the Izod collection? No, judging by the universe’s sick sense of humor, it was probably a 14k gold electroplated necklace for the lady in his life. A Christmas tale worthy of Dickens, or maybe O. Henry, if one of them would deign to come back to life and write it.
To quote another writer, Thoreau states in Walden that “thieving and robbery . . . take place only in societies where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.” I think Thoreau’s blunt idealism may be a bit much, but I do see his point.
Whatever it was that this man so desperately needed or wanted, I can’t help but think that it might not have seemed so important if only there were more things going right in his life.