Five Finger Discounts with Cool Jim
Making sure the handcuffs were felt, he paraded me, his bounty, around the shopping centre like the mighty Achilles dragging Hector’s corpse. He dragged me for two laps – for added insult and embarrassment – past disapproving mothers whispering cautionary discipline into children’s ears, proud teenagers saluting their lost brother and self-righteous shop attendants celebrating the law’s divinity. Silent and weeping, I thought back to the short and narrow path that had taken me from unassuming hobo to criminal scourge.
When I landed in Vancouver and the customs official grilled me for only having $6000 in my bank account and no preordained employment, saying, “You won’t last long here bud!” I scoffed. When I had phoned every ski hill in BC, in Alberta, in Ontario and was repeatedly denied work, December being too late, I went out bendering and stepped up my coke usage. When in the town of Kelowna I applied at every Starbucks, Wendy’s, Boston Pizza, Safeway and fucking Ma and Pa shithole and got told no, no, no, I wrapped myself in my remaining 1500 bucks and felt safe and content.
When I got back to Vancouver after two months of coke, cider, snowboarding, Fireball, wings, burgers, strippers and gambling and only had five hundred dollars, no job prospects, and a diligent landlord who lived upstairs, I started to wonder, Maybe I fucked up, and maybe that fat customs prick was god.
Luckily, I lived with a rad dude I’d met in a hostel called Cool Jim, also unemployed, who had learned some neat tricks from his hapless hometown in Central Coast that he was eager to impart. As far as I know, Cool Jim has never walked out of a Seven Eleven empty-handed. Whether it be gum, a Snickers bar, a bottle of coke, a fucking nail file that he throws out as soon as we leave, it never mattered, his compulsion to steal was indiscriminate and relentless.
Me? I was a white, middle-classed suburban wuss whose heart raced whenever he left the toilet seat up or ate the last cookie from the pack. Cool Jim taught me it all: just wear a jacket with heaps of pockets, affect confidence, walk around and put whatever you want in your pockets – it was usually best to buy something on the way out to quell suspicion and for slight moral redemption.
Cool Jim was a demigod of petty theft. His unwavering confidence, relentless optimism and short-sighted ignorance sedated all the fear, precaution and inhibition of my former self. I watched intently, listened keenly, learned kinetically and picked it up with ease. Within a week ,I was stuffing clocks the size of large pizzas (Canadian style) down my pants, then flashing a smile at the cashier on my way out.
Each morning Cool Jim and I would sit down to a breakfast of Mi Goreng in our tiny one-bedroom flat and compile the days’ stealing wish list. Cheese, batteries, maps, Nintendo games, condoms, cold and flu tablets, salami, whatever we wanted we got, no item was too big, too heavy, too dangerous. I remember walking into a quaint toiletry shop, the only customer, five metres from the attendant, and pocketing luxury shampoos, conditioners and scented soaps without a flinch.
We felt unstoppable, invincible, invisible. Here we were in a city of six million suckers, and we were the only ones with access to the secret: the sensual, sanctimonious, sardonic secret of free shopping, of subversive consumerism, of complete decadent masturbation.
It wasn’t long before our pockets felt shallow and we decided to step it up, taking empty grocery bags in the front door and carrying full ones out. We got stung the first time we tried.
We walked into a Canadian Superstore, grabbed a trolley like always and started ticking items off our steal list. While munching on stolen bagels, we laughed at the other shoppers all scrabbling over each other, vying for dodgy specials or the stale, discounted bread. Once finished, we then found a secluded aisle hidden from security cameras, filled up our shopping bags and headed for the front door. Cool Jim pretended to be on his phone as we walked out. I still don’t understand why but at the time it seemed like a pretty smooth move.
After making it 10 metres, delighted with fortuity, I felt a large palm on my shoulder. Some lump behind me, fresh out of puberty, was asking for our receipt. As he escorted us back to the store, I suggested to Cool Jim that we run. He agreed and I started the countdown. I made calculations as I went: Three… only 50 metres to the exit. Two… the security guard is about four metres behind. One… I think I’m faster than Cool Jim… Runn!
I dropped the bags and began sprinting and the adrenaline surged through me for two glorious steps, then I tripped and was tackled to the ground by a plainclothes security guard. I struggled and screamed as he wrestled me to the floor. I watched incredulously as an upsidedown view of Cool Jim ran along the roof, crashed through the sliding doors and flew out into the infinite blue sky. This was why I didn’t steal.
They threw me in a tiny cell with graffiti-soaked walls, locked the door and left me alone with my thoughts. My first idea was to stash my ID in my shoe – I took out my wallet, emptied the contents into the sole and then replaced the shoe – at least my identity was saved. The door crashed open and in charged my two captors.
Both tanned and muscled, they were late teens or man-children, clean shaven and with that look on their faces that’s moulded for intimidation. They handed me a form and asked me for my ID. I said I had none; they laughed at each other and then pulled off my shoe, scattering its contents on the floor. It was then I noticed the CCTV camera in the top right corner of the room.
The taller of the guards snatched back the form and started filling it out while the shorter, stockier one began the questioning. ‘‘So what’s your friend’s name?’’
‘‘Umm… I don’t know’’ I stuttered, now feeling a little scared.
“That’s bullshit. You tell me his name or we won’t let you go.”
The prospect of indefinite incarceration reminded me that I had to pick up two of my Australian friends from the airport in three hours, thus arousing my diplomacy.
“So where did you meet him?” he antagonised.
“Well, I work with him” I confessed, even though I didn’t.
“Where do you work then?”
“Oh, I was lying, I’m just nervous, I don’t know him”
“Who the fuck is he? You’re trying to tell me you don’t even know his name?”
“No… I dunno” I stuttered.
The interrogation spun round and round, the guard would probe, practicing new techniques he learnt in his How to be a Police Officer book that I’m sure he whipped off into, while I invented lie after lie: “I don’t know him, I met him in a bar, his name is George,’’ then backtracked, apologised, and spun with them in the whirlpool of my confusion.
After half an hour, he was becoming bored, his stamina deteriorating. I took advantage of his passivity and asked if I could use the toilet. And then with one last thrust of arsehole, he said, “You can only piss when you tell us his name.” Then they both left me alone, me and my swelling bladder.
I was no rat. I’d seen enough mafia movies to pretend that I was too cool to dog someone out. I started reading the graffiti on the walls to distract me from needing to piss. Apart from all the dicks drawings and mispelled FARKS and PUCSIES, there was one poem that stood out.
They steal your time, they steal your money They stole the cunt right out of your mummy Then you come here and take for dinner They lock you away and call you a sinner
It was obvious that I was the first literate person ever to be caught in this Canadian Superstore. My thoughts of equality were interrupted as the words blurred. A swell of urine claimed my attention as it pushed against the inner walls of my bladder. I stomped on the ground, chewed my tongue, keeled over in pain. Nothing can distract you from the feeling of an organ inflating beyond its confines. It was torture – this was inhumane. I rose enraged, I needed to get out, I slammed my urine filled fists and shins and head and legs against the cells’ walls and yelled indignant protests like, “This is against my rights, it’s inhumane, let me out!”
After about five minutes, I had gotten their attention and they barged in and pushed me to the floor. The stockier security guard told me to shut the fuck up and motioned with his elbow smashing his palm what would happen to my face if I kept up the raucous. I laughed at him and pointed to the camera, my mechanical witness. He told me he’d just turn it off. I said touché.
Alone again, the piss was too much to bear. I knew if I just started spraying my cell I’d go down for pissing in public. Finally they entered again, somehow defeated, or suddenly aware of the illegality of their actions and directed me to the urinal. This release needs no explicit description – most have felt the divinity of peeing when held for much too long.
While I shuddered on the last few drops, I noticed I could smell weed. So I spent my few minutes alone searching my pockets, making sure I was clean. Empty. It must be my jumper I thought. Satisfied with my innocence I slinked back to my cell.
So the deal was if I gave up Cool Jim they would call the cops and fast track the process, but if I held out they would keep me indefinitely. At this stage I was indifferent, I’d missed Red Jesus and Turner at the airport, I’d sat alone for three hours, gotten bullied by high school kids, I’d seen two other offenders come and go, I’d made paper cup towers, read every inch of graffiti on the walls and had the best pee of my life – I could wait.
After four hours, a cop entered the lonely room, told me to stand up and slapped on the handcuffs. He had seen the surveillance tape of me chucking a tantrum and wasn’t impressed. He told me to apologise to the meatheads. I refused, pleading my case of maltreatment, of how they wouldn’t let me pee, but he didn’t give a fuck, he just got angrier the longer I challenged his authority. So I gave in and apologised to the smirking fucks.
He searched my pockets, pulling out my wallet, some loose change and a pack of smokes. Of course, within seconds, he had found the origin of the weed scent: the doobie in the pack of cigs I’d forgotten. Fucking Cool Jim’s doobie in the pack that I’d forgotten, actually. I tried to reason with the cop, blaming the doob on the random nameless dude I’d met that day in a bar who had tricked me into going stealing with him.
I laughed at the absurdity of my case as I spoke.
So he dragged me around the shopping centre behind his moral chariot, shoved me into his cop car and drove me to the station. At the station he tried to bargain with me, offering to put the doobie in the bin if I gave up Cool Jim. I continued my lies and he put it in the bin anyway. Later I found out that in Canada you are legally allowed to hold an eighth and that he was just manipulating me, like the security guards, all to nab Cool Jim.
I got fingerprinted, they cut off my Glastonbury wristband, fed me a pie, asked me if I had taken any drugs because my pupils were huge from fear. I sat for an hour in a cramped cell, shutting out manic, echoing yells from my cells mates that I could not see, thinking about not stealing, realising that consequence is an inherent part of action. They then ushered me out into the cold night and told me where to catch the bus home. It took an hour and a half to get home, it would have been shorter but I stopped to pick up 8Ls of cider.
When I got back Red Jesus, Turner and Cool Jim were waiting for me. I sat down, sculled two cups of cider and told them what I have just told you.