Whoops


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I'm either lucky or lying.

I went to the convenience store to pick up a prescription. At the pharmacy counter the pharmacist inspected the computer screen with a furrowed brow and told me that the prescription had already been refilled last month at another location and had already been picked up.

How could this be? I wondered aloud. There were no refills available for it last month, and I certainly hadn’t picked it up- here or at any other location.

The pharmacist dialed the number the other location where the system showed the refill taking place. Over the speakerphone a recorded message recited the address of a convenience store near campus which I wrote down on a scrap of paper and headed out of the store taking the pharmacists furrowed brow with me.

It wasn’t until I got into the van and threw down my wallet on the center console in order to call the other location that I realized that I’d just casually shoplifted a tube of mascara.

It pulled me up short for a moment because it was so completely unintentional. My first reaction was: did I just do that? My second reaction was: wow, that was easy. I was a little bit embarrassed that I’d been so distracted, and then I was just a tiny bit gleeful at having gotten away with it: it was the kind of thing that I never did as a teenager and it felt like some warped, belated rite of passage. (Admittedly I did steal a pack of gum at age five but didn’t even make it across the parking lot before getting busted by Mom and marched back inside to return it).

For a minute I considered just keeping it. Who would notice? Who would care? It would be my one stolen prize. But even as I thought of that, I knew that I was going to go back inside and pay for it. It wasn’t a decision that I even gave much thought to: it was just what I was going to do.

So I made my phone call and straightened out the business of my prescription ( it was my current prescription, just sent to the wrong location) and then I got back out of the van and went back inside.

The cashier greeted me as I came in the door. I went over to him and put the mascara on the counter.

“Returning?” he asked.

“No,” I admitted, “I was distracted as I walked out the door and I forgot to pay for it.”

“Wow,” he said as he rang it up. “Honest.”

Thinking back on the situation later I found myself wondering whether it was honesty that compelled me to return it or something else. Who am I to proclaim myself to be of such sterling integrity that I would never stoop to petty shoplifting? Was honesty really such a strong value to me that I was building my personality on it? I’m not sure that I have the conviction to proclaim myself to be Honest-with-a-capital-H.

Too much work.

Looking back on it, I think I was really just compelled to restore order: I’d inadvertently disrupted a system in a small way and I could correct it without consequences. Maybe I’m feeling especially sympathetic to the system builders right now since producing is nothing if not an ongoing struggle to build a system to contain chaos. It’s a lot more romantic to want to disrupt the system: to be the revolutionary or the renegade… as if the structure of society were not delicate enough to begin with. It seemed to me that the world doesn’t need any help with chaos at the moment, but if I could make one small token action in favor of order then I might be doing some good.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on July 11, 2015.

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