The local ToysRUs store, the one I had visited as a child, the one where I bought my purple translucent GameBoy Color and my first Pokemon card cartridge, was having a moving sale: every toy in the store at least 40% off. One of my newest obsessions since moving back home and having access to television was the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time, and my desire to buy some Adventure Time toys for dirt cheap won out over my increasingly anti-consumerism attitude, so I recruited a friend to go check out the sale with me.
We scoured every aisle of the store. Among all the Barbie dolls and Bratz dolls, I found one Adventure Time toy, a doll of one of the main characters from the show. He was in a good condition but with no tag, and once I noticed this details, an idea came to me.
“There’s no tag,” I said to my friend. “I could just, you know, slip it in my bag, and no one would know, and no one could prove I stole it.”
I expected him to be offended or scold me, but instead, he surveyed the aisle in search of security cameras.
“Looks clear. It’s up to you.”
I have never been much of a rebel. Four years of Catholic school drilled a strict moral code into me that had thus far proved indelible against seven years of agnosticism (with a few years of atheism mixed in). I was the girl who never broke the rules, who asked a lot of questions just to make sure I wasn’t breaking any rules, whom others sometimes feared to be a snitch. A coworker in college called me a goody-two-shoes one day for my insistence that we not exaggerate the hours we worked on a project for our time cards.
“What does that even mean, really?” I asked him while denying my goody-two-shoes status.
“It means you keep your shoes clean just because you’re supposed to.” Maybe I was a goody-two-shoes.
But this wasn’t just breaking the rules. This was breaking the law. College had broken me of my avoidance of victim-less crimes, though it took me until my junior year of college to final indulge in a bit of underage drinking. I had always thought that as a good girl, I would avoiding the many tragedies of more rebellious acquaintances, but in college someone told me that most of the alcoholics he knew didn’t start drinking until they turned twenty-one, and during my final semester of college, three months after my twenty-first birthday, as I lay drunk and crying on my friend’s floor, it occurred to me that maybe that guy had been right and that my years of sobriety had only prepared me for a lifetime of drunken suffering.
But in that case, I was only hurting myself. By stealing, I was taking something that belong to someone else. That someone else happened to be a ToysRUs store. Did ToysRUs really deserve that level of respect from me? They probably employed countless underage workers in China to make toys just like the one in my hand that I wanted so desperately. By paying money for this toy, I was contributing to a corrupt capitalist system. But if I really wanted to avoid capitalism, I wouldn’t have gone to ToysRUs in the first place.
I thought of a friend, who, as I drove us to the YMCA weeks earlier, had criticized me for stopping at a red light when there was obviously no one else at the intersection.
“It’s stupid!” he declared, and I couldn’t figure out who I wanted to punch in the face more: him or my inability to accept that maybe he was right and that stopping at a red light at an empty intersection is the epitome of my sheep-like “moral” behaviors.
I wanted to steal the toy to prove him wrong, to show him that I could break the rules. But breaking a rule simply because it’s a rule struck me as just as blind and sheep-like as following the rule. In that case, paying for the toy would be the true rebellion, an affirmation that I am more than a petty rebel. I’ll save for my rule-breaking for things that matter, not for material gain or a few extra seconds on a drive to the gym.
I decided to pay for the toy. It took the cashier five minutes to look up the toy on a computer and find the price for me. It wasn’t until after we left the store that I glanced at the receipt and discovered that she had charged me for the wrong toy, one that was probably more expensive than the one I actually had. I was tempted to think that the universe was punishing me (another remnant of Catholic school. I no longer believe in a God with the power to punish sins, but whenever things go wrong, I can’t help but think it’s a form of punishment from above). I had made the wrong decision.
Then I remembered that the toy I bought, the one that was in great condition and that I still only had paid five bucks for, was the only one in the entire store and was exactly what I had been looking for. I make countless decisions every day, some of which are more morally respectable than others (unless you want to go into the Nietzschean concept of morality, but that’s for another day, dear reader), and regardless of whether I made the right choice by not shoplifting, in the end I had gotten what I wanted, and my friend had gotten what he wanted (a Nerf gun and camo-colored bullets), and maybe we were contributing to a corrupt capitalist system and blindly following the rules of our Christian upbringings, but for now we were satisfied and that’s kind of all that really mattered.