Saturday, April 23, 2011

Green Ice

As a way to keep in touch with my two best friends from childhood, during summer breaks in college, we would all spend a few days together at my friend’s parents’ beach house.  The days there typically passed in the everyday easiness that comes with staying within walking distance of a gorgeous & nicely weathered beach.  There is one tragic story from those beachy days that I will tell you another time.  This time, however, I want to tell you about the time I stole a 12 ounce bottle of Panama Jack Green Ice Aloe Vera Gel.  At the time of the theft, I was about 20, and had been on a rather long dry spell from petit larceny.  I basically hadn’t stolen anything since I was in 2nd grade.  In 2nd grade, however, I was the queen of thieving.  My best friend, Katie, and I masterminded a genius scheme which led to an unlimited supply of fruit rollups. 


At the age of 7, we had very little income.  Our main source was the buck twenty-five our parents provided us for daily lunches, and this was stored on a debit card which we could only swipe once when checking out our lunch.  It probably wouldn’t have mattered too much if we could swipe it more, because there was only enough money on there to cover just your basic four squares of servings on the thick plastic serving plate.  Any revenue we were able to generate, through chores or, in my case, good behavior (as money pretty much guaranteed that my brother and I would refrain from strangling each other for a while; my parents willingly gave up money for periods of peace) was all tied up in meaningless things like savings accounts and college funds. 
So, like two Spartan children left on the mountain side to die, it was up to Katie and me to fend for ourselves in the wilderness of the elementary school cafeteria.  After a few premature attempts at stealing, which led to me grasping the fact at an embarrassingly late age that playing pretend to disappear the food under a napkin only worked with relatives, Katie noticed that the shape of a fruit rollup was quite slender and malleable.  She thought we may be able to use this to our benefit.  After a few trials in which we squashed, stretched and slammed the fruit rollup we were pretty satisfied that their durability under fire made them pretty much the perfect snack to steal.  In fact, smushing the fruit rollup underneath our lunch tray had no effect on the tastiness of the fruit rollup at all, and so was borne our master plan. 
After waiting in line, we grabbed clean, washed-out-pastel colored plastic trays like all the other good little boys and girls preparing to have their 4 servings of chopped slop served to them; but, we would skitter quickly to the ‘a la cart’ isle, tray in hand.  With nimble hands, we quickly plucked a fruit rollup up and hid it in the divot under the tray between the silverware compartment and the food compartments.  It was just large enough to hide one rollup securely and still slide smoothly along the tray line.  This was before the time when false advertising laws made it less possible to name something ‘fruit’ yet harbor no fruit whatsoever; so, thanks to this excess supply of "fruit" rollups, I would ride a sugar high from lunch till bed all through 2nd grade, much to the chagrin of my confused parents, who were seriously considering medication alternatives for their unnaturally exuberant daughter.  Fortunately for them, after 2nd grade, I left Katie and the whole fruit rollup racket to transfer to a different elementary school, where there was no fruit rollup a la cart paradise within reaching distance of greedy little hands. 
Flash forward a decade plus and here you find me, scouring the boardwalk shops for aloe vera.  While my friends were busily searching for catchphrase t-shirts and ear, nose and belly rings, I was on a mission for aloe vera.  I hadn’t been sun burned yet, but years of dealing with the hypochondriasis and m√ľnchausen by proxy that enveloped my childhood had taught me to be prepared for medical disasters, especially medical disasters whose manifestations were improbable at best, and that meant stocking up on something to soothe the third degree burns I would undoubtedly be a victim of after exposing my body to the ferocious powers of the sun.


So it was that I found myself seized with an inexplicable desire to steal aloe vera gel whilst standing between the "Tang Made My Stalk Shrivel" t-shirts and the tragus piercing rings.  I strained to see past the hanging towels and found, to my increasing unease mixed with jubilation, the sun protection isle.  I reached far back to my second grade year to rekindle my deft thieving ability.  Struggling to contain my excitement at the thought of taking something without paying for it, I conspicuously glanced around,  ensuring that everyone in the store would see the 'oh so sly' grin contorting my features.  My eyes flickered back and forth, from the sunscreen to the spray tanners, desperately seeking the aloe. 
After a moment of panic at the thought that there were no bottles left, in which my mind giggled at the irony that there would be no aloe vera in a shop that was directly on a beach, I spotted it.  There it was, the last bottle, located on a shelf about a foot below my waist.  It was economy sized, a good 10 inches long and four wide, and glowing a brilliant green through the clear plastic bottle walls.  Like most of my plots, I had not thought this through and cringed when I suddenly realized that a bathing suit top and jean shorts left very little to the imagination, especially if you were imagining a girl walking out of a store with a stolen mega bottle of aloe vera gel.  But, luckily, I had remembered to bring my towel to the beach that day, and it was still hanging from around my neck.  Quickly, I whipped the towel from neck and bundled the Green Ice bottle up like it was a trembling baby on a cold day.  Then, without looking back, I lifted my head high, as though I were beyond reproach, clutched my precious cargo and trucked it towards the exit. 
Five feet from the front door, I heard a loud ‘thwack!’ as the economy sized bottle slipped from the donut hole made in the towel and landed hard on the shop’s tiled floor.  I felt its presence as a flourescent radioactive beacon and inwardly cringed.  Everyone in the store, including the teenaged floor sales boy who appeared to be the only person working that night and my friends, who, until this moment, had been deeply immersed in passionate discourse about the benefits of letting people recognize how legit you are by reading Tupac Lyrics on your shirt, stopped to stare at me. Like a baby raccoon that is halfway across the road and sees head lights coming, I knew I was too far in now to make it out alive.  The floor boy called to me, clearly and loudly.  When this didn’t work, he repeated himself, each time his voice getting louder, his steps closer behind me.  His determination to get my attention only sufficed to pique my panic, so, I made the completely adult decision to pretend I was suddenly struck dumb. 
Couldn't he see that I obviously no longer had the capacity to hear or see anything around me that would lead me to think that someone was trying to get my attention especially if that attention would place in motion a stream of events that would quite probably lead to my arrest.  My heart was in my throat, I felt like I was being chased by a zombie, albeit a very polite and insistent one.  Against my will, I caved to the mild voice of authority, all quivers and cold sweat, I turned around.  ‘Ms.’ He said in a plaintive voice, ‘Ms. I’m sorry, but I believe you dropped this?’  While handing me back the stolen oversized bottle of aloe vera, the store attendant smiled sheepishly at me, ‘You don’t want to be left without anything for that sunburn!’ he said, as he handed the bottle to me, and with that I was out the door, homefree.  My relief was tangible as I leaned into the night air; I breathed a ragged sigh of relief at my escape from assured disaster, and hugged my bottle of Green Ice.  I relished in my lucky escape as I silently acknowledged an end to my thieving days.

Ps. those burns never came to pass that beach week, nor have they manifested to this day, but I am still prepared!  That economy sized bottle of Green Ice is the only over the counter item to have made it with me to New York from my undergrad years.  It may just stay with me forever.