I was caught shoplifting when I was fifteen. Look back thirty years later I think it was a good thing. It was one of those little jolts that life sends to wake you up. My friends were fond of bragging about their latest freebies taken from the shelves of the local K-Mart; Iron Maiden cassettes, motor oil and Players Light. I thought if it worked for them, I could get what I wanted as well. It turned out that petty thieving was not my calling. I blame my friend Maloney. I believed his story. I still believe good stories. This is why I find it so difficult to abandon religion.
Maloney told us how girls were irresistibly attracted to him after he put on Jovan Musk. I wanted some irresistible attraction as well but the only action I experienced was the shame of telling my parents I had stolen; the humiliation of standing in front of packed small town courtroom and the guilt of confessing before a judge. It was truly a Catholic moment.
The judge told me to tell my story. Dressed in a pin-striped suit looking like Tony Montana, I told the robed distributor of justice that I went to K-Mart to improve my love-life and that to accomplish the said mission I had pilfered a small bottle of Jovan Musk. The courtroom erupted in laughter. Even the three punks who had held up the Avondale at knife-point were laughing. I wanted to crawl under a rock. The judge thought the scarlet letter moment and public ridicule were sufficient punishment and sent me home to study for exams. I was not allowed to go to K-Mart for a year. K-Mart eventually left town, no doubt due to my butterfly effect. Even today, stepping across the threshold of a big-box store gives me a good dose of anxiety. I avoid the perfume isle like the plague.
I remember the security guards feeling quite proud that they had nabbed me. It wasn’t hard. I had emptied out my pockets and then placed the musk next to the pack of smokes I had with me. I paid for the other items, but the musk was in my pocket. I remember the cashier asking me if I had anything else to buy. I said “No”. She looked disappointed, like a priest in the confessional who knows that the Hail Mary’s are recited more for what has been omitted than for what has been declared. I walked out of the door only to be brought back inside the back interrogation room where I waited for the police officer to arrive. He clearly looked annoyed with the remains of a sugar donut still on his face. He told me I did a stupid thing. Of course, there was no disputing his wisdom here. Following desire is a rough road especially when its stories are false. Maloney wanted a date. I wanted multiple dates and like the Kafka story, I only ended up standing before the law. I imagine that somewhere in the greater Port Colborne metropolis that police officers, judges and lawyers, inspired by my story, were putting on Jovan Musk after a hard days work only to be told to mow the lawn, take out the garbage or clean out the litter box. Here the Buddhists are right, desire is like a honeyed razor blade and they must concur with Mick Jagger when he sings, “You can’t always get what you want.”
For a brief moment, the perfume bottle made another world possible. But like all illusions it brought me back to where I needed to be. I was brought to see that the imaginary is a trap and those who sell the illusion for a fixed price are protected.
Years later after reading the French psycho-analyst Jacques Lacan when I was living in Paris I realized my mistake. I had wanted the illusion for free. Desire however, is something paid for. Free things always cost more.