And it starts off with something simple . . .
The first time is usually the roughest. This is when the conscience speaks.
This is when the voice of better judgment steps in—but greed responds to silence them both.
The first time I ever took something that wasn’t mine was in kindergarten. We used to bring in our matchbox cars from home; only mine were not very good. My collection was simple and small. I had a few decent cars at best.
I wanted to play with the other kids, but they laughed at me because their cars were much better.
The teacher noticed this and she would let me use the cars from her collection. Like mine, the teacher’s collection was simple. Most of her matchbox cars were in poor condition. But there was one car that was nice. It was sleek and new.
So I took it.
After the toys went back to their shelves, I pocketed the teacher’s car, and then I took it home with me. Every so often, I ducked my hand inside my pants pocket and rubbed my thumb over my prize.
I knew it was wrong to take something that belonged to someone else. I knew it was stealing, but I also knew about pride. I knew about humiliation, which is why I took the car home with me.
When I went home, I sat on the floor in my bedroom and played with the cars. I felt like I won something until I realized I could not bring my new car into class with me, which made the theft pointless.
I mean, why take the car if I couldn’t show it off?
I knew the teacher would recognize it if I brought the car in, so I placed a sticker on the hood to disguise it. The next day, I sat with the other kids to show them my new car. They all liked it. I let them pass the car around and I drank their complements. Not long after, the teacher walked over. She commented on how nicely we were playing, and then she noticed the car in my hand.
“That’s funny,” said the teacher. “I had a car that looks just like that, but now it’s gone.”
Quickly, I answered, “Well this one is mine.”
Defiantly, I pushed the matchbox car right up to the teacher’s face.
“See? This one has stickers on it and yours didn’t.”
She backed down, but she knew the car was hers.
I was only a kid then. I just wanted to feel better.
I wanted to fit in and be like the rest of the “Cool” kids.
So I took a shot.
I thought I invented forgery when I was in the third grade. My teacher would send home notes. She sent home happy notes for exceptional behavior and sad ones for poor behavior.
Happy notes had smiley faces on them but sad notes were frowning faces. The notes were cut down to about the size of a bank check. The paper was white and the ink was blue from the old ditto copy machines. Beneath the smiling or frowning faces were a series of lines, which the teacher used to report the good or bad news.
Happy notes were given for say, high test scores or good listening. Sad notes were given for poor behavior or not completing the homework assignments.
As best as I can remember; I only received one happy note. But sad notes were sent home with me on a weekly basis.
With either, the student was to take the note home, show it to their parents, have them sign it, and then return it to the teacher.
My Old Man was not one to tolerate poor behavior in school. He was strict and heavy handed.
When my report card came around, I received one spank for each poor grade. And if the grade was really poor; I received two.
I tried little tricks to help ease the sting, but The Old Man was wise to me. I tried stuffing my underwear, but The Old Man took out the stuffing. I tried shoving books down the seat of my pants, but The Old Man saw this and added two extra spanks to my sentence: one spank for each book.
If The Old Man would spank me for poor grades on my report card; I knew he would spank me for the sad notes. My mother was a little easier—but sometimes she would crack and give me up.
Instead of facing the crime, I decided to stuff the sad notes deep into the back of my desk, which of course, was the messiest desk in the classroom.
We sat in steel-framed chairs that were painted gray. The frame was attached to a wooden seat with a matching wood backing, and desk with a small cubby section beneath the light-wooded desk top.
And while the others kept their desks neat; I stuffed my books inside and crammed the sad notes behind them. This way, the teacher would not see them when she walked by.
The teacher would send me home with sad notes, but I would never return them. Each time, I came up with a different story on why the note was not with me or why my parents never signed them.
On a day I was absent, the teacher instructed one of my classmates to clean out my desk. She was shocked to find the sad notes I tucked in the back. She was outraged, and upon my arrival the following morning, the teacher scolded me.
“How dare you,” she charged.
She counted all of the notes. She un-shriveled them, flattened each note, and then she demanded, “I am going to send you home with a note today. And this one will go home with you for sure!”
At the end of class, the teacher placed the sad note into an envelope. Then she stapled the note to my shirt.
“Let’s see you get out of this one,” she snarled.
I wore the envelope stapled to my shirt. I wore it to the bus stop and on the bus while on the way home. Some of the kids at my bus stop were also in my class, which is why I wouldn’t dare make a move until I was away from everyone.
As soon as I was alone, I tore the note from my shirt, threw it away, and I acted as if nothing happened.
Next morning, the teacher called me up to the front of the class.
“Do you have your note?”
“I forgot it.”
The teacher’s eyebrows folded down with anger. She pointed her aged and arthritic-like finger at me. The corners of her lips curled downward with resentful snarl, and her voice simmered like an angry old witch.
“I am going to give you one more chance,” She said. Then she wrote one more note. “And if you don’t bring this note in signed tomorrow, I am going to call your parents.”
I remember the sound of “oohs” coming from the other kids in the classroom. I remember the fear in my stomach. Not only was I going to be spanked, but I would be spanked double for trying to avoid my punishment.
I took the note home and I studied it. I tried to think of my angle; I tried to figure a way around this. But there appeared to be no way out.
This is when the idea came to me. My mother always signed her initials. She signed, “A.K.” with a circle around the two letters.
“I could do that,” I thought to myself.
I even used an old signature of hers to trace it out. This way, the signature would be perfect.
I slept well that night. I was proud of myself too. At first, I thought I was going to be punished.
But I pulled it together. . .
When I arrived in class, I strolled into the classroom like a criminal into a courtroom before hearing the words, “Not guilty.”
I was in the clear. I was sure of this.
The teacher challenged, “Mr. Kimmel!”
“Do you have your note for me, or am I going to have to call your parents?”
I slid my hand into my book-bag to retrieve the sad note. Then I walked to the front of the classroom and I tossed the signed note onto the teacher’s desk.
“Here’s your friggin note!”
Outraged, the teacher shouted, “Young man, you get back over here this instant!”
Keeping my cool, I spun around.
“Your mother did not sign this note!”
“She did too,” I claimed.
“Look, those are my mother’s initials, ‘A. K.’ with a circle around it.”
Loudly, the teacher accused, “YOUR MOTHER DID NOT SIGN THIS NOTE!”
“Yes she did,” I replied.
“In blue crayon?” asked the teacher.
I answered, “She couldn’t find a pen.”
Needless to say, she called my mother later that afternoon.
And no, The Old Man was not happy.
True, I was worried.
The idea seemed brilliant at the time, but that was one of the problems of m youth;I often failed to go over the important details before taking my shots.
I use these light examples to explain the hustle.
. . . .No one ever expects to be caught.
True, guilt plays its hand, but rationalization never plays fair and innocence gives way to explanation.
Next, the crimes become easier.
Then the lies begin. “They haven’t caught you yet.”
I believed my thoughts were. “You’re too smart for them.”
Meanwhile, the crimes added. Eventually, the side of my face was pressed against the hood of a car and I could hear the sound of handcuffs clinching around my wrist.
In a recent Ponzi scheme gone bad, one of the financial advisors responsible admitted, “I never thought it would get that big.”
“I just thought I would make some good money,” he said, “and then I would get out.”
He explained, “But once you’re in, you’re in deep. Once the money starts flowing, it’s easy to lie to yourself. And when the guilt starts, that’s when you try to buy your forgiveness by doing something nice for someone or making a big charitable donation, just so you can hear someone say, “Awww, he’s such a nice guy.”
It always starts simple.
But I guess most crimes do.
It’s like a short cut that no one would take if they knew they would be caught . . .