At age four, I was busted for stealing candy.
This arrest happened at the Brach’s candy wall in the Strawberry Safeway,
Remember the Brach’s candy wall? Nougat as high as you could reach, treats as far as my eyes could see.
My brother stood before me, pointing at the sugar wonderland.
“See this Ray? This is for us! And it’s all free!”
I was standing, eyes wide, mouth open … fingers akimbo … in full “want mode,” when the ramifications of my brother’s statement struck me as wrong.
“It’s not free.”
He said, “Yes it is. The store wants us to eat. Then Mom and Dad will have to walk through the entire store. And they’ll buy more stuff because we are eating the candy.”
This was my eight-year-old little marketing genius brother.
He said, “Have some.”
I said “It’s not mine. If it’s free, then why is there a coin slot?”
He said, “The coin slot is too high for you to reach … so the candy is free for you. Go ahead. Try one.”
At age four, I stuck to convictions and said “No.”
My brother’s blue eyes twinkled, and I swear to god a forked tongue slithered from between his lips.
As his ace-in-the-hole, he grabbed my favorite - a half dome of mint chocolatey nougat - and he grabbed the ends of the wrapper. It twirled, and exposed the soft chocolatey goodness of its underbelly.
“They can’t sell this one. It’s already open.”
He placed it in the palm of my hand.
Why would my brother ever steer me wrong? As I picked it up, my brother’s forked tongue slithered between his lips one last time. And as I placed the chocolate between my teeth, he screamed.
“MOOOOOOOOM! Ray’s stealing candy!”
She came out of nowhere, scooped the chocolate out of my mouth before I could even experience the chocolatey joy, grabbed me by the ear and walked me to the front of the store. I had to hold the wrapper, and a nickel, walk over to the checker and say, “I’m sorry I took this before I paid for it.”
I couldn’t even say that I ate it.
But I remember that day to this day.
Fast forward to a year later. I found a twenty dollar bill on the ground at a Thrifty, and I brought it to my mom.
“Oh! That is fantastic! Someone is probably looking for that! Give it to that man over there.”
White shirt, skinny tie … the Thifty store manager.
He looked at me like I was crazy, and started to put the twenty dollar bill into his wallet.
I said, “What happens if no one claims it?”
“Well, after 30 days, you would get it.”
And then he gave me his card.
Never give a five-year-old your card.
I called him all day, every day. Sometimes he would pick up the phone and just say, “No Ray. No one’s claimed the twenty yet.”
But after 30 days … I got the twenty dollar bill.
And I remember that day to this day.
Fast forward 25 years.
I was walking into a Sacramento bank to withdraw the last twenty dollar bill I had to my name. On the ground, I found a wallet … with $1263 dollars in it.
WEST SIDE STORIES
This true story by Ray Engen was recorded live on Nov. 7 at Sonoma Portworks, as part of West Side Stories, Petaluma’s popular monthly showcase of spoken word performances, hosted by Dave Pokorny. Each month, willing storytellers are randomly selected from the audience to tell a tale based on a theme – this month’s theme: “Too Many Cooks” – and the audience selects its favorite. The next West Side Stories show will be held on Dec. 5 at the Mystic Theatre, and will be the 2018 Grand Slam, featuring all previous winners this year. For tickets and information, visit WestSideStoriesPetaluma.com.