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Petaluma Story Slam: This month’s hilarious West Side Stories winner

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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.

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.

“Go ahead.”

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.

What do you suppose I did with the wallet?

[Crowd murmurs, “You gave it back!”]

No!!! I put the wallet in my pocket, looked skyward and said “Thank You!” This had to be my reward, for doing things right. I walked into the bank to deposit the money. It was going to cure all my ills.

As I stood in line, I looked through the wallet, saw the pictures, counted the money, counted the money again, saw pay stubs, pictures of his wife, his children … all the things you might expect to find in a wallet.

And I was still ready to deposit the money

Until I got to be next in line.

As I stood waiting for the next teller, I swear to god, my left ear started to hurt, as if my mom was pulling on it. I walked up to the teller, handed her the wallet and said, “I think someone lost this. There is $1263 dollars in it.”

The whole bank … started to clap.

I’ve never felt worse in my life.

I was going to keep the money. But I guess I’m okay, because I just thought about keeping the money. I didn’t actually do it. If we got in trouble for what we were thinking, none of us would be married.

But I forgot about that day. Until this day … because of the theme.

“Too Many Crooks.”

We have too many crooks in this world, and I didn’t want to be one of them.

Oh….it’s “Too Many Cooks?”

Never mind.

I’ll start over with a different story next month.