Life of Crime

Americans love a criminal, with style. Just look at the press’s recent fawning over dead mob-boss John Gotti. Unfortunately, Sarah Brown’s life of crime has been completely lame.

Thievery is the swankest crime of all when done well: no death, no bloodshed, and traditionally, some really great outfits. Thievery is Bonnie and Clyde, Billy the Kid, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Thievery is punk rock, desperado, and Cary Grant all at once, poured into a tight catsuit. Charming. Debonair. Rock and roll with a wink. In short, badass.

I’m going to level with you: I am not a badass. I have never been a badass. My lameness stretches back into my youth, perhaps even into prior generations. I was born to a beautiful blonde valedictorian and the son of hardworking Baptists. Growing up, I liked to think I harbored an inner Joan Jett—a scowling rebel, the scrappy type of girl who could not only win a fight, but start one—but I was as vanilla as they came. I wore kneesocks and sucked my thumb. When other girls dyed their hair, wore Sid Vicious T-shirts, or let girls named Roxy pierce their ears at summer camp, I was in the top bunk, reading Babysitters Club books under my sleeping bag with a flashlight, hoping to God the other girls wouldn’t notice the glow and pierce me against my will.

But the most telling evidence that I’m not a badass: I have never shoplifted. Ever. No Wet ‘n’ Wild nail polish on the five-finger discount; no shirts snuck out under sweaters. Unless you count doughnuts eaten while shopping that I failed to mention at the counter, I have never taken anything from a store without paying for it. I’ve had a few brushes with the law, but even those have been mortifyingly uncool: when I was seventeen, my best friend got pulled over and everyone in the car had been drinking, except for me. In fact, the police officers asked me to drive my friend’s little red convertible back to the station. Everyone else got a DUI or an MIP. I was the only one who got grounded.

Lame, lame, lame.

This is not to say I haven’t tried petty theft. In the second grade, I carpooled with a nasty little girl named Christie. Christie was the type of girl who would make you a friendship bracelet one day, then lead a classroom full of girls in a chant against you the next. She was Evil, minus two front teeth.

I let her dish it, until one day, as I sat in the backseat of her mother’s station wagon, I saw my opportunity: at my feet was Christie’s Coca-Cola scented eraser. It resembled a tube of lip gloss. Lip gloss! This was genius. A few days earlier, this eraser had made her the toast of the second grade. Now, adrift in McDonalds wrappers, it lay discarded near my shoe. I seethed. When Christie turned around from the front seat and stuck her tongue out at me, something dark and slimy hatched inside my brain: I grabbed the eraser and slipped it into the front pocket of my vinyl Care Bears bookbag. It was done. I was a made man. I reclined in the backseat, smiling coolly at the back of Christie’s head. She would never know what hit her.

I sauntered into my house, stashed the confiscated goods in my top dresser drawer and walked into the kitchen, where I immediately burst into tears and confessed to my bewildered mother.

‘How was your day?’ she asked brightly.

‘I’m so sorry I’ll never do it again I’m sorrrrrrrry!’ I wailed, the snot already flowing.

To ease my guilt, I suggested punishments that seemed suitable: no more library privileges; contacting the authorities; adoption. My mother suggested the cruelest of all: returning the eraser. The next day I sneakily dropped it right back onto the station wagon floor, where it stared me in the eye every afternoon until the last day of school.

I managed to keep the monkey off my back for another decade, until the summer I temped at a big insurance company. I was given the responsibility of ordering office supplies, and I admit, I was weak. Power got the best of me. I pored over the OfficeMax catalog, selecting the most beautiful pens—fountain pens, UniBall, fine-point, fast-drying—and when they arrived, I’d pilfer half the box for myself, handing them out to friends or letting them clot silently in my desk at home. This went on for months. The day I left, they threw me a party with cake and a good luck card, and I walked out the door with $25 worth of premium ink in my purse.

My last foray into the seedy underworld of unstylish crime began in an appropriate place: a dark and damp fraternity party, during my freshman year of college. I was sweaty and dazed from dancing when my friend Kate suggested we avoid the bathroom line and go next door to her boyfriend’s empty frat house. We stumbled across the lawn and found, inside, our windfall: the Lambda Chi’s abandoned DJ equipment, naked and unguarded on the floor of the girls’ restroom. Heady with our Bud-Light buzz, we shrieked with joy and began stashing CDs down our pants, grabbing blindly into the box and laughing. We were fated and lucky! We were young and glorious, and drunk! Life was ours for the taking!

It wasn’t until I arrived home at 3 a.m. that I peeled off my jeans and surveyed the spoils. Two CDs had made it through the night of dancing: Coolio’s ‘It Takes a Thief’ and a Prince single with seven different remixes of ‘Cream.’

I learned the lame way: crime doesn’t pay.

Sarah Brown may very well be the weakest criminal mind of her time. She does not live in Brooklyn. More by Sarah Brown