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Radically Inept
Thursday, May 13, 2004
  A memory hole

I'm going free hand here, so I may come back to edit this later.

I'm sitting here looking at the first thing I ever stole. Ah ha! You say, you probably stole before that time. In answer? No, what is now before me is the first item where I have conscious memory of 'planning the theft, including the use of deception, to knowingly violate moral precepts of property ownership'. I mean, I knew that what I was doing was 'wrong', and did it anyway for personal gain.

It's a little black figurine of a bear cub. Standing erect with what appears to be a 'pondering' or 'curious' expression. It stands, maybe three inches, and weighs, maybe, I don't know, say ten - fifteen quarters, US currency? There are wear points on the ears and 'elbows' of the figure where the black enamel has been worn off, and possibly bronze (?), metal shows through; it looks like a copy of a common tourist figure I used to see in shops in West Berlin, but the bottom says 'Made in Austria' with a mark of mirror image 'R's in a box. Value? Not much.

But I did steal it. And I was about three years old at the time. We were on a trip to visit friends of my parents. You tend not to go visiting on your own at three. Well, the memory is not a film. It's a serious of stills, in time order. I remember the exterior, new Bauhaus style apartment buildings (well, box-like anyway) with short trimmed lawn, sidewalks and no trees. You saw alot of that in West Germany in the early '60s. And than, a typical German apartment living room, with odds and ends displayed. And, of course, all of the adults congregating in the dining room, leaving a three year old to his own devices. I don't think I'd have suspected larceny from a three year old either.

Well, of all the objects in the living room, this little black metal bear was somehow captivating. So, I opened the window and threw it out on to the lawn three stories below next to the foundation of the building. And then I pretended for the rest of the visit that I had no guilt - not that I would have understood it in those terms, but I knew that my acts were contrary to what I had been taught.

When we left, I remember a slight panic when I jumped from the car as we were loading to leave for home, and I told my parents I had left something by the building. It was still broad daylight, which probably means it was summer time between 6pm and 10pm. I picked up and slipped the little black bear into my pocket and ran back to the car figuring they wanted to get home. I remember worrying about being caught, and planning my lie.

It's sitting here in front of me. A little black metal bear cub, made in Austria with mirrored 'R' in a box as a maker's mark. Forty give-or-take years later, across the Atlantic a couple of times, and probably thirteen or more states later, here it sits.

Kinda' cool though - having the first thing you ever stole. Now, if I just knew whether it was a talisman or an omen, that might help.

I don't steal anymore. In fact, oddly enough, my integrity has grown over the years. I haven't reached Kantian perfection, or become the moral authority on 'rule utilitarianism', but I have become a fairly staunch contractarian.  
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