The Crime of the Century!

Tami and I had a good idea. It was like Communism, in that it was good in theory, but not so hot in execution. The plan was to steal the lunch slips that our school gave out to the less fortunate kids and use them for ourselves. Meanwhile we would be pocketing the money our parents gave us for lunch. Don’t get your panties in a bunch, they had a ton of these little white lunch tickets in the teachers’ drawers so us taking a few wasn’t taking any food out of the mouths of Little Orphan Annie and her posse. Hell, my mom was one paycheck away from me being Little Orphan Annie, so I saw the crime as justified.

It was 8th grade and Tami and I had Dr. Weaver. We of course called him Dr. Weiner because when you’re in 8th grade that’s just funny. I would have to say middle school was probably the time in my life when I was well into my criminal behavior. Nothing big. Just walking the streets of Big Bear at night looking for trouble. Shoplifting at the local Thrifty for any shade of purple make up I could find that I hadn’t already stolen. And smoking a little pot Tami and I had stolen from a house we were babysitting at. Hey we waited till AFTER we were done watching the kid, and it was just a small joint. Considering how many they had in their china cabinet I’m sure they didn’t miss it.

Now my mom was doing her best to curb my behavior but she really couldn’t catch me doing any of it. But it’s not for lack of trying. One night after dropping me off at Tami’s house my mom tailed us all night to see what we were up to. I can just see my mom with a box of Entenmann’s in her Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme listening to Kool and the Gang trying to get the jump on a couple of 13 year olds. My mom hated Tami, but considering the fact that I wasn’t exactly rolling in friends she did her best to try and deal with the situation. Luckily all we did that night was walk down to the arcade her parents owned to play a couple of video games and walk back to Tami’s. My mom still freaked out though.
“What kind of parents let their 13 year old child wander the streets at night? Stacy, you are so lucky I was there! What if something would have happened to you girls?’ I know. We might have actually had some fun. Wouldn’t that have been a tragedy! My mom was very protective and didn’t let me have any more sleepovers at Tami’s after that. But Tami could sleep over at my house if she wanted to. She never really wanted to.

When Tami and I first came up with the lunch caper it seemed so easy. We staked out the “lunch slip” kids as they took a white slip of paper, handed it to the woman at the lunch counter, and walked away with lunch. It seemed easy enough. Now all we had to do was get our hands on some lunch slips.
“Mr. Weaver keeps them in his bottom left hand drawer,” Tami told me one day while we were in Mr. Weaver’s class on another stakeout.
“Are you sure?”
“How do you know?” I asked her.
“Because I saw him hand one out to Joel earlier.”
“We’ll steal them during nutrition,” I told her. As the nutrition bell rang everyone left class including Mr. Weaver. We just hung behind in the hallway until everyone was outside. My job was getting into the classroom and into his desk, which was not a problem. Digging through all his files to find the lunch slips took a little more time than I would have liked but sure enough I found them. Tami was outside the door as a look out. If anyone was coming our way she was going to knock on the door, giving me plenty of time to get away from Mr. Weaver’s desk and over to mine to pretend I was looking for something in my book bag. But we were in the clear. I only took a couple of lunch slips so that he wouldn’t notice, and I put them in my backpack. Then I knocked on the door once from the inside of the classroom to signal Tami I was done, and she knocked once back to let me know the coast was clear and that I could come out. Once we were back together we went off to nutrition like nothing happened.

Later that week we decided to give the lunch slips a try. Problem was we had to put our names on them.
“What should we do? We have to put our names on these?” she asked.
“I don’t know. We could try fake names but I know at least one of those ladies knows my real name.”
“Mine too.”
“Should we put our real names on them?” I asked.
This is the point when we should have aborted the plan. But…we didn’t. We put our real names on the lunch slips and handed them in and took the food that the government was kind enough to pay for, for those who couldn’t pay for it themselves.
“That was so easy!” I told Tami as we walked away from the lunch counter with our freshly stolen lunches.
“This is going to be great! With our parents giving us money for lunch, and us getting free lunch everyday, we’re going to be rich!” she said.
The plan was BRILLIANT! For a couple of total idiots.

Of course they didn’t catch us right away. I’m not exactly sure how we got away with it for as long as we did. Maybe the lunch staff didn’t turn the tickets in until the end of the month. Or maybe it was because they wanted to see just how stupid we really were. Or maybe they just wanted us to run up a tab that was so large that it made the US National debt pale in comparison. But whatever the reason was, they sure strung us along for a while. We went for weeks before the hammer came down. It was an endless cycle of stealing lunch tickets, turning in lunch tickets for free food, collecting cash from the parents. Repeat. And on and on it went.

Just as Tami and I were raking in the dough and were secure that we had pulled off the crime of the century, we got the dreaded office slips in Mr. Weaver’s class from the Principal’s office. Ohhhhh shit!
“You think we’re in trouble?” Tami whispered as we walked down the hall towards the front office.
“Oh yeah. We’re busted.”
We were called into the Principal’s office one at a time, with Tami going first. We may not have been criminal geniuses but we were pretty sure we knew what we were in for. When Tami came out of Mr. Dawson’s office she looked like she had just thrown up all of her free lunches. She just looked at me like she was trying to tell me something with her eyes but couldn’t quite convey the message through all her tears. Tami, what are you trying to say? I’m listening!!!!! But now it was my turn.
“Stacy,” Mr. Dawson said while giving me the come-here finger. “Sit,” he said as I walked into his office. I sat down in a chair against the wall and he leaned against his desk. He took a deep sigh and hung his head and just shook it back and forth for a bit.
“Stacy, I know you pretty well by now and I just don’t understand you. I know you’re a good kid, but why do you hang out with bad kids and get in trouble all the time?”
“I don’t know,” I told him. It was the truth. I really had no idea why I did the things I did. Boredom, I guess.
“I know if you would just apply yourself you could get good grades, but you’re busy doing things like this!” You’re in detention all the time. Your grades are bad. I just don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish.” I looked at him and was surprised to see that he wasn’t mad. No, the look on his face was disappointment. And that realization was as painful as it was surprising.
“I’m sorry,” I told him. And I was. I was sorry I had gotten caught.
“You are going to be sorry. What you did was steal. I should call the cops but if you return all the money to this school by tomorrow morning I won’t report you to the police.” Police? I’m only in 8th grade! I can’t go to juvy for lunch slips. Murder maybe, but not lunch slips.
“Really?” I asked. Now I was scared.
“Yes,” he said, looking me straight in the eyes.
“What about my mom?” Oh God if she finds out I’m dead for sure!
“Can you pay off your bill?” he fired back.
I knew I could because between all the money my mother had given me for the lunches I had stolen, plus all the babysitting money I had been hording, I was a virtual 13-year-old tycoon.
“I can.”
“Then I won’t tell her either. BUT, you must prove to me that I’m making the right decision here. I want to see your grades get better and I want to see you making an effort to hang out with a better crowd. If I don’t see some effort on your part, I’m telling your mom about this little incident.”
“Oh…okay. Just please don’t call the cops and whatever you do, don’t tell my mom,” I pleaded with him. My mother was scarier than any cops when she was mad. Her death stare turned convicts and killers into crying babies and I didn’t want any part of it.

The next morning I dug under my mattress where I kept my fortune, and took what I owed from my stash. I also took the money my mom gave me for my lunch that day. Hey, I didn’t want her to get suspicious. When I got to school the first thing I did was turn the money into Mr. Dawson and thank him for not turning me in to the fuzz. I was far too young to be someone’s bitch!
“Don’t forget our deal,” he reminded me as I walked, dejected and depressed, from his office. I was devastated. Not only from getting caught, but also from having to part from my beloved mound of cash. There goes my above-ground hot tub. Mr. Dawson also didn’t call the cops on Tami but Tami didn’t stash her cash like I did so she ended up having to ask her parents for the money. I think she ended up being grounded for a total of ten minutes. Tami’s parents were much more liberal on that sort of thing.

After that I kept true to my word and did my best to bring my grades up and broaden my friend horizons. Mr. Dawson was right: I could do better and I did. I even shocked my mom a bit and she never knew why. But my turn-around had less to do with fear of getting caught, and more with a newfound respect for Mr. Dawson. He could have turned me in. He could have told my mom. But he didn’t. He took a chance on me and I didn’t want him to regret it. Who knew some stupid lunch slips could have made such a big change in my young life? Truth be told, I’m glad I stole the slips. Because if I didn’t, I never would have known that someone like Mr. Dawson was out there. Someone who actually cared for their students.

Years later, in my senior year in high school, Mr. Dawson’s wife was my English teacher. She let me know how much Mr. Dawson had cared for me and what a good kid he always thought I was. She didn’t agree with her husband, and she made that equally clear. But I guess it just goes to show you; no two Dawson’s are created equal.

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