While attending Arkansas State University (or The Princeton of Northeast Arkansas), I befriended a gregarious lug of a guy named Dave. A transplant from Connecticut, Dave was one of those contradictory kind of guys who was a friend to everyone, but was most likely than anyone to get into a fistfight. (He had, in fact, once personally rescued the Angry Czeck from a beating from “the wrong Puerto Ricans.”) One evening, upon completing a night of underage drinking at Jonesboro’s famous 501 Club, Dave casually pulled a spare tire from somebody’s parked pick-up truck bed and flipped it into the back of his own truck.
“What the hell are you doing, Dave?” I said, thunderstruck.
“Don’t worry,” he winked. “That’s what insurance is for.”
This was not an isolated fracture of morality inside my circle of friends. Months later, when attempting another evening of underage gambling in Tunica, I parked my enormous 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo alongside a much newer car. One of my friends, a daffy Canadian, purposely slammed the Monte Carlo’s heavy car door into the side of the newer vehicle, creating an ugly dent for the effort.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I screamed.
“Don’t worry,” reasoned my buddy. “That’s what insurance is for.”
The Angry Czeck, despite his surly demeanor, has never been comfortable with lawlessness, even when it is at the expense of The Man. Like most boys growing up, I knew my share of self-reported teenage shoplifters, every one of them boorish braggarts who viewed themselves as local Robin Hoods taking advantage of a mythical, corporately-calculated “five-finger discount.” Almost always, the thievery was justified as an acceptable “tax” levied against a cruel and faceless corporation. The Angry Czeck aways maintained a very dim view of these miscreants.
This is not to say that the Angry Czeck is not without his own unseemly history of petty criminal activity. I can think of two instances of dishonesty that stains my otherwise spotless moral fabric. Both, incidentally, involve Wal-Mart. Once, as a broke high school student, I was wandering the automotive department to discover a mess of cheap red cloths littering a quiet aisle. The red cloths were part of a package of “mechanic rags” meant for cleaning up greasy jobs. Somehow, the packaging had come apart, spilling individual cloths on the floor. Without thinking, I bent to one knee, grabbed a rag and stuck it into my pocket.
My second dip into crime occurred a couple years later, this time as a broke freshman in college. I had purchased less than ten dollars worth of merchandise at Wal-Mart, for which I paid the cashier a ten-dollar bill. The cashier, by mistake, handed me a twenty with my change. I noticed it right away, but instead of reporting the oversight and requesting the correct change, I calmly placed the unearned cash into my pocket and strolled away.
never thought to redeem his crimes with IOUs.
Of course, it never occurred to me that lifting a stray mechanic’s rag would eventually contribute to a price increase in merchandise. Nor did I take in account that accepting an erroneous $20 would leave an innocent cashier’s drawer $20 short, leaving her at the mercy of a soulless corporation who probably has no qualms about recouping that sum from her paycheck. I just knew that I happened to be in the automotive section of Wal-Mart that day because I was buying materials to change my car’s oil, and a sturdy rag would come in handy. Two years later, I knew that I wouldn’t be making the baseball card convention in Little Rock if I couldn’t come up with enough money to fill my gas tank. Wal-Mart neatly solved these problems for me. Does that make the Angry Czeck a thief?
Yeah. I think it does.
Once, my Angry Dad told me he had recently fired an employee for stealing a 99¢ fingernail clipper. I thought his actions had been harsh and I told him so. Angry Dad’s simple response has stuck with me ever since.
“If she was capable of stealing a fingernail clipper today,” he said, “she was capable of stealing something bigger tomorrow.”
My thefts from Wal-Mart, and the subsequent feelings of guilt, convinced me to improve my character and to never again engage in any form of thievery, petty or otherwise. For many years, I arrogantly believed that I had adhered to this admirable code one hundred percent. But upon deeper reflection, I came to the disquieting realization that not only have I continued to steal, but I have also escalated its sinister frequency!
For example, I am engaged in covert thievery this very instant. My taskmasters have hired me to write penetrating advertisements eight hours per day, five days per week. Yet now it is Tuesday, 2:30 in the afternoon, and I am writing words that will bring no profit to the company who owes me a paycheck in two days. Furthermore, I am using the company computer, devaluing the asset with every keystroke. I shudder to think how many personal emails I’ve dispatched today. I cringe for every moment I wasted reading Internet news headlines. I spoke to my wife for five minutes on the telephone. That’s five minutes my company will never see refunded.
Naturally, I can sleep at night because I convince myself that writing posts for The Angry Czeck ultimately improves me as a writer, and therefore improves me as an employee. Yet, I have never written a television spot about morons who park backwards in parking spaces. At least not yet.
The remainder of my criminal checklist is just as unattractive. I am not above taking a couple blank sheets of copy paper home for my personal use. During tax season, you can bet I’m not at Kinko’s making photocopies of my expense records. If a corporately purchased ink pen should find its way into my pocket, not to be discovered until the car ride home, it’s my pen now, baby.
One of the more egregious infractions I have committed involves my bowel movements. While living in Memphis, Mrs. Angry and I purchased an eighty-year-old house in Central Gardens. The thing about eighty-year-old houses is that a great deal of the house is eighty-years-old, including the plumbing, which was fragile and expensive to repair. So I trained my athletic body to reschedule bowel movements during working hours. I figured that my company, or at least the owner’s of the building that housed my company, was better equipped to handle my bodily output than myself. Yes, my motives are weird and disgusting. Does that make me a thief?
Yeah, I think it does.
It’s not too late to reform. I believe I’ll think twice before slipping a long distance fax by the receptionist. Perhaps I’ll reduce the size of these posts from 1200 words to 300. Maybe I’ll send Wal-Mart $21 to reimburse the money I stole, plus the cost of one mechanic’s rag. Then Heaven, and perhaps even corporate America, may exonerate me. The wanted posters will come down. The rap sheet cleaned. And my saintly credentials restored. But I believe I’m going to continue taking craps on the company crapper. Because a little larceny may be a reflection of poor character, but at least I can feel like a renegade, you know? I think I need that.