Nothing good ever comes of lusting for a hamburger so badly, that you can’t think of anything else.
I didn’t make time to eat breakfast or lunch on Tuesday. Instead I dined on salted peanuts, an apple, a small nutrition bar from my co-worker, and a sugar-laden fiber bar. I was aching for a big, juicy hamburger — something I almost never get.
Since I’m trying to be fiscally conservative, I figured I’d go to the grocery store, pick up hamburger fixins’ and create some greasy bliss at home. I ran in, picked up burger makings, got to the self-check out, and realized I’d forgotten some things. I took my items away and the check-out girl had to cancel my order. I apologized but she wasn’t pleased.
Then I came back, checked out again, and hurriedly jammed things in my purse, because in Glendale they don’t give grocery bags unless you pay for them. I tried to get a cart, but they were all taken. What didn’t fit in my purse, I put in the store’s small grocery basket, and brought it to my car.
I was in my JJill tunic and stretch pants, feeling as cute as a 60-year-old can, while putting groceries in bags I keep in the back of my car. As I was filling them, I heard someone behind me say “Hi, how’re you doing?”And I’m thinking, Hey maybe I do look good. I half turn to see a police car behind me and cheerfully responded, “Fine, how are you?”
Then he continued with, “I noticed you’ve got that cart with you, they don’t usually let you take those out of the store, how did you do that?”
Now I’m thinking, “Oh my God, this guy is questioning me!” I nonchalantly continue putting groceries in the back of my Pilot because I’m thinking of hamburgers, not jail. I know I’ll just show him my receipt and he’ll realize his massive error of judgment.
As I fill bags, I say, “I wasn’t planning on buying this much, and it didn’t all fit in my purse.” (My purse is the size of most carry-on suitcases and clearly what a thief would have.) I continue, “So I just put the groceries back in the basket and brought it out.” Then he says, “Well would you mind if I take a look at your receipt?” And I brightly say, “Sure!” Then, in the second it took me to respond, I realized I didn’t remember grabbing the receipt, because I was in a hamburger hurry.
So, I got out my wallet, saw my other receipts there, but not the one I needed. So I kept looking, hoping it would magically materialize. Then I started rifling through my massive black purse, realizing — this man thinks I’m a common criminal.
I tried not to react, because logically, I know I’m not a thief. I just paid 47.63 for those groceries (with coupons) and I went to Catholic school where I learned NEVER to take anything that wasn’t mine, not even the tiniest candy. But as I stood there, I realized this guy doesn’t know any of that. To him, I look like all the other crooks he’s apprehended, who were probably rifling through their purses, looking for an imaginary receipt. Then I started to feel nervous, because even though I was innocent, when you’re treated like a criminal, you start to feel like one.
If this happened to me over and over again, I could see how it would really bother me. So, I said, “Listen, I know you’re just trying to protect me and the other shoppers, so please, come in the store, I’ll show you. I’m sure the girl remembers me.”
So the officer parked his car behind mine, so I couldn’t make a break for it. We headed into the store together, past my favorite bank tellers and the people I see daily, who now surely think I’m a menace to society. We walked up to the girl running the self-checkout and I said, “You remember me right?” She replied with a half irritated, “Yeah,”only a little more interested now because she can see I’m with a cop, and this is clearly not a date.
I tell her I think I left my receipt behind and she pulls it out of the trash can. Thank GOD it was there! She says my name and I say, “Yeah, that’s me.” But the officer asks her again, “You remember her, she was here?” And, again the girl responds yes.
So, I walked out of the store with him, and my restored dignity. I told him I understood he was just doing his job. He said this store has been getting hit a lot lately, so they’re really watching it, and you can’t tell by looking at people. He said an older man driving a Lexus, filled his cart with groceries and tried to steal them. We chatted more, then I left because I couldn’t wait to get home and make that hamburger.
So, I drove out of the parking lot and saw another cop car driving fast, pulling into the lot I was leaving, probably to help apprehend me!
When I got home and told my daughter about it, she was incredulous. But, as I was telling her, I could feel myself getting emotional and started to tear up. It took me back to first grade when I got smacked hard by a nun with a ruler for something that wasn’t my fault. It was that complete feeling of unfairness that took hold and made me more compassionate.
Usually I say, if you’re innocent, you won’t find yourself in a situation where you’ll be accused of something. But clearly that happens,we hear about these incidents every day, and some end badly.
I see how it could escalate. If I’d become indignant, or if he hadn’t been so cordial, even something as simple as this could have turned into something ugly.
I went on a ride along with police officers years ago, as a journalism student, and it was utterly eye-opening. The abuse that’s heaped on police officers daily, by drunks, drug addicts and others, is sickening.
Cops are here to protect us, and if they have to ask hard questions to make sure we’re the good guys, that’s what they have to do. They don’t know who’s who. There’s no nice-o-meter floating over your head, so they have to be suspicious of everyone, which must be a hard way to live.
On the other hand, I also now know how it feels like to be treated like a criminal by an officer, even though I was totally innocent.
After I told my daughter the story, she compassionately said, “Mom, we still need stuff from the store.” So, my stomach had to wait again. When I got to the store, the cops really were busting a couple there to shoplift.
I went up to them afterward and learned their names were Officer Dan Kiang and Officer Stan Mar. They posed for photos for this post and we chatted. When I left, I gave them both a hug and thanked them for what they do. I could never do it.
When I did finally did sit down to eat that juicy, cheese and onion smothered hamburger, I believe it was the best hamburger I’ve ever had.