"Just call me if you have a problem, Charlie. And whatever you do, don't turn yourself in if you get to feeling guilty."
This was an allusion to the robbery we'd pulled off our senior year of high school: Each Christmastime, a local sporting goods store rented a warehouse in an industrial park to sell all overstock items at discounted prices. Groot recruited me for "the job," as he kept calling it: at eleven one night — the start of "the witching hour," he found it necessary to inform me — he scaled the wall with a grappling hook and rope, unscrewed the skylight directly above the warehouse, dropped the rope, and zipped down inside. He then unlocked the door to let me in — no alarm and no security guard, which he knew because he had "cased the joint." We loaded six gigantic outdoor garbage bags with so many coats, watches, sneakers, and boots that they almost didn't fit in the backseat and trunk of my car. We had purchased the bags at Food World before we went; they were called Steel Bags, and Groot thought it a comedy beyond Mel Brooks that we were using them to steal.
Two days later, a front-page article in our local paper proclaimed the theft, and right there next to the piece blared a color photo of a crying woman: the owner. She and her husband were the kind of distraught that occurs in the Congo. I felt so wretched about what we had done that I brought back all the loot — still in my car because Groot's mother had a habit of turning over his room in search of armaments — directly to the owners themselves. Mine were the apologies of a reformed swindler — I believe I uttered the word exculpation and made a reference to Hammurabi — and they were so grateful for the missing merchandise that they let me drive away without calling for handcuffs.
Why had I committed the crime in the first place if I knew I wasn't of the crime-committing mold? Boys, let me share a bit of wisdom I've picked up along the way: males want mostly the esteem of other males, even when in earshot of the pom-pom swish and rah-rah chants belted out by a bevy of disrobed cheerleaders. If you ask me, this male want is absolute Neolithic, which just goes to show how far we've come.
But I was not yet a grown man in love when we pulled off "the sporting goods massacre," as we — he — titled that legendary thrill.
No, a grown man in love is a different critter altogether.
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