There he was, a grown man and, at the time, someone who helped raise me, standing before my best friend, Mack, and I in the middle of an empty grocery store, teaching the two of us an important life lesson:
“If you’re going to steal, you need to learn how to steal the right way!” he lectured, clearly disappointed at the candy wrappers we had left on the floor. “Look at this mess! Jesus, do I have to teach you everything?”
My best friend’s dad owned a glass shop and I had tagged along on this particular job in Fabens, Texas, where we had to remove all the storefront windows from an old grocery story and install them into a brand new location. Mack, his brother, Paul, and I, had no idea what kind of day we were about to have.
And I think about that day every time I see news headlines and video clips of rioting and looting, like after some natural disaster. Tornado-struck towns or flood-ravaged neighborhoods take immediate action to avoid such chaos, implementing curfews, calling the National Guard. Political posturing, of course, soon follows, much like the sweaty, God-is-pissed rants quietly laced with anti-gay remarks from the likes of Michele Bachmann.
Not in Fabens. Not that day, where three teenagers and a crafty veteran – he ended up abandoning us there for the remainder of the day and into the early evening, by the way – were charged with the responsibility of boarding up the old store after removing the glass because every shelf in every aisle was stocked with food.
And to be honest, we made the valid attempt to get some kind of work done that day, but the ice-cold Gatorades and sodas and pretty much everything edible we could want was at our disposal, with nothing stopping us from ransacking the place.
So we did, making a beeline to the candy aisle. Friends came over, one backing up his tiny Honda to load up on dog food. From the outside of the place, people driving by assumed there was a work crew boarding up a building. On the inside it was a free-for-all, teenaged punks filled with boredom and angst and by midday, enough sugar in our systems to go into diabetic shock.
One man, who peeked inside a loose board to find Mack and Paul fighting like a couple of rabid dogs in the middle of aisle 3, offered to introduce me to his daughter in exchange for a bag of groceries. The girl, who could be seen standing outside her front porch about 50 yards away, was probably still in middle school at the time. She was cute, though. Regardless, he got no food.
We got the food, truckloads of it. In essence, it was The Fabens Riots, or so we’ve since glossed that incredibly hot day. And as much as I’d like to say that we were overrun by the town folk with their shotguns and pitchforks, we were the ones responsible for the missing food. (On a side note, when the owner came back later that evening – thankfully we had cleaned up after ourselves like good little looters – he said something that nearly brought us to tears of laughter.
“Damn it’s hot in here. I hope you boys had the good sense to grab a few drinks!”
Needless to say, it wasn’t one of my proudest moments, but it certainly was one of the most memorable, if not hilarious. But as funny as that day was – and the ensuing months of eating box after box of Steve Erkel O’s – I still carry a bit of guilt, maybe even some shame, when I see events unfold that cause true panic like Hurricanes Katrina and Irene, a Japanese earthquake, tornadoes or a Dick Cheney memoir.
Hindsight is always a bitch, though; as smart as we thought we were that day, it never occurred to us that there was an entire freezer filled with booze. And then there was my mother, her face filled with shame yet pissed that we didn’t bring home milk…