City Man, 69. Arrested for Shoplifting
The worst part? Not my age in the headline,
a grandfather, a criminal.
Somebody who should know better.
A derelict. A bum.
No, the worst: having to explain
to my granddaughter Emily, ten years old,
no doubt mortified by the news.
Not that it actually happened,
but close enough
to inspire the fantasy.
At the grocery store self-service checkout
I discovered I didn’t have the cash
to cover the things I’d put in my basket.
Lettuce, coffee, carton of juice:
these were necessary.
But the mango, the avocado?
I’d have to leave these behind.
But then, who’d ever know
if I just tossed them into my shopping bag?
Eagle-eyed peroxide blond Yvonne, that’s who.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I stammered,
shamming the part of dotty old man,
scanning the sales slip in disbelief
as if reading stock market numbers.
“I was sure I paid for them.
Oh, well, I’ll have to leave them behind. Sorry!”
I left the store, head held high,
playing the part of a dignified senior citizen,
but feeling like a petty sneak thief.
This is the worst part.
At first, I thought he needed help.
Technology’s always daunting to these older folks,
used to cashiers, baggers, checkout lines.
The way he looked around, furtive,
like a kid needing a bathroom,
I was sure he’d pressed the wrong key,
bought something he didn’t want
and didn’t know how to undo the purchase.
But then he tossed the mango
into his World Wildlife Fund bag,
the panda on the side cuddly
as I figured this old guy to be,
and I just felt sorry for him,
probably living on a crummy little pension,
Social Security check barely covering his medicine,
squeezed like we all are in this economy
that favors the wealthy, scorned as a freeloader.
But I just couldn’t let him steal the mango.
“Sir,” I said, touching his arm
as he started walking away.
Then he got all defensive, pulled out
his receipt like some ancient Egyptian scroll,
pretended to look it over for the transaction…
well, maybe he was confused,
maybe he did think he’d paid for it.
But then he not only handed me the mango,
he gave me an avocado, too.
That’s when I knew. Poor old guy.
Edouard Manet – ‘luncheon on the grass’.
Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe – Manet
What are you looking at? Yes, you.
At Gustave and Ferdinand
trussed up like fowl on a dinner table?
The swell of my breast? My bare haunch?
The smooth hip, buttock, thigh?
My clothing heaped beside me?
Yes, you, the intruder, the voyeur.
What are you staring at?
Even Eugenie lowers her eyes,
stepping from the pond
nimble as a dainty doe, discreet.
Certainly Gustave and Ferdinand,
despite being mummified in their clothes
behave as if nothing’s exceptional.
Even in that ridiculous turban,
gesturing to his brother-in-law,
Gustave’s as cool as the glade
in which we find ourselves
on this close afternoon at the start of summer.
Of course I should make myself comfortable.
This is a picnic, not a formal banquet –
though you’d never know it from their clothing!
Besides, nobody’s looking.
Charles Rammelkamp edits The Potomac, an online literary magazine – The Potomac — A Journal of Poetry & Politics He is Prose editor for BrickHouse books in Baltimore, where he lives. His latest book is a collection of poems called MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY (Apprentice House, Loyola University) and another book, AMERICAN ZEITGEIST, has been accepted by Apprentice House as well.