I committed theft in Ms. Woodbeck’s AM kindergarten class and learned why stealing is a crime — even though I got away with it.
There was a collection of small rubber dinosaurs in the plastic toy bins Ms. Woodbeck kept for our kindergarten class. Every day, she allowed us 30 minutes of free time to tool around with the contents of those bins, and every day, my fellow crusty-nosed adolescents and I would tear through them. We’d plunge our miniature mitts into jumbled heaps of toys and trinkets — aluminum Matchbox cars, off-brand Lego men and gnawed-up Lincoln Logs. The toy bins definitely had the works as far as knick knacks go, but for some reason, my classmates would always turn a blind eye to those rubber dinosaurs.
I coveted them, their bulging white eyes, their gaping saw-toothed maws and the way they smelled like a grandmother’s moldy basement. Playing with them was always the best 30 minutes of my day.
But 30 minutes was never enough. I craved more.
a five-finger fantasy.
I remember fantasizing about how dope an army of little rubber dinosaurs would look huddled around the feet of my dad’s antique 1977 Godzilla figurine, a hand-me-down with one arm, a shattered atomic tongue and olive green skin so faded it was nearly gray. There was a broken button on the back of Godzilla’s neck that would launch an orange fireball from the beast’s mouth — but only if you could endure jagged plastic shards piercing the base of your thumb. My dad was the only person I knew who was capable of launching that barbed missile without crying.
I daydreamed about those dinos teaming up with 1977 Godzilla to take the older action figures I kept packed under my bed in a modest yellow mesh bag. There were classics like the ever-elastic Stretch Armstrong, and there were oddities like a blue-hued bewildered hell monkey from the movie “Congo.”
Of all the dinosaurs, I was particularly drawn to two: A pale red raptor with a cream-colored belly and dark crimson claws, and a stocky beige and black-spotted herbivore with a long arced crest that stretched backward from its skull.
So I stole them.
gimme the loot.
I was a really, really good kid. Like, Goodie-Two-Shoes good. In bed by 7:00pm good. Didn’t swear until middle school good. But for some reason that day, I felt compelled to slip my favorite dino duo right into my shorts as if I were a practiced pickpocket. I even did it in mid-conversation with my friend Derek. He had no idea. He probably still has no idea because it was super smooth.
And I was super bad. Just like that, I became a no-good swindling crook of a five-year-old. But I also became the proud new owner of two killer toys.
That sense of pride faded pretty quickly.
My first night with the dinosaurs was incredibly satisfying, and I relished in the spoils of my success. I propped my two new friends (cheap chunks of painted rubber, in hindsight) up against each other on my nightstand like twin trophies. I slept easy that night.
It wasn’t the case for long, and less than a week later, I wasn’t able to look at my loot without sensing them staring right back at me, desperation plastered across the whites of their bulging pill eyes. They were hostages, held against their will and yearning for release. And I was their klepto captor, a young tot turning out his first trick in a kindergarten classroom.
My stomach wrung and curdled just think of them. That was the first time I remember feeling real guilt.
I was incredibly fond of those dinosaurs and cherished the freedom I’d granted myself to be able to tinker with them whenever I wanted. That love devolved to palpable remorse with each passing day, and before long, the toys were no longer on display atop my nightstand. That’s when I began keeping them stashed away in my drawer.
Out of sight, out of mind, right?
It didn’t work. If I wanted to clear my conscience, I either had to fess up to Ms. Woodbeck or try to return the figurines without blowing my cover. I decided on the latter.
begging, borrowing, stealing dinosaurs.
Stealing dinosaurs was easy. Returning them posed some problems.
My mission was to get the contraband back into a toy bin as if they had never been missing. I had watched enough Scooby Doo at this point in my life to know that finding and implicating a Red Herring in this caper would only come back to bite me. I had to return the loot myself, but even just the thought of getting caught sent chills up my spine.
I formulated a plan: Stow the goods in my pockets, smuggle them into class, pull them out at the beginning of free time, pretend I was playing with them all along, return the toys to a bin at the end of free time and get back to learning the alphabet. This was my chance to wash my hands of the whole mess.
The first attempt was a bust. I kept freezing up and missing my moment. The whole thing just seemed so obvious. Derek definitely would have sniffed me out. Then Ms. Woodbeck would figure me for a rotten thief. She probably would have sent me to see our banjo-strumming bluegrass-belting principal Mr. Vass. Nobody wanted that.
So I took the easy way out. After weeks of mental anguish, I decided to drop the dinosaurs in the hallway outside of Ms. Woodbeck’s classroom. If I couldn’t enjoy the dinosaurs, nobody would. I just wanted those cheap pieces of rubber out of my life.
They resurfaced in the toy bins a few days later. They stayed there this time — untouched by my classmates and untouched by me.