Curriculum from the School of Hard Knox

When I was young, around fourteen, or fifteen, I was sitting in the mall having a smoke, because we could smoke in the malls in those days. You could pretty much smoke anywhere in those days. Anyway, I was sitting in the mall, outside a music store, smoking a cigarette.

I was sitting there smoking, when I saw this guy. He was a few years older than I was back then. He was your average looking rocker dude, with long greasy hair and the Led Zeppelin t-shirt. I didn’t know the guy from Adam. He walks into the music store and picks up a guitar and starts playing. The guy could play.

So he plays a couple of little rifts and then he proceeds to stroll out of the store, strumming away on the guitar, completely natural and nonchalant. I watch as he walks calmly by me. He smiles and nods and winks in my direction. He knows I’m in the know.

I put out my cigarette and lit another. I had a habit of chain smoking back then. I was almost done my second smoke when the salesman from the music store came running out all frantic, looking this way and that. Obviously he was looking for the guy that just stole the guitar.

“Did you see anyone run by here with a guitar?” The salesman asked me with panic in his voice.

“Nope, didn’t see anyone running while I’ve been sitting here,” I said honestly.

I did not lie. The guy that stole the guitar was not running, he walked, nonchalant, through the mall, playing the guitar as he went. The salesman went back into the store. I put out my smoke and went back down to the pool hall in the basement of the mall. That was where I hung out back then.

This memory has stayed with me for the last thirty odd years. I have gleaned a great many lessons from this incident. Initially I learned that acting casual is the best way to get away with something. Act as if you are doing nothing wrong and everything is as it should be. This was an important lesson for a thug that straddled the law. I also learned you can tell the truth without being honest.

Later, as I would recall that incident, I gleaned other truths, mostly about honesty, because while I did not lie, I did not tell the truth. As I got older, I wondered if that sales clerk was on the hook for the price of the guitar and if so how that could have impacted his life. He lived off commission, so not only wouldn’t he have had a sale, but would have been saddled with the cost of a guitar, which was still in the $300-600 range, even back then. I am relatively sure the thief did not steal a low-end guitar; he seemed to know a thing or two about guitars.

Thirty odd years later I still remember the guy that stole the guitar because it was an important life lesson for me and continues to be. It still befuddles me why someone thought it would be a good idea to put a high-end music store in a mall that was in a low-income neighborhood?

T J Therien

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