13 August 2014

A Life of Crime

A gal I know, here in Santa Fe, put up a post on Facebook about something she witnessed in the check-out line at Whole Foods, a customer humiliating one of the cashiers, and reducing her to tears. You have to wonder about people who are so self-important that their sense of entitlement makes them think they can get away with crap like that, and it prompted the following train of thought.
Anybody who's worked in law enforcement or corrections, a description that covers a few of the contributors to this blogsite, are familiar with what we'll call the criminal mindset - one size doesn't fit all, by any means, but let's use this turn of phrase for convenience.

By way of illustration, a story. Years ago, when I was seventeen going on eighteen, I was hitchhiking in California, headed for San Francisco. This guy picked me up outside of Sacramento. He was in his middle to late twenties, white dude, an Okie. The car was a beater, but it ran okay, and he was going to make the distance, if I'd go in on the gas. He just had to make one stop on the way.

About halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco on I-80, you hit Vacaville. Some of you, who know the territory, physical or otherwise, might have already guessed the punchline.

Vacaville is home to a state prison. The guy I caught the ride with was a recent release. He's going into the visitor's pen to see a pal who's still inside. All this he explained to me, no embarrassment. Wait in the car, I'll be out in forty-five minutes. You cool?

I'm not, but let's review the bidding. Hot, empty parking lot. He leaves the windows open, but it's not like he leaves the keys. I can read the situation, dumb as I might be. I think about getting out of the car and crossing the highway and sticking my thumb out again - hello? Who in their right mind is going to pick up a hitchhiker outside a California correctional facility? And truth be told, I don't see the guy meaning me any harm. He's thrown me a curve, sure, and I'm feeling unprotected, tarred with his brush. Is a guard going to come out and ask me what I'm doing there? I wait it out. Guy comes back, gets in the car, we drive off. He ain't making much conversation. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Hour or so later, we're crossing the Bay Bridge. The car's laboring up the incline, feeling it's age. We're in the slow lane. Big boat blows by us on the left, Caddy or an Olds. My guy starts to vent.

"That old fart. He's got that nice ride, and I'm driving this piece of shit?"

Well you might ask, and I almost tell him, you know, that old fart probably worked thirty years as a dentist, and the car's his reward for good behavior. He didn't start out sticking up liquor stores. Which is what I'm thinking. I don't say it out loud. I'm also thinking, it's time to get out of his car. He drops me on Powell.

Moral? I don't think the guy was a real hardcase, by any means, but it was the first time I bumped up against that habit of mind. I don't know quite what to call it. Narcissism? The notion that I deserve better. A lack of empathy, I guess.

Criminals are sociopathic, almost by definition, in the sense that they don't subscribe to what we define as the social compact. That dentist in the Caddy paid his dues. Which makes him, effect, a sucker. He broke his ass, but I shouldn't have to. Most of us agree to stop at red lights, or not pass a school bus when kids are getting off it. Some of us, on the other hand, don't. We don't think the rules apply to us. We're in a hurry, our time is more valuable than yours and your life, not to put too fine a point on it, has less value than mine.

What does this have to do with the self-important blowhard in the check-out at Whole Foods? Pretty much everything. There isn't much difference between an ex-con who thinks he deserves the dentist's car, and some entitled buttwipe who thinks they can humiliate a cashier with a low-end job, and you've got the power of the purse. I got news for you. You're the one at the low end of the gene pool. You're a moral retard, and a sociopath. There but for the grace of God. You have no honest reason to condescend to me. I have the forlorn hope you'll recognize yourself. Fat chance. Odds are you're a bad tipper, too.



  1. Good one, David. It reminds me of a piece I read decades ago during the junk bond crisis. A reporter was talking to an economist about the mess and saying what a shame it was that some of our best and brightest got caught up in selling the bonds. The economist replied "They aren't the best. If they weren't selling junk bonds they'd be mugging old ladies."

  2. Good blog, David, and good story, Rob. I saw a book somewhere - just googled it, "The Sociopath Next Door" - that said that 1 in 20 people is a sociopath. Maybe, maybe not. But there's a hell of a lot of envy in the world, and greed, and entitlement, and when they get frustrated - well, take it out on the clerk. Poor schmuck, working for a living...

  3. Yes indeed. Great post, David. And we all know people like this in our own history don't we? Tommy from the fifth grade who grew up to be a disillusioned paper pusher and Billy who's in jail. But they're essentially the same Joe.

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  5. Rather humorous, Robert, that you mention the junk bond crisis of yore as European businesses seem to be looking at them now to raise money. But what you, David, alluded to about entitlement hits also into writing. I may only sell one story in the next 5 years and others may sell 50 times that in 2 years and will also have the ink, sweat and tears to show for it but I will applaud them. I don't deserve to be published, just because I spent 'x' number of years more working on a story. I will get published if my output is worth it's weight.

  6. I worked for a guy who had money and the attitude it made him superior to those with less. His name, appropriately enough, was Dick.

    In those days, there were only a few of independent software developers and he flew to Virginia to make a synergistic deal with another player in the industry worth a nice number with lots of zeroes on the end.

    When he returned, he was unusually subdued. I asked about the deal and he merely shook his head and said it didn’t work out.

    I split that guy to do my own consulting and I happened to meet one of the partners of the Virginia firm. That’s when I learned the story behind the story.

    On Dick’s arrival, apparently their secretary didn’t snap to it fast enough. She wasn’t sufficiently unctuous in fetching coffee and getting him in to the she big boss. Dick and she exchanged words, most of them not printable. Then she ushered an already heated Dick in to see the boss.

    Dick angrily told the boss they needed a new secretary, that HE wouldn’t put up with an ƒ-ing bitch like that and they should fire the slut’s fat ass immediately.

    The boss leaned back in his chair, pierced Dick with a hard stare and said, “That lady’s my wife.”

    And that, my friends, is how Dick ruined a lucrative deal worth a nice number with lots of zeroes following.

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  8. Ah, David, those people were the bane of my existence. Powerless people grasping for a little power of their own by humiliating others. I avoid them like I do liver.
    I'm not sure I would have continued the journey with the convict although you were in a tight spot in front of the penitentiary, lol. Funny picture.

    Leigh, what a well-deserved yet funny end to the Dick story!

  9. C.S. If you drive past the NM state pen, on Rte. 14, south of Santa Fe, there are signs in either direction, starting about three miles out: DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS. I didn't really have an issue with the guy. He wanted to stop at a package store and pick up a six-pack of beer. I figured it was smarter to get out of the car.


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