“Fool Proof,” by David Riessen

Feb 21st, 2024 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

July 1975: the summer between high school and college.

I walk around the parking lot until I find a plastic shopping bag with the Two Guys Department Store name and logo printed on it. Two Guys sells discount clothes, fake wood furniture, and all sorts of crap – but most important to me, record albums. My dad bought me a compact stereo system as a graduation present ($149 wholesale from a family friend), but I owned no music. So I devised an ingenious plan: The Town of Tonawanda Two Guys Record Heist. It might be relevant to point out that I have plenty of money to buy, rather than steal, records. So why do I do it? Because it’s easy and exciting. And oh yeah, also because I’m an idiot.

One more thing to note: The Town of Tonawanda is a middle-class suburb just north of Buffalo, New York. For some reason, we Riessens refer to ourselves as upper middle-class, but there is nothing upper about us. Also, no class.

Here is my brilliant scheme: I hide the shopping bag in my pocket, quickly choose a few records, surreptitiously place them in the bag, and walk out looking like someone who has just made a purchase. It is fool proof, and I am the perfect fool to prove it.

I walk into the store and head straight for the record department. Okay, let’s not waste any time. How about Blood on the Tracks, Dark Side of the Moon, and Moondance? Perfect, let’s go! Wait a sec, I could use a Beatles album (can’t go wrong), maybe Led Zeppelin (I’m a hormonal teenage boy), and Cat Stevens (but with a sensitive side). I’ve never shoplifted before, but I seem to be a natural, and I realize that there’s no need to hurry. Hey, who is that hot girl over there? We make eye contact, and she smiles.

Later today, I’m going with my friends to see Elton John at Rich Stadium (home of the Buffalo Bills). So cool. Maybe I should get Madman Across the Water. Or Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Wow, there’s that girl again, and she’s really beautiful. Looks like she might be in her mid-20s. An older woman! (I’m Hermie in Summer of ’42, and she’s Jennifer O’Neill.) Eye contact again and another smile. She seems to be into me, and I’m feeling very good about myself.

After another ten minutes or so, I make my final selections and walk toward the exit. I calmly slip the albums into the crinkled shopping bag and walk through the automatic sliding glass doors into the vestibule that separates the store from the outside. I’m not sure that vestibule is the right word, but it’s that area between the inside and outside doors and often contains gumball machines and public telephones.

As I walk toward the second set of sliding glass doors leading to the parking lot, I kinda notice that there is someone talking on the phone. And in the next moment I see that the phone is dangling by its chord and swinging back and forth. Something is wrong.  Something is very wrong.

Suddenly, a security guard is behind me.

“Come with me,” I hear him say as he leads me back through the store. The customers are all staring and pointing and talking about me. (There is a very good chance that this last sentence is not true.  But it feels true, and isn’t that what really counts?) My heart is racing, and my face is burning. I wonder if I’m going to puke before I pass out or pass out before I puke. The security guard leads me into a tiny, windowless room and leaves me alone. Along one wall are several security video screens, one of which shows the Record Department. Oh my god, I’m going to jail. My life is over. Prison torture scenes from Midnight Express flash through my panicked brain. (I know Midnight Express isn’t made until three years from now, but that shit is timeless.)

After what feels like hours, the security guard comes back and asks me to fill out a form and admit that I was stealing the records. He says that if I sign the confession, they will not notify the police. However, they will keep it on file forever in case they ever catch me stealing again. Did he say forever?

“Are you going to call my parents?” I ask, holding back the tears. Suddenly, the prospect of my parents finding out seems just as bad as prison rape. Maybe worse. (When you have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, it’s hard to compare levels of panic.)

“I’m not sure. I’ll have to think about it,” he says with a diabolical smile.

Just then, my fantasy older woman girlfriend walks in. Wait, what is she doing here? Why would – oh no, she must be . . . undercover security! It is this humiliating realization that opens the floodgates, and the tears begin to flow.

“What a baby,” Jennifer O’Neill says with complete contempt.

And my tears turn to sobs.

“And look,” says the security guard, pointing to the information I filled out in my confession. “He’s going to Brown University in the fall. I guess he’s not one of our typical stupid shoplifters.”

“I don’t know,” Jennifer says. “He looks pretty stupid to me.”

And my sobs turn to whatever is worse than sobs.

They leave me alone to contemplate my terrible fate, and then finally, finally, they let me go. When I get home, my parents clearly don’t know anything. The fever breaks, and the crisis has passed.

At the concert, Elton John comes onstage dressed like a duck, wearing a giant banana pendant and huge, stupid sunglasses. My friends and I have a few Genesee Cream Ales and sing along with 70,000 fellow Buffalonians. What a great day! I am once again feeling really good about myself. I’m not the man they think I am at home. Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket man.

Like I said, I’m an idiot.


David Riessen has been writing plays, screenplays, novels, TV scripts, and short stories on and off since he was a teenager and now has found a home in creative nonfiction. In a previous lifetime, he was a miserable, unfulfilled attorney at a large, New York, soulless law firm. (There is definitely more than a drop of redundancy in that sentence.) David lives in Larchmont, New York with his wife Debi and dog Raven. DavidRiessen71@gmail.com

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