The Milk Crate Redemption

I wondered just when I'd hear the sirens, get glimpses of the red and blue whirling lights through the curtains.

I wondered when the big boots would clomp up the steps. When the knock would resonate, firm and unamused. I imagined the clink of cuffs. The jingle of cell keys. The light buzz of an anxious taser, waiting for me to give any whiff of doing something stupid that required a quick, sharp shock to the system...

Yes, I had in my possession two stolen milk crates from local dairies. And it was only a matter of time before I'd be hauled in by the coppers for illicit Calcium-Based Beverage Conveyance Hijacking.

At least, that's what the warning on the gray plastic crates had implied:

"WARNING! Unauthorized use or possession of milk cases is against the LAW. Criminals WILL be prosecuted."

I'd unthinkingly rescued the things from my college dorm dumpster right before summer break. I had snagged them along with three only slightly bent posters, a broken VCR I was sure I could get working again, and a desk lamp that, I later learned, gave off more heat than a dwarf star and was likely the cause of the Chicago Fire.

At the time, though, I had thought it quite a haul. See, I didn't have much to my name then.

In fact, if you added to the above list a case of Spaghetti O's and a clunky 80s laptop computer suitable only for the lap of the Fat Lady from a traveling carnie show, well, you pretty much had what was to my name. Not even my full name. Just a nickname maybe. Or initials.

And the Spaghetti O's were only visiting.

So, initially, I was really excited about the milk crates. They could carry my laundry to the dorm washers. They could serve as unique storage solutions. They could transform into a creative table for fine dining on the aforementioned Spaghetti O's.

I had plans for them. Oh, how I had plans!..

Until I noticed that warning on the side. The one that let me know I was in possession of hot merchandise.

I went cold. It was a jar to my nerves. And it tainted all that was good and true about my dumpster diving.

I knew already I was not up for the criminal life. This was only my second dip into the world of theft and evil, and that first one hadn't gone so well.

In my misguided youth, I had pocketed a bunch of shiny plastic sequins and fake gems from a giant thrift store artwork in the back of a shop. I knew it was wrong-- oh, I knew-- but they were so bright, and shiny and magical, I thought I could make a crown out of them and peeled a few off.

However, the guilt, which my mother had a talent for layering thickly over life like butter to bread, began to work on me even without Mom's involvement. Yep, I had developed a good strong Guilt Autopilot. Had she known, Mom would have been delighted at her handiwork. I had crowned myself the Queen of All Cheats and Liars, and saved her the trouble.

The very thought of my bad behavior kept me awake nights, in a sweat. This was not the person I was raised to be. A jewel thief. A gem smuggler.

Eventually, I formulated a plan to make things right. To repair what I'd done with no one ever the wiser. There would be no loss of TV privileges for a month. No embarrassing admissions to the store owner. No formal letters of apology. No grounding until infinity-- or high school, whichever came first.

No, this would be subtle. This would have style. I'd gotten a glue stick and, heart pounding, I went back to the thrift store and tried putting the plastic gems back into place when no one was looking. Some stuck, but some didn't. I felt sick. I had not only stolen, but I had ruined what I determined had to have been a priceless work of art. I decided to live silently with the knowledge about my sneaky, underhanded nature. Such evil, my eight year old vocabulary was unable to put into words. But it haunted me... oh, how it haunted me... like my own personal Jacob Marley.

And that college summer, it all came rushing back to me when I saw that warning on the dairy crates. Sure, the stolen crates having falling into my possession were an accident. But would the authorities ever believe that?

And what kind of authorities were there to track down and prosecute for milk crate theft anyway? Were there Dairy Agents who follow trackers on milk crates, and show up on your doorstep wearing mirrored sunglasses and milk mustaches?

I read the names of the cities on the milk crates and had no idea where these places even were to return them, even if I'd had a car. So I spent my various moves in and out of student housing with a blanket over the hot merchandise in question, careful, eyes suspicious, looking for signs of any rogue Dairy Agent on my trail.

I realized the other day I still have these crates. Yes, after decades, the only thing that has come clean is the laundry they still carry. I no longer wait for the knock on the door, the ring of the bell. But I'm older now. Wiser. Able to look at the logic behind it all.

Anyway, nowadays I'm mostly focused on that tag I ripped off my mattress.

12 comments:

Jaffer said...

When guilty about robbing thrift stores - {Hugs} It is good to talk about such things and let them out sometimes.

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I used to have a green dairy crate in my wee years in which I'd store all my toys. It was a really good find by my dad the plastic was of good quality and it was tough and he kept it for years.

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I used to go down to the Recycling Room in my Co-op every week. I still possess some items from then - study-table, small television, a small coffee table, one office chair, two steel chairs - all still in perfect condition.
It was a gold mine I tells ya !

Beer Drinker said...

Maybe you can help me solve a problem.

When I got home Saturday from the grocery store, one of the bags had 4 packages of ground beef that didn't belong to me. Problem was that I didn't know that until Sunday as my wife put them away in the freezer.

Surely the person who got screwed out of their meat went back and complained and it was made right.

But I feel redemption from a Thanksgiving turkey pricing battle from two years ago with the same store. It's like we're even now.

Should I feel guilty? Do I even have a problem?

Surfie said...

My, my, my. Starting a life of crime at such an early age! I had no idea you were such a rebel.

I envy you your milk crates. I wouldn't mind having some of them myself.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- Did your green crate have a warning that you were violating the law by having it in your hands? :) And yes, college dumpsters can be such a goldmine-- things people don't want to have to move. You can't beat it.

Beer Drinker- Heh, I am apparently not the right person to ask, as my moral compass is skewed due to lengthy Milk Crate Hoarding. :) I can only imagine your surprise when the meat showed up.

Jenn Thorson said...

Surfie- Yeah, I know-- I'll be surprised if anyone even wants to associate with me due to my Evil Nature. :) I can just imagine, 20 years later, driving out to some dairy and giving them back their milk crate. (Actually, that would probably make a pretty funny post.)

Mary@Holy Mackerel said...

Oh, I've got probably 10 of those suckers that I've had since I was a teenager. They're still holding my Bee Gee albums...

And yes, I too was scared of the dairy po po, but they have yet to find me.

Jenn Thorson said...

Mary- Fortunately you're here under a pseudonym, so your secret is (fairly) safe. :)

Jaffer said...

No it didn't have any warning.

I did not know it was used to hold dairy until I learned to read. I was surprised one day to discover the words "Almarai".

But I was a saddened little 3 year old on finding that Daddy did not buy my toy box.

A minute later I was back to playing my trains... (I had 3 sets !)

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I have yet to hear of someone spending six months in Jail for possession of a milk crate http://goo.gl/MTz7

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Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- Ah, well, we young'ns were easily distracted (certainly three trains would be enough to keep your mind on happier things. :) )

Lizzy and Elle said...

We have all owned or found a milk crate. Now you can buy them (the fake ones) at Walmart in many different colours, but it takes the 'bad' out of it and just becomes a box without solid sides

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

Great ending, Jenn!

Two more observations:

1) I'm glad I'm not the only dumpster diver around these parts.

2) I'm glad I'm not the only who feels guilty about dumb stuff.

bluehairvintage said...

I think you'll probably be OK. After all the statute of limitations will kick in any minute. One caution though. I would advise against cutting any tags off mattresses. The combined criminal karma could just tip the scales.